Last Updated: Feb 23, 2014
Summary: A popular cruise ship port-of-call; hosts Carnaval festival every October; known for its lively Caribbean culture.
Landscape: City, Ocean
Attractions: Bocuare Jungle, Tortuguero National Park, Veragua Rain Forest
Activities: Adventure Tours, Bird & Wildlife Watching, Shopping
Caters to: Day Trippers, Families, Independent Travelers
Towering willow and palm trees blow in the wind along the sea wall beside Costa Rica's most important port, Limon. Walk the shady paths meandering through Vargas Park's creamsicle central pavilion, to the boardwalk impressed upon the cerulean Caribbean coastline, and watch as ships sail across the horizon. Like a gateway Costa Rica's Caribbean beaches and rainforests, hundreds of cruise and cargo ships pass through every year.
Location: 88 miles east of San Jose
Average Temperature: 72-82ºF
Altitude: Sea level
Most ships stop briefly in port for guests to stroll down the blue, yellow, orange and green checkered sidewalks along the market street – Avenida 2 – toward Vargas Park. The street is filled with vendors hawking fresh fruit, coconut water, ice cream, sliced mango and sun glasses. Behind the vendors, light, flower-printed dresses hang in the mouths of small open-air businesses selling wares to locals and tourists alike. Toward the end of the street, visitors encounter Vargas Park's shade-dappled pathway offering a place to sit down and enjoy the Caribbean pace of life among yellow, blue and green cement park benches.
Though it's close to the ocean most of the town's waterfront is devoted to shipping, so you'll have to travel outside of Limon to find the beaches. Two miles north of Limon visitors can swim in the waters of Playa Bonita (Pretty Beach) while surfers should head half a mile offshore to Isla Uvita (Uvita Island), home to big waves and one of the country's best lefts.
Every October Limon hosts Carnaval, one of Costa Rica’s largest celebrations. Visitors from around the country come to enjoy street food, costumed parades, live music, and late-night partying.
Downtown Limon features most modern services and amenities including pharmacies, grocery stores, shopping, banks and ATMs. The hospital is at the northern edge of town; Wi-Fi access is available in some hotels and restaurants.
While the coast is beautiful and the history is rich, Limon is among the most impoverished of Costa Rica's cities, with a visible homeless population that sleeps on cardboard beds in the streets. Theft and drug-related crime is not uncommon. For those planning a visit, make sure to take safety precautions – don't leave belongings unattended, don't carry large amounts of money or wear flashy jewelry etc., especially after sunset.
Limon’s modern history began in 1502 when a hurricane forced Christopher Columbus to anchor his damaged ship just off the coast of Costa Rica. While the crew made repairs, Columbus ventured onto the mainland from what would later be called Puerto Limon. Following this first contact, the Spaniards generally ignored the Caribbean coast, instead favoring the fertile soils of the Central Valley.
By the mid-1800s, Costa Rica’s coffee export was on the rise, and the country needed a shipping point to the overseas market. Limon, with its deep natural harbor and convenient location, became Costa Rica’s first major port. Between 1867 and 1890, Costa Ricans, Chinese and Jamaicans worked together to build a railroad that connected the San Jose and surrounding areas – home of the coffee crops – to Limon.
After completion of the railroad, many of the Jamaican laborers settled in Limon and along the Caribbean coast, engaging in subsistence farming and working on cacao farms. Today, the Afro-Caribbean cultural influence remains strong in Limon with many locals speaking English or a dialect of English known as Patois.
Nestled in the Estrella Valley approximately 75 minutes southwest of Limon, Bocuare Jungle offers an exciting combination of cultural and adventure tourism. The company’s whitewater tubing down the Estrella River is a favorite among adventure-seekers, while a tour of its grounds, including a botanical garden, hummingbird garden, and a scenic pond brimming with boat-billed herons, provides insight into Costa Rica's ecology. (9 a.m. to whenever you’d like to leave. 2759-1344).
Rainforest Aerial Tram
Visitors driving to Limon from San Jose can stop by the aerial tram adjacent Braulio Carrillo National Park for an adventure among the rainforest canopy. Guests will find this privately-owned reserve, home to an aerial tram, exhilarating canopy tour, frog pond, butterfly garden, and serpentarium. The aerial tram also popular among cruise passengers– glide hundreds of feet above the forest floor and get a true bird’s-eye view of the rainforest canopy. (7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon-Sun. 2257-5961).
Take a canal ride through Tortuguero National Park, created to protect green sea turtles and their nesting habitats. Learn about the native Costa Rican flora and see some incredible wildlife, including sloths, toucans, spider and white-face monkeys. (Approximately 2.5 hours by boat north of Limon).
Veragua Rainforest Reserve
This park has a reptile house, interactive ranarium, hummingbird garden, butterfly garden, treetop aerial tram, and waterfall. The aerial tram travels hundreds of feet in the air, passing by a roaring cascade and through nearly silent rainforest. Half and full-day tours are available. Veragua Rainforest is one hour from Limon. (8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tues-Sun. 2296-5056).
Air: Limon has a small airport two miles north of town. There are no regularly scheduled flights available, but local airlines offer charter flights to and from San Jose, Quepos/Manuel Antonio, and Tortuguero.
Bus: San Jose to Limon: $6.25; every hour 5:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m.; 3.5 hours. Departs from the Terminal del Caribe at Avenida 13 and Calle Central. 2222-0610 / 2221-7990 / 2221-2596
Car: From San Jose, the 88-mile journey takes between two and three hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. Take Route 32 out of San Jose, driving through Braulio Carrillo National Park. Follow the signs to Guapiles, Siquirres and Limon/Puerto Limon.
Limon Travel Guide
Partly cloudy with showers
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