Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica

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One of the stops along the Panama Canal Zone route, Puntarenas on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast is nicely positioned within easy day-trip distance of a number of that country's national parks. The town, a busy working port on the surface, makes an ideal base from which travelers can venture out to explore the variety of this Central American country's outdoor attractions, from lush jungle destinations to pristine beaches along the Pacific. Activities include snapping photos of gushing waterfalls (and swimming at the base of one, if you bring your swimsuit!), sightseeing near active volcanoes, bird-watching in nature reserves and sanctuaries and horseback riding on Pacific beaches . . . and that's just for starters. Visitors to this extraordinary region also enjoy shopping for the handicrafts that local artists sell at their cooperatives, as well as sampling traditional Tico cuisine, especially gallo pinto—a combination of rice and beans eaten at any time of the day or night. A trip here serves as the perfect reminder that adventure often awaits just around the bend.

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