Sweltering capital of the Caribbean coast, the port city of Puerto Limon is the country’s biggest Afro-Costa Rican city. It has a cultural flavour quite unlike anywhere else in the country. In fact, Limón — as it’s more often called — seems a long way from the ecofriendly attractions that draw most visitors to Costa Rica. Plan your trip to Puerto Limón with our guide to Puerto Limón — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting Puerto Limon
Puerto Limón is principally a hub from which to get a boat to Tortuguero, or catch a bus south to the beach towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.
That said, spending at least a day in Limon offers a unique glimpse of contemporary Costa Rica, with its Afro-Caribbean residents speaking an English-based creole reminiscent of the West Indies,
Playa Bonita, a small beach four kilometres northwest of the centre, is the most appealing spot in which to base yourself. With a clutch of decent seafront places to stay and eat, it has a vibrant street life and a raucous bar scene that combines salsa, reggaeton, Jamaican ragga and dancehall.
If you like to party, the best time to visit is during El Día de la Raza carnival, one of the country’s most exuberant festivals.
Top attractions and things to do in Puerto Limon
You probably won't stay here for long, but if you do, there are enough attractions and things to do to keep you busy. Most of them centered around the historic centre of the city,
#1 Go shopping at Mercado Central
At times, the Mercado Central market seems to contain the entire population of Limon. Women mind their stalls while men clutch cigarettes, chattering and gesticulating.
The produce is fresh, with chayotes, plantains, cassava, yucca, beans vying for space with bulb-like cacao fruit, baseball-sized tomatoes and huge carrots.
For an inexpensive bite to eat, try the market’s numerous sodas and snack bars. As modern Costa Rican chains seem to have taken over on the outside, you'll need to go deeper to find more traditional stalls.
Just across the street, the recently restored emerald-green Correos y Telégrafos is a handsome example of the city’s “Victorian Caribbean” architecture.
#2 Explore Parque Vargas and around
Opened by the United Fruit Company in 1905, the soaring royal palms of Limon lush Parque Vargas offer a pleasant, shady respite from the chaotic streets. Look out for sloths lounging in the trees.
The park features several small monuments, notably its 1911 Neoclassical bandstand. This sculpted installation pays homage to the many cultures that built the railroad.
It also contains a shrine-like memorial to Christopher Columbus, who supposedly anchored his ship off Isla Uvita in 1502. Visible from the malecón viewpoint at the park's eastern end, the island is uninhabited, but features a reef break that's popular with local surfers.
The malecón end of the park also features the beautifully restored Centro Comunitario Expresión Artística cultural centre.
#3 Party during El Día de la Raza carnival
Though carnivals in the rest of Latin America are associated with Lent, the Limon carnival celebrates Columbus’s arrival in the New World on 12th October 1492. More specially, his alleged arrival in Limón in 1502.
Today, El Día de la Raza (Day of the People) sees throngs of highland Ticos descend upon Limon. Buses fill to bursting and hotels brim as partygoers hit the streets.
Expect everything from noontime displays of Afro-Caribbean dance to calypso music, bull-running, children’s theatre, parades and massive firework displays.
Most spectacular is the Grand Desfile, usually held on the Saturday before 12th October.
#4 Visit Catedral Limón
Only consecrated in 2010, the Catedral del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús is one of the most distinctive buildings in Limon
Don’t be put off by the dull, concrete exterior — inside there’s a bank of stunning stained-glass windows. And beyond the new building, an older section and bell tower from the 1890s has survived various hurricanes and the 1991 earthquake.
Best areas to stay in Puerto Limón
While staying downtown puts you in the thick of things, the truth is that most hotels in central Limón are seedy, poor value and old. With that in mind, you might want to find somewhere in Playa Bonita.
Note that hotel prices rise by as much as fifty percent for carnival week, and to a lesser extent during Semana Santa (Easter week).
If you are looking to stay in town, try the Park Hotel. Standing alone on a little promontory close to the sea, it's by far the best option.
A group of quieter hotels lie outside town, about 4km up the spur road to Moín, at Playa Bonita. A taxi here costs around ₡2800, and the bus to and from Moín runs along the road every 20min or so.
- Park Hotel: popular with Ticos and travellers alike, this comfy hotel has a good restaurant on site.
- Hotel La Uvita: a charming little hotel with a lovely swimming pool and sea views.
- Hotel Playa Westfalia: this idyllic beachfront hotel off sereniity within easy driving distance of Limón.
Best places to stay around Puerto Limon
Explore more places to stay in and around Puerto Limón.
Best restaurants and bars in Puerto Limón
Limón has a decent variety of places to eat, with several restaurants focusing on authentic Caribbean and Creole cuisine. Think spicy dishes like jerk chicken, rondón (usually a stew) and anything with cashew nuts. Look out for cashew wine, which is a speciality here.
Inside the Mercado Central you’ll find a host of decent sodas serving tasty casados. Gringos in general, and women especially, should avoid most bars in downtown Limón.
Tsunami Sushi is a safer bet for a raucous night out, while the beachside restaurants of Playa Bonita offer a laidback alternative for cold beers and live music.
- Caribbean Kalisi Coffee Shop: near the cathedral, this buffet restaurant offers a spread of Limonese favourites.
- Taylor’s Restaurant: a popular local diner serving Limonese classic, like oxtail casado and red snapper.
Where to eat in town
- Quimbamba Bar & Restaurant: excellent Caribbean seafood dishes are cooked to order at this beach-bar.
- Restaurante Reina’s: stylish beachside restaurant offering Caribbean cuisine, cocktails and energetic live acts.
Where to eat in Playa Bonita
Read up on eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How to get around Puerto Limón
It can be cost effective to rent a car to explore the coast to the south. Adobe has an office in the centre.
Terminal Caribeños serves buses from San José, Siquirres, Liverpool (for Veragua Rainforest) and Guápiles. From here, you can also catch a bus to Moín. A word of warning, during El Día de la Raza, you’ll want to buy your tickets several days in advance.
A co-operative of water taxis provides a shared service from the docks at Moín to Tortuguero daily at 10am. Be sure to arrive before 9am to secure a spot.
Taxis line up on Av 2 and around the corner from Terminal Caribeños. They do long-haul trips to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo and beyond.
Find out more transport information in our tips for travelling in Costa Rica.
How many days do you need in Puerto Limón?
Being more of a hub than anything else, Puerto Limón isn't a place you need to spend more than a day or two in, and that includes visiting Playa Bonita. Even if you're coming for carnival, a couple of days will suffice.
If you want to venture beyond Puerto Limón to explore more of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, our self-drive Caribbean adventure trip has your name all over it.
What is the best time to visit Puerto Limón?
The 12th October carnival is the best time to visit Puerto Limón if you're looking to experience authentic, exuberant Costa Rican life. But be aware that this draws huge crowds,
This also falls in the dry season that runs between mid-December and April. As such, this is the best time to visit to enjoy the beach and outdoor activities.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide when to go to Costa Rica.
- By plane: there are daily flights from San José to Tortuguero and Limón, and you can also fly between Tortuguero and Limón..
- By car: between San José and Puerto Limón, you have a choice of two roads — the Guápiles Highway and the Turrialba Road. Slow and narrow but well-maintained, the latter runs through Turrialba on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Central before following the old San José–Limón train tracks down to the Guápiles Highway.
- By shuttle bus: all the major shuttle bus companies serve the Caribbean coast. Interbus runs door-to-door services from San José and, very usefully, La Fortuna, to Puerto Limón and Puerto Viejo.
- By bus: a reliable bus network operates throughout the province south of Puerto Limón, with the most efficient and modern routes running from San José to Puerto Limón and on to Sixaola.
How to get to Puerto Limón
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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Top image: Parque Vargas, City Park in Puerto Limon at Costa Rica © Shutterstock