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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Puerto Limón, commonly known as Limón (Spanish for "lemon"), is the capital city and main hub of Limón province, as well as of the cantón (county) of Limón in

Costa Rica

. It is the sixth-largest city in Costa Rica and is home of a multicultural community. Part of the community traces its roots to Italian, Jamaican and Chinese laborers who worked on a late nineteenth-century railroad project that connected San José to Puerto Limón. Until 1948, the Costa Rican government did not recognize Afro-Caribbean people as citizens and restricted their movement outside Limón province. As a result of this "travel ban", this Afro-Caribbean population became firmly established in the region, which influenced the decision to not move even after it was legally permitted. Nowadays, there is an important outflow... Read more

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Puerto Limón, commonly known as Limón (Spanish for "lemon"), is the capital city and main hub of Limón province, as well as of the cantón (county) of Limón in

Costa Rica

. It is the sixth-largest city in Costa Rica and is home of a multicultural community. Part of the community traces its roots to Italian, Jamaican and Chinese laborers who worked on a late nineteenth-century railroad project that connected San José to Puerto Limón. Until 1948, the Costa Rican government did not recognize Afro-Caribbean people as citizens and restricted their movement outside Limón province. As a result of this "travel ban", this Afro-Caribbean population became firmly established in the region, which influenced the decision to not move even after it was legally permitted. Nowadays, there is an important outflow of Limón natives who move to the country's Central Valley in search of better employment and education. The Afro-Caribbean community speaks Spanish and Limonese Creole, a creole of English.

Puerto Limón contains two port terminals, Limón and Moín, which permit the shipment of Costa Rican exports as well as the anchoring of cruise ships. Health care is provided for the city by Hospital Dr. Tony Facio Castro. Two small islands, Uvita Island and Isla de Pájaros, are just offshore.


Early History

Christopher Columbus first dropped anchor in Costa Rica in 1502 at Isla Uvita, just off the coast of Puerto Limón. The Atlantic coast, however, was left largely unexplored by Spanish settlers until the 19th century.

As early as 1569, Governor Perafán de Rivera gave extensive plots of land, Indians included, in Matina to aristocrats (hidalgos) that helped to finance and support early conquest. Because these aristocrats found out that only a few Indians were available to exploit, they had no choice but to acquire black slaves to plant these lands with cocoa trees (the only feasible crop in these lands). These lands provided the only source of income to the absentee owners from the capital city of Cartago. Matina gained importance because of the cacao and the presence of black slaves, which made them attractive to pirate incursions.

Notorious pirates, Edward Mansvelt and his vice-admiral Henry Morgan, arrived at Portete, a small bay between Limón and Moín, in 1666. They proceeded inland to Cartago, the capital of Costa Rica at the time, but were driven away by the inhabitants at Turrialba on 15 April. The pirate army left on 16 April and arrived back in Portete on 23 April. They left Costa Rica and did not return.


The town was officially founded in 1854 by Philipp J. J. Valentini under government auspices. In 1867, construction began on an ambitious railroad connecting the highlands to the sea. Limón was chosen as the site of a major port, which would facilitate exports of the coffee from the Central Valley.

Afro-Costa Rican

The first African people who arrived in Costa Rica came with the Spanish conquistadors. Slave trade was common in all the countries conquered by Spain, and in Costa Rica, the first Africans seem to have come from specific sources in Africa- Equatorial and Western regions. The people from these areas were thought of as ideal slaves because they had a reputation for being more robust, affable and hard-working than other Africans. The enslaved were from what is now the Gambia (Mandingas), Guinea (specifically Wolofe), Ghanaian (Ashanti), Benin (specifically Ije / Ararás) and Sudan (Puras). Many of the enslaved were also Minas (i.e. communities from parts of the region extending from Ivory Coast to the Slave Coast), Popo (be imported tribes as Ana and Baribas), Yorubas and Congas (perhaps from Kongasso, Ivory Coast). Enslaved Africans also came from other places, such as neighboring Panama. Throughout the centuries, but especially after the emancipation of the slaves in 1824, the black population mixed with other ethnic groups, notably the Indians, and became part of the mainstream culture and ethnicity.

The early black population of Matina and Suerre in Limón is not the same population that arrived in the second half of the XIXth Century. This latter population did not arrive as slaves but as hired workers from Jamaica, and smaller groups from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. This is the reason why the majority of the current black population of Costa Rica has English surnames and speak English with a Jamaican accent.

In 1910, Marcus Mosiah Garvey traveled to Puerto Limón, where he worked as a time-keeper for the United Fruit Company for some months, observing that the population of African descent suffered poor conditions.

The descendants of Africans in Costa Rica have endured discrimination including a delay in voting rights and a restriction on their movements.

Recent History

Puerto Limon was struck by the 1991 Limon earthquake, which affected the surrounding landscape and coastline.


Puerto Limón is famous in

Costa Rica

for its yearly fall festival called carnaval which occurs the week of 12 October, the date Columbus first anchored off Limón's coast in 1502, on his fourth voyage. The event was started by local community leader and activist, Alfred Josiah Henry Smith (known as "Mister King"), who helped organize the first carnaval in October 1949. The event stretches about a week (across two weekends), and includes a parade, food, music, dancing, and, on the last night, a concert in the Parque Vargas headlined by a major Latino or Caribbean music act. Previous artists have included Eddy Herrera (2002), Damian Marley (2003), El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico (2005), and T.O.K. (2006).

Although the show goes on rain or shine, the event has recently suffered some setbacks. Organizers canceled carnaval in 2007 due to a major dengue outbreak, and again in 2008 due to major municipal trash-removal issues and related health worries. While trash removal had long been an issue due to lack of trucks and a 62-mile haul to the nearest landfill (in Pococí), the ordered closure of this and other landfills in 2007 meant Puerto Limón had to send trash 135 miles to Alajuela and pay a higher disposal fee. The situation led to a bottle-neck in trash removal, which, combined with the major dengue breakout, caused organizers to cancel 2008's carnaval as a precautionary measure. Given the severity of the situation, the city bought land in nearby Santa Rosa and, in April 2009, opened its own landfill (called El Tomatal). Given the improved situation, carnaval picked up in 2009 after its two-year hiatus.


Limón features a tropical rainforest climate under Köppen’s climate classification. Average temperatures are relatively consistent throughout the year averaging around 25 degrees Celsius. Common to all cities with this climate, Limón has no discernible dry season. Its driest month (September) averages roughly 160 mm of precipitation while the wettest month (December) averages just above 400 mm of rain. Limon averages nearly 3,400 mm of precipitation annually.

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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica: Port Information

Cruise ships dock at the port in the town.
The information desk is available inside the cruise terminal. 

Get around Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Taxis and buses are available. 

What to see in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

  • Puerto Limon hosts a wide range of awesome Caribbean buildings and several national heritage monuments like the first Baptists church from 1880s and the Black Star Line Building.
  • Parque Vargas is a must visit

What to do in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

White water rafting on the Reventizon River. The 90-minute trip, traversing class 2 rapids (beginning level). Along the way, you may see sloths in the trees as well as the lush forest and cool water.

What to eat and drink in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

  • Chile Rojo thai restaurant, calle central (Puerto Viejo de Limon), ☎ +506 750-0025. noon till 10 pm. Great food, Thai, Asian, plus excellent sushi.
  • Park Hotel Restaurant, Av 3 btw Calles 1 & 2. Average wine, really excellent seafood. Worth a visit for the seafood soup alone. 

Shopping in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

If you arrive by a cruise ship, you can buy souvenirs in this city rather than from the tour company.
  • Mas por Menos (Supermarket, owned by Walmart), Avenida 3 at Calle 3.

Safety in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

  • Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians, in general, do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas may also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
  • Use common sense. Do not leave valuables in plain view in a car or leave your wallet on the beach when going into the water. Close the car windows and lock the car or other things that you might not do in your own country.
  • In the cities, robbery at knifepoint is not altogether uncommon.
  • Like any other tourist destination, watch out for pickpockets.
  • Purse snatching, armed robberies, and car-jacking have been on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times, especially in the San Jose area.
  • "Smash and grabs" of car windows do happen, so do not leave valuables in your vehicle, or if you must, make sure they are not visible.
  • Another common robbery scheme includes slashing your tires, then when you stop to fix the flat, one or two "friendly" people stop to help and instead grab what valuables they can.
  • If you are motioned to pull over by anyone, do not do so until you are at a well-lit and safe place.

The emergency number is 911.

Language spoken in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Spanish is the official and most spoken language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official business are conducted in Spanish. English is used widely in most areas, especially those frequented by tourists, and information for visitors is often bilingual or even exclusively in English. A number of businesses operated by European proprietors can accommodate guests in Spanish, English and their native languages.

Some Costa Rican colloquial expressions:
  • Mae or sometimes "Maje" is used akin to the American English word 'dude'. Generally spoken among the male population, or among friends. It is as informal as the word 'dude'. Mae is mostly used by the younger population and Maje by the older population. It is pronounced 'maheh'.
  • Pura vida, literally translated as "pure life," is an expression common to Costa Rica. It can be used in several contexts, as an expression of enthusiasm, agreement, or salutation. It's pronounced 'poora veeda'.
  • Tuanis, means "OK" or "cool." Was believed to be taken from English phrase "too nice", but it is actually a word borrowed from the Código Malespín, a code developed for communication during the various Central American civil wars in the XIX century.
A prevalent version of slang in Costa Rica, and other regions of Latin America, is called "pachuco", "pachuquismo" or "costarriqueñismo" and is used by all social classes (to some degree), however, it can be at times vulgar and is considered an informal way of speaking.

For the word "you", (singular informal form), Instead of "tú", most people of the Central Valley use "vos" (as in "vos sos" - you are) which is also common to other Latin nations (Argentina, Uruguay), but the word "usted" is prominent in south Pacific Costa Rica and preferred over "vos". Either way, formal Spanish is understood and you may use any form of the word "you" you consider proper.

Costa Ricans tend to use the term Regálame, literally "gift me", instead of "get me". An example is when a Costa Rican says: "regálame la cuenta", literally "gift me the bill", which is unusual to other Spanish speaking countries, however, it is a very common Costa Rican term. Another such case might be when Costa Ricans go out to buy something, in which case they might use the term this way: "Regáleme un confite y una Coca", literally, "Gift me a piece of candy and a Coke", but it is understood that the person asking is going to buy said things and is not expecting the other to gift him or her those things. A more precise phrase in standard Spanish would be: "Me vende un confite y una Coca", meaning: "Sell me a piece of candy and a Coke".

Limonense Creole (Mekatelyu)

As well as Costa Rican Spanish, there is also an English-based Creole language spoken in Limón Province on the Caribbean Sea coast of Costa Rica. It is called Limonese Creole or Mekatelyu. This Creole language is essentially a localized form of Jamaican patois, and is similar to varieties such as Colón Creole, Miskito Coastal Creole, Belizean Kriol language, and San Andrés and Providencia Creole. The name Mekatelyu is a transliteration of the phrase "make I tell you", or in standard English "let me tell you".


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