This town is not on the Nicoya Peninsula, but rather on Costa Rica's mainland. It is best known as a cruise-ship port and launching pad for ferries heading southeast to the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula and for cruises sailing out on the Gulf of Nicoya. Puntarenas is also a major fishing port with a lively fish market. The town’s reputation suffers from the unimpressive parts you see from your car as you roll through town on the way to the ferry dock. But the town has a lot of character off the main drag, thanks to its illustrious past as an affluent port town and principal vacation spot for San José's wealthy, who arrived by train in the last century. Once the port was moved and roads opened to other beaches, Puntarenas's economy crashed, but it's making a comeback. Sitting on a narrow spit of sand—punta de arenas literally means "point of sand"—that protrudes into the Gulf of Nicoya, the town boasts a beautifully groomed, wide Blue Flag beach with views of the Nicoya Peninsula and spectacular sunsets, along with a public swimming pool, the San Lucas Beach Club, and a marine-life museum. Ticos arrive by bus and car to enjoy the beach and stroll the Paseo de los Turistas, a beachfront promenade lined with tree-shaded concrete benches and seafood restaurants. Crowds of locals, called porteños, cruise by on bicycles, the town’s most popular form of transport.
Fodor's Editorial Photo Intern Leonard Vargas snapped photos of this spring's wildflower explosion in Southern California.More