Puerto Jiménez: Rustic charm by the bay

See a more scenes from Puerto Jiménez in our photo gallery

From the print edition

The main gateway to the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park, Puerto Jiménez, is fast becoming a destination in itself. And fast is the operative word. A spate of road building and repairs now makes it possible to drive from San José to PJ in about six hours – without hitting a pothole. Repairs to the formerly bone-rattling Chacarita-Rincón road now make it easier to connect from the Costanera Highway to the smooth, new super-highway from Rincón to Puerto Jiménez.

Puerto Jiménez is the last outpost of civilization – i.e. electricity, air-conditioning and telephones – on the Southern Zone’s Osa Peninsula. It still has a frontier feel and some rustic architectural character, as well as a lot of wizened, local characters squinting under straw cowboy hats. There’s no mistaking that you are in the hinterlands here. But some new attractions in town are making PJ more inviting than ever to both locals and visitors in search of a laid-back travel experience.

The newest attraction in town is a brand new waterfront promenade, with knockout views of the Golfo Dulce. Two pleasant beaches, one right in town and one a six-kilometer bicycle ride east, make the warm, placid waters of the gulf easily accessible; farther out, dolphin encounters, kayaking, fishing and boat tours await. Everywhere you go in town, you’ll hear, then see, one of the signature natural attractions of the Osa: raucous scarlet macaws foraging in the almond trees that shade the town’s dusty streets.

Add in some affordable accommodations, alfresco restaurants with gulf views, a couple of notable souvenir shops and the best ice cream in the Southern Zone, and you have an affordable waterfront vacation spot with a lot of character. Here’s a sampling of what’s new and notable in Puerto Jiménez.

What to do

Puerto Jimenez 2

Exotic plants and animals are part of what you can see in Puerto Jimenez.


Alberto Font

Take an early-morning stroll along the new, paved promenade facing the Golfo Dulce and enjoy cool breezes and spectacular views across to the mainland. Photographers can catch the play of changing light over the water from sunrise to sunset. New concrete benches and tables under palm trees provide perching spots along the pleasant walkway, complete with decorative balustrades and elegant lampposts. Part of the daily show is watching the aerial ballet of passing scarlet macaws and swooping sea birds.

At the south end of the promenade, there is easy beach access, with public picnic benches shaded by palm and beach almond trees. The water is clear and cool, with a pebbly bottom. The new, open-air Delfines Bar/Restaurant nearby serves excellent fruit naturales and cervezas to keep you cool, along with comida típica.

If you want to ride with the tide, book a cruise with La Sirena Adventure Boat Tour (2735-5090). The four-to-five-hour tour includes snorkeling, plane-boarding and dolphin-watching, with lunch and snacks included ($50 per person, min. six people). Want to boat under your own power? Rent a kayak from Aventuras Tropicales Golfo Dulce (2735-5195) or take one of their kayak tours, to watch dolphins on the gulf, or explore mangrove communities ($40). 

Seeing the day’s catch brought in from the fishing boats bobbing around the public dock, you might be inspired to try your luck at some inshore fishing. Check out local operators Tropic Fins (www.tropicfins.com) or Almentour Sportfishing (8339-3509).

Just east of PJ lies one of the town’s best-kept secrets, Playa Platanares, a stretch of pristine beach that’s ideal for swimming on calm days, with warm water and a gradual, sandy bottom. On windier days, enjoy boogie-boarding and breezy beach walks. Take a taxi or, better still, rent a bicycle in town from Ciclo Mi Puerto (2735-5297) and pedal the 6 kilometers out to La Perla de Osa, a handsome beachfront restaurant/hotel, where you can park your bike, enjoy a swim, then shower off and relax with a cool drink or lunch on the La Perla terrace. The Platanares Wildlife Refuge, which parallels the beach, has some great birdwatching, just steps from La Perla.

Another chance to view wildlife is just five minutes south of downtown, at Cacao Monkeys (www.cacaomonkeys.com), a new restaurant and cabinas complex with a primary forest, where you can join an hour-and-a-half guided Monkey Trail Tour at 7 a.m. or 4 p.m. ($12 per person) or set off on your own ($5). 

Where to eat

Puerto Jimenez 3

Golfo Dulce view from Il Giardino restaurant.


Alberto Font

For bayside snacks, head to Corcovado Marisquería (2735-5659, open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.), a cheap and cheerful restaurant/bar with garden tables shaded by palm trees. The draw here is bocas – more than 40 “small bites,” featuring local seafood.

Right next door is the more upscale Il Giardino a la Playa (2735-5129, open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; closed Mon.; no credit cards), a long-time, Northern Italian restaurant that recently moved from downtown to gulf-side. Jaunty yellow and lime-green umbrellas cover tables for two balanced on the sea wall, and there’s a breezy, covered terrace. Seafood, Italian-style, and pasta are the main offerings, along with special BBQ nights with steak, pork ribs and chicken. 

Save your pizza-eating, though, for an evening at Mail-it Pizza (2735-5483; open 4-10 p.m. daily), across from the soccer field in what used to be the post office. It may seem odd to come all this way south for pizza, but it’s worth it. This authentic pizza is made by the Colovatti family, originally from the Italian seaside town of Trieste. Their pasta dishes, strictly homemade, are also excellent.

For a romantic, candle-lit dinner at the beach, head to La Perla de Osa (8848-0752; open 11 a.m.-8 p.m.), the town’s most sophisticated restaurant. Standouts here are large portions of excellent seafood with intriguing Asian flavors, accompanied by spicy ginger marmalade. A range of well-prepared Mediterranean and Mexican dishes has something for everyone. Wash it all down with fresh-fruit naturales, sangría by the pitcher, Costa Rican craft beers on tap and tropical cocktails from the full bar. Friday night is Salsa Night, when platters are piled high with nachos, and the joint is jumping with music and a whole lot of dancing going on.

Where to stay

The closest to a “resort” in town, with a garden, beach access, plunge pool and panoramic gulf views, is the comfortable, casual and affordable Cabinas Jiménez (www.cabinasjimenez.com; 2735-5090), right on the waterfront. Rooms (from $50 double) and bungalows (from $90) all have a/c, Wi-Fi, fridges, coffeemakers, lots of hot water and cheerful wall murals featuring wildlife and sea creatures. There’s no breakfast served, but you can make your own coffee, or walk a couple of blocks into town for an early-morning espresso or latte at the new Café Monka sidewalk and Internet café (open 6 a.m-7 p.m.).

The best bargain lodging is Cabinas Marcelina (2735-5007, on Main Street near the new BCR branch) run by two genteel Italian sisters. Clean, comfortable rooms open onto a lush garden where breakfast is served under a thatch-roofed rancho. A room with a/c is $52 double; cheaper with a fan only. Both hotels also have gated parking areas.

Where to shop

“Downtown” stretches only three blocks or so, with wooden arcades on both sides of the street, giving the town a bit of an Old West look. There are the usual “department stores” selling a jumble of everything. If you’re in the market, though, for a higher-quality local souvenir, stop in at Artes de Osa on Main Street beside the BCR branch (open Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-7 p.m.), an emporium of local arts and crafts with an array of spectacular wood carvings large and small, bamboo furniture, hanging chairs, Borucan masks, and huge fish plaques. If you don’t have a car to transport larger items, they can ship them for you.

The other shop not to miss is Jagua Arts & Crafts, (open daily) between the airport and the National Park office, facing the runway. Look for miniature, lifelike bird carvings, made by an artistic family in nearby La Palma; exquisite glass-bead jewelry crafted by local glass artist Karen Herrera; dolls and embroidered dresses made by indigenous Guaymí artists; plus art ceramics and mosaic boxes. There’s also a great selection of natural history books and locally made chocolate

What not to miss

Before you leave town, whether you are going south off the grid into the Osa wilds, or heading north back to civilization, be sure to make a stop on Main Street, beside the farmacia, where you will find Jade Luna Ice Cream (Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.). The array of 15 or more flavors here is astounding: from refreshing blackberry cabernet sorbet to decadent Aztec chocolate, made with local cacao spiced with chili and cinnamon. Carefully crafted in small batches by U.S. chef Barbara Burkhardt, these small tubs of ice cream ({1,800/$3.60) or ice-milk palettas on sticks ({500/$1) will leave a delicious taste in your mouth, along with a lasting, pleasant memory of your visit to Puerto Jiménez.

Going there 

Puerto Jiménez is 387.5 kilometers (241 miles) from San José, and now driving is relatively easy. Take Caldera Highway west to the Costanera, then south to the Chacarita exit, and on to Rincón-PJ. The alternate route over Cerro de la Muerte is spectacular but longer. Transportes Blanco buses (2257-4121) leave daily at 8 a.m. and noon from Ca. 14 between Av. 9-11. NatureAir and Sansa both make regularly scheduled, daily flights.

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