Wait what? Yes indeed, you’re reading it correctly: a travel article about Puerto Limón, a town considered by many as that black sheep of the Caribbean family. Most people only stop in Limón because they’re basically forced to; they start their journey over here to Tortuguero, are in need of changing buses while travelling from San José to Puerto Viejo, or find themselves voluntarily stuck in the town due to the Caribbean cruise they’re taking.
Puerto Limón has had a rough-and-tumble, ‘wild wild east’ kind of reputation for decades. But with the upcoming new port, the city is experiencing better days. The vivid town has more to offer than you’d probably think. New shops and restaurants are opening up (although unfortunately the most famous of all, the Black Star Line, was recently destroyed by a fire) and the city is often enlightened by vibrant festivals.
Containing some hidden gems, this list provides you with ideas for what to do when in transit or when willing to experience some real city life on the eastern side of Costa Rica. Whether you’re looking for sleepy sloths, tasty tortas or a superb surf day out; believe it or not, Puerto Limón has it all.
10:00 am – Visiting the market
This start of the day will only suit you when you’re visiting Puerto Limón on a Friday or Saturday (morning). At the end of the week, right across the cemetery at the end of the Route 32, the market hall of the town offers you a dive deep into the local life of Limón. Don’t come too early in the morning, or you’ll be run over by soda owners picking the top fruits for their jugos naturales.
It’s difficult not finding a fruit or veggie in here you’ve never seen before. Thankfully, most vendors are happy to give you a taste of their wares if you can’t resist trying new things out. Don’t forget your knapsack in here too; before you know it, you’ve bought kilos of guaba’s, guayaba’s or guanabana’s.
10:45 am – Casa de la Cultura
At the end of the Route 32 on your left (while passing by the evident, monstrous, earthquake proof Catedral del Sagrado Corazón) you’ll find your way to the Casa de la Cultura. This House of Culture, located opposite the -to be renewed- city market, features many expositions a year. At times you’ll have the opportunity to buy paintings or other artwork of locals artists in here. For the film addicts, every Thursday evening the Casa displays a movie too, corresponding to the theme of the month.
11:15 am – Parque Vargas and the Boulevard
From the Casa de la Cultura, walk south towards Avenida 2 (also named El Bulevar) and gaze meanwhile at the Caribbean style houses, made out of wood and painted in pastel shades. At the eastern end of the boulevard you’ll find a small park, named after Don Balvanero Vargas, former governor of the province of Limón. Residences enjoy the shades of the big trees over here at the platform during their lunch breaks. Join them, they can probably point out the sloths above you for you too.
Vendors next to the park are selling tasty pejibayas with mayonnaise and sticks with meat. On a hot day you better line up with the local youngsters for some granizados. See how the vendors skillfully shave the ice, before they top it off with tons of milk and syrups. Gobble it away while walking on the boulevard – the tiny malecón of Limón.
12:00 am – Early lunch at Gecko
Getting really hungry now? The best place in Limón for comfort food is, without a doubt, Gecko. This colorful, bright, new restaurant is located next to Playa Piuta, and treats you with some nice views over a small bay, where the kids are experiencing the better days of their childhood. Gecko is all about burgers and pitas, but don’t forget to ask about the weekly special too. The restaurant stars some local artsy beers on the side.
If you prefer some splendid city views, go to the uphill Domenico’s. The Italian owner serves you great pizzas and lasagnas while you’re staring at the cargo and cruise ships floating by.
01:00 pm – Chill out at Playa Bonita
Some kilometer northwards of Gecko you’ll find Playa Bonita, which offers the best beach panoramas of the city and sneak peaks into the true local life of the Tico-families. The waves are intense over here, nevertheless the locals aren’t afraid to conquer them with their boards. The park on the left side is great for a small stroll while spotting some poison dart frogs.
If you want to see the hustle and bustle of the container terminal, Port Moín is nearby too. Here’s the place where the crude oil is processed and the bananas are shipped en masse to Europe and the United States.
2:00 pm – Isla Uvita
Locals claim this island is the place where Columbus set foot on land with his son on one of his journeys in 1502. Difficult to fact check this one, since this is being claimed about 13 other places in the area as well. Whatever the history, nowadays the island – situated 1 kilometer in front of Puerto Limón – is perfect for a couple of hours of swimming, snorkeling and some exploring. Fishermen can take you all the way from Río Limoncito or Río Cieneguita to the island. A walking route is laid out across Isla Uvita and gives you the most perfect sceneries, idyllic bays and beaches.
04:00 pm – Time for pie at San Benito
Once back in town, round your afternoon off during a stroll in Cieneguita, the long boulevard in the south of the city (but be aware to take a car or cab getting there, as the surrounding area is to be avoided preferably).
Experiencing an afternoon dip? Then take a sip of coffee at the easily overlooked, but marvelous Café Benito (near the bus station). Don’t forget to try out the complementary delicious pie over there. Every day there are some new kinds filling up the showcase. Order the profiteroles, cheesecake or – if you really need to increase your sugar level – the torta chilena.