We've been to Puntarenas twice, on Princess, but I imagine the excursions are similar.
I highly recommend the tour into the Capital city, San Jose, with a stop at Sarchi. It is an excellent way to see the beautiful countryside and learn about the country. The tour guides in Costa Rica are excellent.
The other tour we took was a cruise in a small boat in a ecological preserve; it was kind of like the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, but the real deal. It was combined with a ride on an antique train once used to bring coffee down to the port.
Reading the excursion descriptions last night, everything included a long ride to get to the site. I don't want to be on a bus for 3.5 hours one way! Bus ride is longer than the actual excursion. I prefer something that is right there, but I guess that's not really an option.
What if I don't go on an excursion? Is there anything to do in the surrounding port area? What is the area like?
Well, the excursion to San Jose is really much more than just a "bus ride"; it's a good chance to see the beautiful vistas that are Costa Rica. And you make some very interesting stops along the way. A good tour guide (and we have only had great ones in Costa Rica) makes it a very informative and educational experience.
Puntarenas is just a very poor and not-too-clean port town. I wouldn't venture more than a few blocks from the pier.
I looked at the various ports from satellite view and they don't look to be hubs of activity. I reckon people don't want to live around ports so the richer areas will not be there. The Baltimore port isn't around anything either so I guess that's true for most. Although, the St. Thomas port was right by a shopping center. For the most part though, it seems like you have to travel to get to stuff.
I looked at the La Paz Waterfalls Garden site and that looked nice. But I've been deceived by Web sites before so I don't know.
I signed up for an excursion to San Jose via the Pan American Highway where we visit the National Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Opera House, lunch at Hacienda Pura Vida, and some cities (Sarchi and another) for shopping.
Oxcarts seem to be big in Costa Rica, but I can't see a lot of tourists buying them. Firstly, how to get home and secondly, I have no oxes! I guess they sell miniatures.