You may wonder what it’s like to stop in Costa Rica on a cruise. Not all cruise ports are alike. Some require ships to tender their guests to shore via smaller boats other large vessels can pull right up to the pier. In Costa Rica both ports Limon on the Caribbean side and Puntarenas on the Pacific side provide passengers with easy disembark opportunities. If you are taking a Panama Canal cruise, Central America or Western Caribbean you may find yourself stopping in one of these two ports.
Find out more in our post for things to do, tips from and insider, and why we love Puerto Limon & Puntarenas below.
[bus leaving from Puntarenas]
Where do tours leave from?
Shore Trips or shore excursions leave from the pier if you have booked with the cruise line directly or a company that has permits to pick up on the pier. Your transportation could be in the form of a large bus, minivan or even a taxi. For those companies who do not have permits they will arrange with you or your group to pick you up at the end of the pier once you have passed through security. A representative will usually have a sign with your name on it.
Photo [Veragua Rainforest – Limon]
What to wear on tours?
This depends on the time of year and your own personal comfort level. Most people when coming to Costa Rica first notice the humidity so we suggest shorts and a light weight top with a sunhat and sunglasses for protection. Depending on the location of your tour if you are travelling to the mountain area a light jacket or even pants may be required. Generally, the weather in Costa Rica is warm & humid or rainy depending on the season. We have two seasons here dry & rainy making things simple. We also recommend you wear comfortable footwear like running shoes or hiking shoes. Close-toed are a must if you are hiking on trails or participating in a zip line tour. One reason it keeps the critters out of your shoes and the other so you don’t lose them in the forest as you sail across the canopy tree tops. Companies make this a requirement of the tour so please check what to bring in their tour description. I’ve also seen people have ants bite them as they look for monkeys at the edge of the forest. Myself included with hiking sandals.
Are tours physically demanding?
Look at the detailed itinerary of each tour for a full description. Tours should list the activity level. If it’s not never hesitate to call or email the company before booking. I’ve heard many people say they would not have booked this tour if they knew how many stairs were involved. At the Peace Lodge in particular there is a lot of stairs up & down along the waterfalls so this is not the place to visit if you have mobility issues. I’ve guided tours here many times. It is so beautiful to see parts of the real rainforest but it’s a workout and tiring. Hills can be another challenge. Sixty percent of Costa Rica is mountainous. Trails will lead you up & down hills perhaps even climbing up a few large rocks along the way, but most cruise tours are designed with older people in mind. Typically, on cruise ship there will be a lot of seniors. Some of the best tours we recommend for seniors are city tours or shorter wildlife tours.
You may find that a large bus tour is not for you. Getting on and off as well as having to wait for others at every stop can take time away from seeing other locations. Smaller mini vans or taxis could be a better option for you. Guides & drivers can reach more remote locations in smaller vehicles providing of the beaten path experiences. For example, as a guide after taking tourists inside a church to see the stained-glass windows and architect we then ventured outside. I was able to spot a tree out in bloom with a very interesting flower growing. The picture below is the beauty we saw.
[Panama Flame Tree from the Fabaceae family]
Things to do from Limon
- Sloth Sanctuary
- Cahuita National Park
- Tortuguero canal cruise
- Banana Plantation
- Zip line
- Chocolate tour
- Veragua Rainforest
Things to do from Puntarenas
- Macaw Sanctuary
- Zip line
- Tarcoles River Tour
- Old cities tour
- Aerial Tram
- Horseback riding
- Poas Volcano
Is there time for shopping?
Most tours will provide some time for shopping opportunities. If you are on a large bus or large group you need to be mindful of others and time. Don’t be that last one on the bus. People really hate having to wait for long periods of time for others especially if a time frame was allotted for shopping. Itineraries will tell you if there is shopping involved in the tour. If not be sure to check before booking. Some great places to stop in Costa Rica are at local fruit stands and souvenir shops. The local fruit stand will have samples of drinks to try or cut up fruit that’s in season. They may have a sugar cane drink or smoothies that can be made up with some delicious fruit such as sour sop, mango, or pineapples. My favorite is the “Latin Lovers” which contains coconut, mango, and passion fruit. Very delicious!
Stopping can also provide a chance to stretch your legs or go for a well needed washroom break.
Travel tip: Bring some smaller bills in either local currency or USD. Our local currency in Costa Rica is colones. Named after Christopher Columbus. Credit cards are also excepted at larger locations such as souvenir shops.
Tipping your driver & tour guide?
Tipping is not expected but it certainly does show appreciation for all their hard work and shows that you enjoyed your tour. Some tour guides make very little for the day. It could be as much as $50 for an experienced guide or a lot less if you bargain for a cheaper tour. Gas is also more expensive here in Costa Rica. Tourism vehicles need to be well maintained and require inspections twice a year. How much you tip is totally up to you.
You get what you pay for!
All tours and guides are not the same. Many companies have similar tours or even the same but for less money. You must decide and due your research. If you like to haggle or barter over price you may end up wasting a good part of your time on shore just waiting for that company to fill their van with other people. That’s ok for some people if you have the patience. This could sometimes take hours. If you prefer to be more organized and book ahead this will give you more opportunity to experience the country. Pick up times can be pre-arranged as well as private tours. Private tours can be for 2 people or more. The less people you have the more the tour with cost.
Something I see a lot of is people assuming those selling tours are legitimate. They may have a website, official looking signs, or business cards, but keep in mind anyone can produce false documents or make a website for very little cost. You can even be listed on TripAdvisor. They do their best to check companies before listing.
At the pier, we call the vendors “piranhas”. Tourists come off the ship and are bombarded by people trying to sell their tours. You listen to what everyone is telling you about what you can see & do and of course they try and compete offering lower prices. Some of the vendors are not licensed to sell tours, are not tour guides, and put you in a van with a driver who speaks very little English and other tourists. You now may have arguments with other tourists on what to see and miss out on something that really interested you. Some questions to ask yourself. Does the driver have insurance? Is the company registered with the ICT, and do they pay taxes? Ways to identify a real tour guide are they will have a badge with his/her name by the ICT, their picture, name, registration number, and what class of guide they are. I’ve seen a gentleman try to sell tours who has usually be drinking alcohol. Some deal in drugs. We like to share our valuable information not to scare people but to make them more aware of their choices. Safety should be your number one concern yet many seem to forget this when it comes to money. You don’t want to be taken on a tour and robbed of all your money and belongings. If something sounds to good to be true or smells fishy don’t go.
Travel tips: Keep your email or voucher to bring with you on the tour. Documents are a great way to prove you have booked the tour with confirmation or pre-paid.
[capuchin monkey mom & baby]
Travel books like Fodor’s or Frommer’s can be helpful giving you interesting information about a country with places to stay and things to do. You can also check with the Tourism Board.Costa Rica has a list that has all the registered guides information. Search the right side under Guias Turismo. Please note they are in the process of making a new website so at present the list is unable. Hopefully should be ready soon.
We hope you’ve learn more about our cruise ports. If you like this article please comment below.