Puntarenas often becomes just a spot to catch the ferry for those venturing off to the Nicoya Peninsula. But the coastal town of Puntarenas is far more than just a place to wait and board. It is well worth your time staying at least one evening.
There is a true pride within “Porteños”, those that call El Puerto their home and roots. You can feel it throughout the town when you spend a little time here, and if a match is on at “La Olla Mágica” then you can most definitely hear it.
Typically, the first thing that comes to most minds are the street vendors of vigorones. Many of those behind the carts have been assembling these layered flavors of delight for years. Cabbage, boiled yucca, pork (chicharrónes), and their take on chimichurri soaked in lime is piled up as if assembling an ice cream cone. Then wrapped up like a little present in a banana leaf it is safely tucked into a plastic baggie and ready to devour. It is one of the quintessential foods of the port town lining the streets and a must when visiting Puntarenas.
Copos and Churchills are other staples of Puntarenas. A Costa Rican classic treat that has come to be a summer favorite going hand in hand with a day at the beach. A colorful sweet indulgence of the Churchill takes the copo to new sugar levels. With the typical copo layers of shaved ice, kola syrup, and powdered and condensed milk the sugar Richter scales are then tipped.
Add in some ice cream and perhaps some marshmallows and a cookie straw and you have a full Churchill experience. Mind you, you don’t have to say yes to all these confections, depending on who you stop into you will find many different combinations to feast in.
Puntarenas has decorated its beach shores with colorful shade rentals to beat the heat and they fill up fast, especially on the weekends and holidays. Many families come out to Puntarenas for a day at the water, bringing the whole family and friends and what seems like everything from home at times. It may not be a beach of tranquil waters and turquoise colors, but it has its own sparkling beauty, with sandy beaches and a breathtaking backdrop.
The days bring long walks along the Paseo de los Turistas lined with tall palms and restaurants serving up fresh seafood. Mariscos is on almost every menu, whether it be ceviches, arroz con camarones, pasta con mariscos, pargo entero, lobster, or seafood soup, you name it, it more than likely is on one of the menus.
If you veer off of the beachfront strip and into the town then El Bulevar Gastronomico will take you into a dreamy street of outdoor dining. The scene is set with the Puntarenas Cathedral towering in the background as you sit out surrounded by sculptures and twinkle lights in the night. Serving vegan and healthy options to sushi, seafood, pizza, patacones, and burgers, it is a whimsical adventure off the beaten path.
As the day begins to end, the sunsets of Puntarenas rival so many of the country’s famous destinations and can hold its own. And depending on who you talk to might even say it is some of the best in the country. The sky transitions into flaming reds and oranges painting the sky into breathtaking and incredible colors.
Typically, when the sun goes down it’s time to head home, but not in Puntarenas. It is a town for families, unlike many other beach towns, especially in the evenings. The strip lines with families, friends, and couples as they congregate around on their lawn chairs as if waiting for the tope or the next holiday desfile. But no, it’s just a typical weekend night in Puntarenas.
It is where everyone goes, to just get out, to sit around laugh, listen to music and eat.
The lighthouse (el faro) is the epicenter of it all, day or night. Where the food trucks invite you to feast. From elotes, tacos, hamburgers, and fries to sorbet and ice cream, you can fill up on almost anything.
The benches are filled with families gathering around. What’s most surprising is the sense of calmness that floats through even though there are what feels like hundreds of people out along the waterfront at times. There is an overall happiness in the air mixed with the smokey scents of pinchos cooking on the grills.
Young ones are out on the big tricycle rentals, and others sit around and listen to the karaoke belting out while the sounds of the waves echo behind. The playgrounds are full and there is always a game of basketball going on. There really is nothing like it. Just good old pura vida vibes.
But it is not only weekends that fill up along the Paseo de los Turistas and the lighthouse. Thursday nights during these summer months are bringing out all ages for an evening to dance out under the stars. As the sunset music plays out into the warm night air all ages come out to the Baile del Faro. And for all ages, it is.
Children to grandparents are out, swaying, twirling, and dancing. It has become one of the biggest nights of the week, even for those that don’t dance. Just to be a part of the spirit of Puntarenas and sit out and enjoy an evening of music and joy.
Puntarenas leaves a strong sentiment in your heart after your visit. The friendliness of the “Puntarenense” and their spirit of just enjoying life is contagious. Snacking on a pincho, getting a sugar rush from a copa, or filling up on a bag of vigorón, it is good old-fashioned fun. The long stroll along the Paseo de los Turistas to the faro gives you a glimpse into the local life around you and has you forgetting about your stresses in life. Puntarenas has a special energy in the air that is truly indescribable.