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Costa Rica

Finding Pura Vida in Puntarenas

by Olivia Balsinger

The slogan most synonymous with verdant Costa Rica is “Pura Vida.” Directly translated, this catchy phrase means “Pure Life.” This Central American country is well-known for many regions – from lavish spa getaways deep in Monteverde Cloud Forest to the postcard-worthy Volcano Arenal. However, there still remain areas of untouched paradise, such as Puntarenas, located on the county’s northwestern coast and hugging the Gulf of Nicoya. And, suffice to say, in an era when most everything feels inorganic and too stimulating, Puntarenas sincerely exemplifies “Pura Vida.”

Of course, one reason why Puntarenas remains so untouched is because it hasn’t been fully discovered by tourists yet. The area’s importance, however, dates back centuries as a highly trafficked fishing port. Today, you may recognize the name in association with cruises, as this is a favorite stop for large passenger boats. But Puntarenas can easily become its own trip and getting to this unspoiled piece of paradise is simple. San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, is only about two hours away, and flights from all over the world arrive daily. More than likely, your first stop visiting this area of the country will be the town of Puntarenas, with a population of just over 100,000 and a culture that spans centuries. While you can walk the seaside promenade and observe colonial architecture, which is a direct tribute to its past, you can also explore the forward-thinking innovation here, such as Casa de la Culture, a once dirty jail that now hosts an array of cultural performances all year. For those interested in marine life, Puntarenas is also home to Costa Rica’s sole aquarium, which dually educates visitors and assists in the rehabilitation of injured marine life.

Once you’ve gotten a taste of the varied species in the area, you’re going to want to explore the real marine life of this region as well-and with an abundance of unspoiled wilderness surrounding Puntarenas, that shouldn’t be difficult. Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary, just minutes outside the city, provides homes for some of Costa Rica’s fleeting wildlife, such as tapirs, spider monkeys, marmosets, and jaguars. Of course, spying a sloth, the curious and cuddly creature native to the region, is undoubtedly a highlight.

For those in the market for an active vacation, Puntarenas is the answer. For example, a short boat ride to Isla Tortuga brings you to crystal clear water optimal for snorkeling, diving, jet-skiing, or simply lounging. ATV’ing through the jungles and virgin beaches of Puntarenas with companies such as Pura Vida Expeditions is an excellent way to explore the entirely uninhabited part of the region.

The Puntarenas region is special because it caters to all sorts of budgets accommodation wise. Whether you want to sleep under the sparkling stars without light pollution or enjoy the amenities of a boutique beachfront resort such as Tambor Tropical stunning teak wood and comfortable beds, the possibilities are as unique as the region’s topography.