Puntarenas, Costa Rica, a small Pacific-coast city about 50 mi/80 km west of San Jose, is making a comeback as a port and resort town. The toll highway between San Jose and Puntarenas cuts the journey to less than one hour, but for foreign tourists it remains mainly a place to pass through en route to or from the Nicoya Peninsula.
Built at the tip of a long, narrow peninsula, Puntarenas (Spanish for "sandy point") is a good base from which to visit nearby national parks or the towns of Quepos or Jaco because of its central location on the west coast. Puntarenas is also the best place to catch ferries to the Nicoya Peninsula or to take day cruises to nearby islands. The beach can get crowded on holiday weekends, when Ticos from San Jose flock to it. ("Ticos" is a term Costa Ricans apply to themselves and anything Costa Rican.)
Other than some spectacular sunsets, the city itself previously didn't have much to offer. That is changing: The once-polluted Puntarenas beach has been cleaned up and refurbished with sand. Some beaches in the area have been awarded "Blue Flag" status, ranking them among the most ecological beaches in the country. An aquarium has opened, and the pier area, where large cruise ships dock, has been transformed into a pleasant place to stroll.
Restaurants and shops now line the Malecon, a pedestrian walkway that runs along the waterfront north of town. Ticos on weekend vacation mingle with tourists there. Take an hour or so to explore the city—it's a good place to shop for supplies and souvenirs, have coffee and take photos. Note, however, that the climate is usually hot and muggy.
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