Puntarenas offers the peace and rural beauty of a small beach town while at the same time affording easy access to the activities of the capital. During the nineteenth century it was Costa Rica’s major seaport, but Puerto Limón and Caldera (11 miles to the southeast) have assumed that role. Now primarily a tourist destination and transportation hub, it is a bustling town, particularly during the dry season months (November–April). During the wet months (May–October) it is hot with refreshing afternoon showers. The geography of the city is unique since it is located at the end of a sandy peninsula almost five miles long, but only 120 to 700 yards wide. Consequently, one is always close to the ocean, and there are many beaches from which to choose.
Puntarenas offers access to the Nicoya Peninsula on two ferries. Nicoya is best known for its pristine beaches and resorts, as well as for its native folklore. From Puntarenas, you can travel up and down the coast to world-class surfing beaches, nature reserves, and plantations. This central Pacific region offers something for every outdoor enthusiast. Students find buying a used bike upon arrival is the easiest form of transportation for getting around Puntarenas.
Haifa is a beautiful city, set on the Mediterranean Sea on the slope of Mount Carmel. Israel’s foremost port city, it plays a major role in the nation’s economy and is a center for high tech research and industry. Its 17 kilometers of beaches host excellent surfing and sailing conditions and nature trails, bicycle paths, wildlife reserves, and Carmel National Park beckon for outdoor enthusiasts. The city’s historical and cultural riches include museums, film and music festivals, an internationally acclaimed symphony orchestra, theatre, and numerous cinemas, discos, restaurants, and pubs. It provides easy access to other parts of Israel, with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion Airport all less than two hours away.
In addition to Haifa’s vibrant Jewish community, its cultural and religious mosaic includes many churches and mosques. Haifa is also host to the center for the Baha’i faith and to Israel’s only Ahmadi Muslim community. The Ahmadiyya is an Indian sect of Islam, founded in the late nineteenth century, which promotes peace among nations and opposes religious coercion. Their large mosque houses a prayer hall and a first-floor exhibit of their history and significant contributions. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Baha’i World Centre is an expansive complex of gardens centered around the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab. Other sights in Haifa include Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery, home to a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah, the nineteenth-century German colony, Paris Square, Carmel National Forest, Ein Hod artist’s colony, the Haifa Theatre and numerous museums.