The vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture of one of Costa Rica's most important ports (population 65,000) is the first sign of life for seafaring visitors to Costa Rica's east coast. Limón (sometimes called "Puerto Limón") is a lively, if shabby, town with a 24-hour street life. Most travelers do not stop here, heading immediately to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca farther south. The wooden houses are brightly painted, but the grid-plan streets look rather worn, partly because of the damage caused by a 1991 earthquake. Street crime, including pickpocketing and nighttime mugging, is not uncommon here. Long charged with neglecting the city, the national government continually promises to turn new attention to Limón, although the results never match residents’ expectations.
Limón receives some 190,000 visitors every year, owing in large part to its role as a port of call for 90 ships. Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, P&O, Princess, Pullmantur, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, and Windstar cruise ships all dock here on select Panama Canal or western Caribbean itineraries. The downtown Terminal de Cruceros hums with activity between October and May, with one or two boats daily during the peak season (December through March). This is the place to find telephones, Internet cafés, manicurists (they do quite a brisk business), a tourist-information booth, and tour-operator stands, too. The terminal contains souvenir stands staffed by low-key vendors who invite you to look, but they don't pester you if your answer is No, gracias. Much to the chagrin of local businesses, most cruise passengers exit their ships and head out on organized shore excursions, seeing the town only through the windows of their tour vans. This has become an increasingly common complaint among residents of Costa Rica’s ports of call who were promised an economic boom when the ships arrived. In Limón's case, there have been some robberies of cruise passengers wandering around downtown. We recommend an organized shore excursion.