San Jose – Heredia – Alajuela – Guanacaste – Puntarenas – Limon – Cartago
The province’s capital city is Puntarenas. It is situated on a long, narrow peninsula in the Gulf of Nicoya. Though the beach may seem a bit urban, many visitors enjoy the liveliness that is Puntarenas, which is replete with waterfront restaurants bars, and cafes.
Puntarenas was Costa Rica’s main port until Caldera Port, located 16 km to the south, became the most important port of call for many of the major cruise liners, as well as commercial ships. Caldera is now an industrial port complex for both cruise ships and cargo vessels. Its opening brought new industries, more tourists and helped to spur on further developments of the nation. Further, it also serves as the primary access point from the Pacific coast to the historic capital city of San Jose.
The province of Puntarenas has become one of the most important tourist destinations in the country. Many of Costa Rica’s most popular beach resorts are found in this province, as well as 14 national parks and reserves – more than in any other province.
Being Costa Rica’s largest province (11,277 sq. km.), Puntarenas includes practically all of the climate regimes found in this small, but tremendously varied, country. From tropical dry forest to rain forest, and from mangrove swamp to cloud forest to subalpine paramo, this sprawling province contains at least a little bit of everything.
Although the entire province lies on the Pacific side of the continental divide, much of its land area is not as severely affected by the annual dry season as is most of Guanacaste province (just to the north on the same side of the country). This is due to the topography’s effect on the prevailing winds. The northeast trade winds that come in off the Caribbean Sea are to some extent blocked by the higher mountains of the Central Volcanic and Talamanca Cordilleras before they reach much of the province (from the Carara Biological Reserve south); and once on the Pacific side, the turbulence formed in the passage results in a vortex, or reverse flow of air currents, that actually can draw in moist air from the Pacific Ocean and produce scattered rain showers even during the dry season. These occasional rains and associated high humidity keep the forested portions of the southern coastal areas (e.g., Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks) green throughout the year, though some species of trees do briefly drop their leaves in response to the drier conditions from January through April.
In the interior sections of the province that reach up to the ridgeline, luxuriant cloud forests exist owing to the mists that sweep across the mountaintops when the tradewinds’ full effect is felt from December through February. Yet it is saddening to see how deforestation has advanced up the steep hillsides, in large part aided by the ease of burning the natural vegetation during the dry months of March and April.
The peculiar shape of Puntarenas province has a very sensible explanation. During the first 350 years of Spanish presence in Central America, the southern Pacific portion of what is now Costa Rica remained quite isolated from the developing population centers of the region. The high mountains between this area and the Central Valley presented a formidable barrier to the available means of terrestrial transportation. Thus, the few early settlers that ventured into the southern region came either from Panama to the south, or by boat from the port of Caldera in the Gulf of Nicoya.
An important aspect of the provincial economy today is tourism. The country’s most popular beach resorts, Puntarenas (including Doña Ana and Barranca beaches), Jacó, and Manuel Antonio, are all found in this province, as are 14 national parks and reserves — more than in any other province.
1) Peñas Blancas National Wildlife Refuge
2) Guayabo, Negritos and Pájaros Islands Biological Reserves
3) Curú National Wildlife Refuge
4) Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve
5) Carara Biological Reserve
6) Manuel Antonio National Park
7) Ballena Marine National Park
8) La Amistad International Park
9) Corcovado National Park
10) Caño Island Biological Reserve
11) Golfito National Wildlife Refuge
12) Cocos Island National Park