As the closest coastal town to San José, Puntarenas was once Costa Rica’s prosperous, coffee-exporting gateway to the Pacific, and a popular escape for landlocked Ticos. Some still come here on weekends, but during the week the activity along the oceanfront promenade slows to a languid pace – all the better to enjoy the beachfront sodas (inexpensive eateries) and busy market.
And while the polluted waters, seedy streets and slow decay will likely shape a traveler's first impression of Puntarenas, the city’s ferry terminal is a convenient way to connect to pristine beaches of southern Nicoya, and Puntarenas. It's also the jumping-off point for the almost-mystical Isla del Coco.
Travelers mainly pass through here en route to somewhere else; but if you stay overnight, you'll feel the vibe of a genuine working Tico town and find a couple of attractions.