The town that needs some love

Trip Start Mar 31, 2012
Trip End Apr 09, 2012

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Where I stayed
Michael's Surfside Hotel Puntarenas
Read my review - 2/5 stars
What I did

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Sunday, April 1, 2012

We left San Jose for Puntarenas at 1:30 and arrived by 5:00 PM. We traveled down the Intercontinental Highway for most of the trip. Despite our cute British voiced GPS we over shot our exit and were down the road an extra 30 minutes before we realized it. Signage is not generous in CR.

Intercontinental Highway is a loose term here. The road is a narrow 2 lane road. We ambled our way down the country and were delighted by the lush tropical forests complete with mop topped mango trees, monkeys, butterfly and birds. And of course the curious cream colored Brahmin cattle.

About driving in CR. There are some crazy ass drivers here. Lines on the road, who needs lines on the road? Car in front of you? Pass as soon and as often as possible. Bridge, blind curve, car coming the other way? problem, keep on passing! I do not regret having a car but it was a wild ride.

You would think that in such a beautiful country, you could take a dusty pastel painted portside village with a beautiful wide beach and have a charming seaside tourist spot. Our first impression of Puntarenas was the smell of dead sea life. It started about 2 miles out of town and did not go away. The town is very run down and trash is everywhere. I saw Tico’s just drop all kinds of junk right where they stood and just walk on. Diapers, liter cola bottles, broken stuff, paper everywhere and you had to practically wade through it to cross the street. We got to see most of Puntarenas, as that Brit GPS lady ran us around town in circles!  Lots of ram shackle homes, but not the clean and kept ones we expected. Lots of really trashed out places. Puntarenas has a reputation for being seedy and unsafe and it looked and felt like that.

There are two  main streets in Puntarenas and we booked into Michael’s Surfside Hotel. Michael was very nice and helpful but the place was pretty rumdum, contrary to the reviews I had read. I would have found the accommodations adequate if the price had been alot less but for almost $100 I expected at least a comfortable bed.  Based on the amount of security he has at his hotel, we were glad we would only be in Puntarenas one night. Unfortunately, we were disappointed with our stay at the Surfside- see my review for details.

The whole malecon was lined with trees and hoards of Tico’s on holiday for Easter week. It was very festive and cheerful but very funky. The beach is wide and very long and has almost no surf at all. The rule of thumb is to  only swim where the Tico’s are swimming to avoid contaminated water. All along the promenade were stalls selling the usual cheap trinkets from China and food. The most common food item was the national dish Chifrijo. There were at least 25 carts selling these snacks which  where a cleverly folded banana leaf doubling as a large bowl to hold rice, beans, pork (crunchy chiccarones) topped with heaping piles of crisp pickled cucumber, onion, radish and carrot and hot sauce. Yum!

We found our recommended restaurant__(researching)___________ about 9 blocks down the street (Paseo de Turista) . After a long day of traveling, it was a welcome meal of great cerviche, chicken oriental, grilled chicken and mushrooms and of course fries, rice and beans. The beer was luke warm and the rum and coke very light on rum. The service was great even given our language barrier. Total for dinner for the 3 of us  with 2 drinks each was $47 US. Cash only as "the machine" was down.
Sitting outside overlooking the street, we watched Puntarenas come alive for the night. It was great people watching! The street was packed with the citizens of Puntrenas,  families with kids running ahead, lovers out for an arm and arm stroll, grandparents gossiping with friends on street corners. Lots of traffic and street pedestrians. Also were some seedy looking characters, all checking us and our stuff out surreptitiously. This little seaside berg has so much potential. Under the grit and grime it is a friendly little town with alot to offer. Someone needs to adopt this place, clean up the trash and crime and let it shine! Not in the over touristed way in Tambor but in a way that preserves the Tico culture and feel to the place. It's malacon stretches forever and if the contamination were better controlled the beach's gentle surf would be the perfect playground for any hot day. This little town needs some love!

After dinner we picked up some snacks and beer at a market on the corner by the dinner place and headed back to our hotel. It was hot with a wild wind blowing and all the trash was rattling up and down the streets. We went form crowded packed sidewalks to almost no people in about 5 blocks. It was spooky and ghost town like down by our hotel, with an occasional  single male walking in e street. We let ourselves into the Surfside compound and headed to bed.

We were up and out at 4AM and had to knock several times on Michael's door to get him up as there is no independent in and out of the parking lot. We happily headed for the ferry. I don't think I would ever stay here again. It was just a stopping over place for us and I am usually very open and non judgmental about poverty but there was something uncomfortable about Puntarenas. Maybe it was the smell that never went away. Maybe it was the Bates like feel to  the Surfside Motel (to call it a Hotel is a stretch). Maybe it was the lost feel of the whole town. Whatever, Punteranes is an orphan in a beautiful country and needs someone to love!
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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