Puntarenas  is humid and the air still (you’ll be glad for a/c). Take a hotel on the gulf side and toward the end of the spit to catch whatever breezes exist. Many of the low-end hotels downtown are volatile refuges of ill-refute; things improve west of downtown.
Backpackers can pick from a half-dozen uninspired options downtown. A budget bargain, the well-run Hotel Río (Calle Central, Avenida 3, tel. 506/2661-0331, fax 506/2661-0938, $10 s or $14 d shared bath, $15 s or $18 d private bath) has 90 clean, basic rooms with fans and cold water, and handy for the lancha dock to Paquera .
Similarly, Hotel y Restaurant Cayuga (Calle 4, Avenidas Central/1, tel. 506/2661-0344, fax 506/2661-1280, $15 s or $22 d standard, $26 s or $37 d with TV and telephone) is simple, clean, and well kept, a bargain popular with gringos. The 31 rooms have air-conditioning and private baths with cold water. There’s a restaurant and secure parking.
Gran Hotel Chorotega (Calle 1, Avenida 3, tel. 506/661-0998, $18 s or $20 d shared bath, $22 s or $30 d private bath) is of similar standard, as is the Gran Hotel Comfortable (tel. 506/2661-0135), across the street, and Cabinas Joyce (Calle 1, Avenidas Central/2, tel. 506/2661-4290).
The American-run Hotel La Punta (Avenida 1, Calles 35/37, tel. 506/2661-0696, fax 506/2661-4470, www.hotellapunta.com , $40 s/d low season, $60 s/d high season) is a good place to rest your head if you want to catch the early-morning ferry to Nicoya. The 12 upgraded and air-conditioned rooms, while no prize-winners, are pleasant enough and have spacious hot-water bathrooms. Upper rooms have balconies. It has a small pool and a restaurant, plus parking.
Downtown, Hotel Don Robert (tel. 506/2661-4610, $40 s/d low season, $60 s/d high season) has 10 no-frills, wood-paneled rooms with cable TV, plus secure parking and WiFi.
Mariners can opt for the Costa Rica Yacht Club (tel. 506/2661-0784, www.costaricayachtclub.com , $60 s, $65 d), which rents simple yet cozy rooms with modern bathrooms (alas with “suicide showers”). It has a swimming pool and open-air restaurant over the estuary.
The venerable Hotel Tioga (Paseo de los Turistas, Avenidas 15/17, tel. 506/2661-0271, www.hoteltioga.com , $70–80 s/d low season, $85–97 high season) has 46 air-conditioned rooms surrounding a pleasing but compact courtyard with a tiny swimming pool graced by its own palm-shaded island. Rooms vary in size and quality; all have TVs and telephones but not all have hot water. There’s secure parking. Rates include breakfast in the 4th-floor restaurant.
Close to the end of the spit, the Hotel Alamar (Paseo de los Turistas, Calle 32, tel. 506/2661-4343, www.alamarcr.com , $50 s or $60 d low season, $90 s/d high-season) offers 28 spacious rooms and junior suites, plus fully equipped apartments, all with contemporary design in lively colors, coffeemakers, telephones, safes, minibars, and cable TV. It has a pleasant breeze-swept courtyard with a pool and a whirlpool tub.
If it’s full, the adjoining Hotel Las Brisas (tel. 506/2661-4040, www.lasbrisashotelcr.com , $95 s/d) is of similar standard but a bit pricey, as is the resort-style Hotel Yadran (Avenida 2, Calles 31/33, tel. 506/2661-2662, www.hotelyadrancr.com ), one block west at the breezy tip of the peninsula.
Perfect for families, Doubletree Resort by Hilton Puntarenas (tel. 506/2663-0808, http://doubletree1.hilton.com , from $109) is an attractive all-inclusive beach resort with 230 spacious and modestly furnished air-conditioned rooms, including 87 junior suites, and an opulent presidential suite, all with contemporary furnishings, including 27-inch flat-screen TVs. This hotel boasts a stylish look, most notable in the modern annex, where spacious rooms have Neutrogena toiletries. Heaps of facilities include an immense free-form swimming pool, water sports, activities, a casino, and nightly entertainment. The resort is popular with Tico families and gets noisy and active on weekends and holidays.
Cheap sodas abound near the Central Market and along the Paseo de los Turistas, between Calles Central and 3. Recommended options along Paseo include Matobe’s (Paseo, Calles 15/17, tel. 506/2661-3498, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), which serves fresh-baked pastas (I recommend the chicken fettuccine alfredo, $5) plus wood-fired pizza; and the rustically elegant Steak House La Yunta (Calle 21, tel. 506/2661-3216, 10 a.m.–midnight, daily), where you dine on an open veranda of a historic two-story seafront house. It has a huge menu that includes shrimp, ceviche, tenderloins ($9–10), tongue in beet sauce ($8), and pork chops.
Capitán Moreno (Avenida 4, Calles 13/15, tel. 506/2661-0810, 11 a.m.–midnight daily) is the best option for seafood, enjoyed beside the beach. It’s also one of the city’s major live-music venues.
Musmanni (Avenida Central, Calles Central/1) sells baked goods, and you can buy fresh produce at the central market (Avenida 3, Calle Central).