Here's what I did. Rent a taxi for a 3 hour drive. We had a great time and saw sights other passengers never saw. Split the cost with another couple. You will go on a nice tour and see the rain forest, some local scenerey etc. Be sure to see the river with the crocs. He will likely stop at a "cousins" for you to buy a trinket or a cold drink. Maybe you can see the butterflys too.
I thought the long drives on cruise tours were too long for me. The downtown has nothing really to do or see.
Arrange to see the Tortuguerro Canals . I suggest you use the ships tour. The town itself is a poverty stricken industrial port town with a small run down shopping street accross from the pier. The countyside is beautiful and the Torteguerro canal tour is the best way to see it.
Last time I went to Puntarenas (aboard MV Sun Princess in 2000), Puntarenas was a small fishing village that had not become much of a tourist trap. I chose the tour of Sarchi and was not disappointed. The "all-metal church" that you will see on that tour a lot more impressive than it sounds in the description. The famous "oxcarts" (actually, bars in various sizes in the style of their traditional oxcarts) that they make at Sarchi are real works of craftsmanship with designs that remind me of the "Pennsylvania Dutch" style. For souveniers, you also can buy Costa Rican coffees (the dark roast is a true connoisseur's coffee, but not exported to the United States). Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time touring the village of Puntarenas -- which I hear was quite worthwhile.
Bear in mind that most of the attractions of Costa Rica are in in the vicinity of San Jose, the capital, which is about an hour and a half by bus from Puntarenas in Costa Rica's central plane on the country's winding mountain roads. Thus, most tours are quite long -- the tour to Sarchi, only an hour or so from Puntarenas, being the notable exception.
I'm returning there aboard MV Infinity on the cruise departing next Sunday, so I'm debating whether to go to Sarchi again or to wander through the streets of Puntarenas on my own and shop for souvenirs.
I too am a bit worried about taxi drivers but I prefer to rent a taxi rather than get on a bus with 50 people. We usually go with another couple so there are four adults in the taxi. But we have never had any problems.
You dock at a very very long pier. At the end of the pier there are many taxi drivers waiting to show you the sights. ( I think they have a "starter" who organizes the drivers.) Most of their prices are the same. I always ask for an English speaking driver, who does not smoke and has air conditioning. Ask them what they proppose to show you. They know the sights. As I said we saw, crocs in a river, iguanas in the tree, the rain forest, etc. Nothing fancy, but betetr than 7 hours on a bus to a volcano.
There is a butterfly farm in Costa Rica but as I recall it is quite far away. There is info on it and signs in town. But I am always nervous in taking a private taxi on a long tour while on a cruise. I would hate for engine trouble to occur an hour away from the ship. Never want to miss the ship.
We just returned from the Infinity Panama Canal cruise (San Diego/Ft. Lauderdale) during which we made a stop at Puntarenas. We opted not to take a tour since we had already visited San Jose on a previous canal cruise, and none of the other tours really appealed to us. From what we heard from other passengers, the river rafting tour seemed to be enjoyed more than any of the other tours.
As far as Puntarenas itself is concerned, it is dusty, decrepit and apparently dirt poor. We were told not to venture off the road that runs parallel to the beach, and frankly, after just looking down the sidestreets, we had absolutely no desire to do so. Should we have the occasion to visit Puntarenas on another cuirse, we would opt not to get off the ship.
There is a "Bird Zoo" or Zoo Ave near San Jose. Not only do they have different species of parrots, etc, but they also had monkeys (climbing in trees) that could not be repatriated to the wild because of medical disability. We have two parrots and enjoy looking /learning. We also had a taxi driver take us to a local grocery store where we bought some delicious Costa Rican coffee like the locals do.