LIMON - Talamanca

Puerto Limón

POP 61,100

The biggest city on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, the birthplace of United Fruit and capital of Limón Province, this hardworking port city sits removed from the rest of the country. Cruise ships deposit dazed-looking passengers between October and May. Around here, business is measured by truckloads of fruit, not busloads of tourists, so don’t expect any pampering.

A general lack of political and financial support from the federal government means that Limón is not a city that has aged gracefully. It is a grid of dilapidated buildings, overgrown parks and sidewalks choked with street vendors. Crime is a problem: the city, distressingly, has as many homicides annually as San José – even though San José has five times the population. It’s worth noting, however, that most of this violence is related to organized crime and does not affect travelers. Despite its shortcomings, Limón can be a compelling destination for adventurous urban explorers.

History

Until the 1850s, the most frequent visitors to Limón were pirates, who used the area’s natural deep-water bays as hideouts. At the time, the country’s main port was in Puntarenas, on the Pacific, but when the railroad arrived in the late 19th century, Limón blossomed into a full-blown trade hub. The city ultimately served as the key export point for the country’s newest agribusiness: bananas.

Beginning in 1913, a series of blights shut down many Caribbean fincas (farms) and a large portion of the area’s banana production moved to the southern Pacific coast. Afro-Caribbean workers, however, couldn’t follow the jobs, as they were forbidden to leave the province. Stranded in the least developed part of Costa Rica, many turned to subsistence farming, fishing or managing small-scale cacao plantations. Others organized and staged bloody strikes against United Fruit. Fed up with the status quo, Limón provided key support to José Figueres (a Costa Rican revolutionary) during the 1948 civil war. This act was rewarded the following year when the new president enacted a constitution that granted blacks full citizenship and the right to work and travel freely throughout Costa Rica.

Even though segregation was officially dismantled, Limón continues to live with its legacy. The province was the last to get paved roads and the last to get electricity (areas to the south of the city weren’t on the grid until the late 1970s), and the region has chronically higher crime and unemployment rates than the rest of the country.

While two major new infrastructure developments have been announced in recent years (the construction of a $1 billion container port in Moín by the multinational corporation APM and a Chinese-financed US$221 million initiative to widen Hwy 32 to four lanes), it is unclear whether the economic benefits of these projects will be shared by the local population. Indeed, plans for the container port have sparked massive protests by dockworkers’ union members in Limón and Moín who fear that privatization of the port will undermine, rather than improve, their standard of living.

Sights & Activities


Limón itself has no beach; for a swim, you’ll need to head out of town to Playa Bonita.

Parque Vargas

The city’s waterfront centerpiece won’t ever win best in show, but its decrepit bandstand, paths and greenery are surprisingly appealing, all shaded by palms and facing the docks.

Playa Bonita

While not the Caribbean’s finest beach, Playa Bonita, 4km northwest of town on the Limón–Moín bus route, offers sandy stretches of seashore and good swimming. Surfers come for Bonita’s point/reef break, which makes for a powerful (and sometimes dangerous) left. Experienced surfers might also want to hit the punishing reef break at Isla Uvita, the wild green rock 1km offshore.

Festivals & Events

Festival Flores de la Diáspora 
Africana

(www.festivaldiasporacr.org; h late Aug) A celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture. While it is centered on Puerto Limón, the festival sponsors events showcasing African heritage throughout the province and San José.

Día de la Raza

(Columbus day; h Oct 12) Puerto Limón celebrates Día de la Raza with a boisterous week of Carnaval festivities, including live music, dancing and a big Saturday parade. During this time, book hotels in advance.

Sleeping

Limón offers nothing remotely upscale; for something nicer, head to nearby Playa Bonita.

Hotel Miami

(Tel 2758-0490; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Av 2 btwn Calles 4 & 5; s/d US$27/35, with air-con US$39/52; p a i ) For its location on the main drag, this clean, mint green place feels surprisingly serene, especially in the rooms in back. All 34 tidy rooms are equipped with cable TV and fan. Rooms with air-con have hot water. Welcoming staff, common balconies overlooking the street and secure setup add up to the best value in town.

Hotel Playa Bonita

(Tel 2795-1010; www.hotelplayabonita.com; incl breakfast s/d standard US$52/80, executive US$66/86; p a W s ) This seaside hotel has simple whitewashed rooms and a breezy ocean-view restaurant that serves everything from burgers to jumbo shrimp. It’s about 5km from downtown Puerto Limón and 2.5km from the entrance to the docks at Moín.

Park Hotel

Av 3 btwn Calles 1 & 2; s/d standard US$55/74, superior US$64/90, deluxe US$77/103; p a i W ) Downtown Limón’s most attractive hotel has 32 rooms in a faded yellow building that faces the ocean. Tiled rooms are tidy and sport clean bathrooms with hot water; superior and deluxe units come with ocean views and balconies. The hotel also houses the swankiest restaurant in the town center.

Hotel Acon

(Tel 2758-1010; cnr Av 3 & Calle 3; s/d US$44/64; a W ) The ’60s-style modernist building is in a ramshackle state, but the place is generally clean. The 39 rooms are basic: bare linoleum floors and aged wood furnishings, all with creaky air-con units and hot-water bathrooms.

Eating & Drinking

Find cheap eats at the sodas in the central market (Av 2 btwn Calles 3 & 4; h 6am-8pm Mon Sat). You can get groceries at the large Más X Menos (cnr Av 3 & Calle 3; h 8am-9pm), or at the Palí (cnr Calle 7 & Av 1; h 8am-7pm Mon-Thu, 8am-7:30pm fri & Sat, 8:30am-6pm Sun) next to the Terminal Caribeño.

Bars by Parque Vargas and a few blocks west are popular hangouts for coastal characters: banana workers, sailors, ladies of the night, entrepreneurs, boozers, losers and everyone else. The standard warnings for solo women travelers go double here. (If you feel like having a beer, hit a restaurant.) This is a lousy town for getting drunk – keep your wits about you.

Caribbean Kalisi Coffee Shop

(Tel 2758-3249; Calle 6 btwn Avs 3 & 4; mains from US$5; h 7am-8pm Mon-fri, 8am-7:30pm Sat, 8am5pm Sun) Belly up to the cafeteria-style counter at this friendly family spot and cobble together a plate of coconut rice, red beans and whatever Caribbean meat and veggie dishes are cooking today. Also recommended in the mornings for its affordable à la carte breakfasts and excellent café con leche (coffee with milk).

Restaurant Bionatura

(Tel 2798-7474; Calle 6 btwn Avs 3 & 4; mains US$58; h 8:30am-6pm Mon-Sat; v ) This restaurant shines for its focus on healthy vegetarian cuisine, including fresh fruit salads, veggie burgers, bistek de soya (soy steak) casados and a US$6 plato del día (daily special).

Reina’s

(Tel 2795-0879; mains US$9-15; h 10am-10pm) On the beach at Playa Bonita, Reina’s has loud music, good vibes and plenty of mariscos (seafood) and cerveza (beer) on the menu.

El Crucero

(Tel 2758-7003; cnr Calle 1 & Av 1; h 6:30am-6pm Mon-Sat) Kick back with a smoothie, an empanada or an iced espresso and let the crossbreeze cool you at this corner cafe facing Parque Vargas and the docks.

Information

Though police presence has ramped up noticeably, pickpockets can be a problem, particularly in the market and along the sea wall. in addition, people do get mugged here, so stick to well-lit main streets at night, avoiding the sea wall and Parque Vargas. if driving, park in a guarded lot and remove everything from the car.

if you’re traveling onward to Parismina or Tortuguero, Limón will be your last opportunity to get cash (and phone cards, for the Parisminabound).

There’s an internet cafe in the Autotransportes Mepe Terminal.

 

Getting There & Away

Puerto Limón is the transportation hub of the Caribbean coast.

BOAT

Cruise ships dock in Limón, but smaller passenger boats bound for Parismina and Tortuguero use the port at Moín, about 7km west of town.

BUS

Buses from all points west arrive at Terminal Caribeño (Av 2 btwn Calles 7 & 8), just west of the baseball stadium.

San José (Autotransportes Caribeños) US$6.30, three hours, departs almost hourly 5am to 7pm.
Siquirres/Guápiles (Tracasa) US$2.30/4.30, one hour/two hours, departs hourly 6am to 6pm.

Buses to points south all depart from Autotransportes Mepe Terminal (Tel 27581572; Calle 6 btwn Avs 1 & 2), on the east side of the stadium.
Bribrí/Sixaola US$4.40/6.35, two hours/three hours, departs hourly between 5am and 7pm. Cahuita/Puerto Viejo de Talamanca US$2.40/3.60, one hour/11⁄2 hours, departs almost hourly 5:30am to 7pm.
Manzanillo US$4.90, two hours, departs every one to two hours between 5:30am and 6:30pm.

Moín

Just 8km northwest of Puerto Limón, this
 is the town’s main transportation dock, where you can catch a boat to Parismina or Tortuguero.

Getting There & Away

BOAT

The journey by boat from Moín to Tortuguero can take anywhere from three to five hours, depending on how often the boat stops to observe wildlife (many tours also stop for lunch). indeed, it is worth taking your time. As you wind through these jungle canals, you’re likely to spot howler monkeys, crocodiles, twoand three-toed sloths and an amazing array of wading birds, including roseate spoonbills.

Tourist boat schedules exist in theory only and change frequently depending on demand.
if you’re feeling lucky, you can just show up in Moín in the morning and try to get on one of the outgoing tour boats (there’s often at least one departure at 10am). But you’re better off reserving in advance, particularly during slower seasons when boats don’t travel the route on a daily

basis. if the canal becomes blocked by water hyacinths or logjams, the route might be closed altogether. Call ahead for departure times and reservations.

one-way fares generally run between US$30 and US$40 to Tortuguero, or between US$25 and US$30 to Parismina. Two recommended agencies are Tortuguero Wildlife Tour (William Guerrero (TuCA); Tel 8371-2323, 2798-7027; www.tortuguero-wildlife.com), run by master sloth-spotter William Guerrero and his wife, Martha, and All Rankin’s Tours (Tel 8815-5175, 2709-8101; www.greencoast.com/allrankin), run by longtime local resident Willis Rankin. Both
are ideal for leisurely rides to Tortuguero; Rankin also offers package deals including accommodations in his rustic lodge near Tortuguero’s airstrip. Another outfit that arranges transport on various boats is ABACAT (Asociación de Boteros de los Canales de Tortuguero; Tel 8360-7325). for additional operators

BUS

Tracasa buses to Moín from Puerto Limón (US$0.60, 20 minutes) depart from Terminal Caribeño hourly from 5:30am to 6:30pm (less frequently on Saturday and Sunday). Get off the bus before it goes over the bridge. if driving, leave your car in a guarded lot in Limón.

NORTHERN CARIBBEAN

Running north–south along the country’s waterlogged eastern shore, the Canales de Tortuguero (Tortuguero Canal) serves as the liquid highway that connects Puerto Limón to the lush lowland settlements to the north: Parismina, Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado. This is the wettest region in Costa Rica, a network of rivers and canals that are home to diminutive fishing villages and slick sportfishing camps, raw rainforest and allinclusive resorts – not to mention plenty of wading birds and sleepy sloths.

Most significantly, the area’s long, wild beaches serve as the protected nesting grounds for three kinds of sea turtle. In fact, more green turtles are born here than anywhere else in the world. Much of the region lies only a 30-minute flight from San José – but it nonetheless can feel like the end of the earth.

Parismina

For a sense of what Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast was like prior to the arrival of mass tourism, jump ship in this sleepy coastal fishing village, wedged between the Canales de Tortuguero and the Caribbean Sea. Bereft of zip lines and 4WD adventure tours, it’s the sort of spot where old men play dominoes on front porches and kids splash in muddy puddles in the road.

For those intrepid enough to make the journey and stick around a while, Parismina is also a great place to view turtles and aid in their conservation, without the crowds you’ll find at Tortuguero. Leatherbacks nest on the beach between late February and early October, with the peak season in April and May. Green turtles begin nesting in June, with a peak in August and September. Hawksbills are not as common, but they are sometimes seen between February and September.

Sportfishing is the other traditional tourist draw. The top tarpon season is from January to mid-May, while snook are caught from September to November.

Every year around July 16, fishers and local boat captains have a small waterborne procession in honor of the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of sailors.

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