Puntarenas, which means "Sandy Point" in Spanish, is the capital and largest city in the province Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The eponymous and oddly shaped province has its largest section in the South, far from the capital. Its port, Caldera, is one of the main ports in the country. Some 100,000 live in the city and close towns. With beaches on the Pacific Ocean, it also attracts many tourists, especially surfers. It is also a possible stopover point for the touristy Monteverde, further inland.
HistoryFirst known as Villa Bruselas in colonial times, Puntarenas was discovered by Hernán Ponce de León in 1519. Despite the use of the Gulf of Nicoya as an entryway to Costa Rica's inland territory, the port of Puntarenas was not developed until 1840 when coffee production in the highlands reached exportable volumes. In 1845 the Congress of the Republic declared Puntarenas a duty free port (with the exception of Cognac and hard liquor). Originally, the coffee was brought to port in oxcarts via a trail through the mountains. In 1879, a stretch of railroad track was completed which connected Puntarenas with the town of Esparza (one of the country's earliest Spanish settlements, founded in 1554, a decade before the Central Valley began to be colonized) where the oxcart trail came out of the mountains. Eventually, the railroad was built all the way through to San José and service was inaugurated in 1910.
With the railroad connection to the Central Valley, the Pacific port's activities continued to be a major part of the region's economy throughout the 20th century. However, due to the aging and deterioration of the port facilities and the need to accommodate the much larger vessels of modern shipping fleets, a new port was constructed in the 1980s to the south of Puntarenas. The site chosen was Caldera, where ships had anchored during colonial times.