Some people get it mixed up and say that Guanacaste is the largest Province of Costa Rica, others say that it’s Alajuela or Limon, but in reality the Largest Province of Costa Rica is the Puntarenas Province, with an area of about 12,000 square kilometers (4,700 square miles) and made up of 11 capitals including the famous Manuel Antonio and Jaco Beach, while the second largest is the Guanacaste Province with 10,000 square kilometers (3,800 square miles). Geographically, the Puntarenas Province is located on the West Part of Costa Rica and it borders with the Pacific Ocean for a long portion of its territory. This province for the most part, is a long line of mountains next to the coast that creates a very beautiful landscape worth to see, visit and photograph. The type of climate towards the Northern part of the province is very dry, while the climate towards the Central and Sothern parts of Puntarenas are rainy and extremely rainy, as a matter of fact, the South Pacific Region of Costa Rica is one of the rainiest places in the world.
The most important economic activity of the Puntarenas Province is tourism, this happened in recent years thanks to the development of the “Costanera Highway”, a road that goes next to the ocean for a big extension of the province. This road is being a big help for the development of the entire Central and South Pacific Regions of the country, especially Dominical and Uvita, where tourism is growing rapidly due to the beauty of these coastal areas. Some of the Best Touristic Places to visit in Puntarenas are:
Puntarenas City: This is historically the most visited beach area of Costa Rica by Costa Rican tourists. Many years ago tourists from the Central Valley used to arrive here by train, or by taking a long drive from . Now with the new highway, it’s just a 1 hour drive from San Jose. People come to the City of Puntarenas mainly for the beach, but also for the food.
Caldera Beach: This is another area that is visited mainly by Costa Rican tourists, the beach is not beautiful at all, but is much closer to San Jose so people normally go there with the family and friends as a “one day scape” from the fast pace of the City of San Jose.
Playas de Dona Ana: This is the closest beach to San Jose, and is also a touristic attraction visited by Costa Rican tourists for the most part. Dona Ana is a very small beach, so on weekends can probably be considered as The Most Crowded Beach in all Costa Rica.
Tarcoles Beach and Town: Tarcoles is not a touristic attraction where people would go to stay or spend a few days, the main things to do here are day activities, so it can be considered as a “by pass” touristic area. Most tourists, local and international normally stop at the famous “Crocodile Bridge”, which is a long bridge along the coastal highway where people stop to see the large population crocodiles that can be normally be observed underneath this bridge; usually one can see anywhere between 20 to 60 crocodiles, some of them up to 6 meters long! Other one day activities here are boat rides to observe crocodiles and other birds, especially the beautiful scarlet macaws, which is very common in this area; seeing a large number of scarlet macaws in the wild is fairly easy in Tarcoles.
: Jaco is known as the biggest party place of Costa Rica in the coast. Thousands of young people from San Jose visit this area on weekends; there are many bars and night life places available for the visitors. The area is also visited by many foreign tourists who come looking for the party or for Sport Fishing, this is one of the most popular activities of this area. Nearby the town there are also available ATV Tours, Waterfall Tours, Rainforest Walks, Aerial Tram and many others.
Hermosa Beach: Hermosa is another party place, but is mainly known because of surfing, there are many tournaments that are organized in this beach, including some of the Best Surfing Tournaments in the world.
: This is the most visited area in the entire Puntarenas Province, the park is famous because it’s considered as the most beautiful beach of Costa Rica for many people. There are many Hotels in Manuel Antonio with all kinds of styles and rates, some of them near of the park for nature lovers, some of them close to the beach for beach lovers and many of them up on the hills with romantic ocean views. However, wherever you stay in Manuel Antonio, more than likely you will see lots of its Local Wildlife, there animals everywhere you look, especially monkeys and sloths. Near Manuel Antonio there is a huge array of activities to do, like Waterfall Rappelling, , Sport Fishing from the big Quepos Marina, Cultural Tours, Rainforest Walks, ATV Tours, Kayaking Tours, among many others.
Dominical Beach: This is another area well known for its surfing, but it’s another area where people come looking for nature, there are waterfalls, rainforests and places to observe wildlife everywhere in Dominical. The town is one of those places where time goes slowly, with several accommodation options, restaurants and shops.
: This area is growing a lot now, thousands of National and Foreign tourist come to visit this area because of the beauty of it, but mainly for the Whale Watching Tours. These whale watching tours are becoming very popular, especially because it’s very easy now to observe lots of whales with their babies during the seasons: July through November and January through April. There are many options for lodging in Uvita, but none of them with beach front because all the coats is a part of the “Marino Ballena National Park”, a huge extension of ocean along with a small strip of land along the coast that is dedicated to the conservation of marine life and species that live close to the ocean. The Uvita area also offers lots of in-land activities, like Amazing Waterfall Tours, Nature Walks in the Rainforest, among many others.
: This one is considered as the most important nature sanctuary of the Puntarenas Province; this national park alone is home to the 4% of the world’s biodiversity and was tagged as “the most naturally intense place in the world” by National Geographic. There are many beaches to enjoy in the National Park and in the surrounding areas. There are also several trails for Rainforest Walks where wildlife observation turns very easy here, due to the tremendous amount of wild animals that live in this park, such as tapirs, toucans, scarlet macaws, iguanas, sloths, even jaguars and a huge population of squirrel monkeys. In terms of lodging, there are endless options, but all of them focus for nature lovers and tourists who are looking for a very relaxing experience away from modern civilization.
The Puntarenas Province is also very rich in marine life; therefore, fishing in this area is one of the most important means of income too. Yellow-Fin and Skipjack Tuna is very common in this area for production and for Sport Fishing as well, the company Sardimar founded in 1973 is a domestic company that is very big in exportation and local consumption of Tuna and other related products like Sardines, Tuna with Alternate flavors and preparations (Vegetables, Olive Oil, Jalapeños, Oregano and the newest is Thai Style tuna) and Salmon. This company itself is responsible for 1.4% of the countries income. Tuna fishing for production is done real early in the morning by local and foreign fishing boats, usually fishing boats are accompanied by a person that is in charge of making sure that the proper fishing techniques are taken when fishing, also that all the rules get followed and most importantly that the quality, size and weight meet the requirements.
Speaking of the countries’ income, the Puntarenas Province also holds the second Most important Port of Costa Rica, called “Puerto Caldera”, located on the Pacific Coast (the number 1 and most dynamic is “Puerto Limon” on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica). Puerto Caldera is an important mean of income due to the fact that it’s the location where most of the vehicles that are driven in Costa Rica arrive. For Example: BMW/Mini, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Maserati, Volvo, Jaguar etc. Also this area is known for the exportation of Tuna, but also Pineapple, sugar cane, Tobacco, Legumes/Vegetables, and solids like Iron, and Aluminum. Now in Puntarenas there are 2 ports, one is Caldera used for importing/exporting goods and the El Muelle Grande (The Big Port), this port used to be used for the importing/exporting of goods but due to supply and demand, Caldera (Bigger) was made, El Muelle Grande is now used for the most part for Cruise Ships like Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and many more. Setting up the scenario, once you get off the cruise ship, you can take a walk on the “Paseo de Los Turistas”, this is basically a strip in between the beach and the main road where not only can you get a little glimpse of the history, infrastructure and local restaurants with freshly caught seafood, but also be able to observe the normal life of the Costa Rican People who live in a city close to the ocean. Speaking of food, Puntarenas is known for its “Churchill”, which is basically a snow cone with scoops of ice cream, condensed milk and freshly picked and chopped fruits (strawberry, banana, papaya…you name it), but it’s most commonly known for the souvenir shops that you find along the walk. Here the local Costa Rican Artisans come and sell their works of art at decent prices so you can take a peace of Costa Rica back home with you.
Some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica are located in the Nicoya Peninsula (part of the territory of the Puntarenas Province is there) and there are many ways to access those beaches; you can either take the road that takes about 2 hours from Puntarenas to the Nicoya Peninsula or you can take the famous “Paquera” Boat, a ferry that takes just as long as the drive with the exception that safe yourself a 2 hour drive and the fatigue or even the chance of running into a traffic jam. Now speaking of beautiful beaches, some of these that are located on the Nicoya Peninsula and belong to the Puntarenas Province are: Santa Teresa Beach, Montezuma Beach, Mal Pais Beach, Tambor Beach and Pochote Beach. These are some of the best beaches Costa Rica has to offer, due to the beautiful mountain views and the turquoise waters.
Apart from the beautiful beaches, heavy tourism and economy, the Puntarenas Province is really a happy, fun and festive place. On the first and second week of February the “Carnavales del Puerto” or Carnival of Puntarenas takes place and people from all over Costa Rica come to see such event. In this carnival you can see many floats, topes (horse exhibits), traditional dances and live concerts with international and local artist from different music genres. Now if you combine that with the beach, it would eventually turns into and amazing party… so if you are around the area of Puntarenas in February, then stick around for the party.
I hope that this gives a better idea of what the Puntarenas Province is like and what to expect when in this area. This is a very diverse location in the sense of all the things that there is to do and see and know about the area.