Limón Rising New port brings development to Caribbean coast: The attributes of Costa Rica’s “other” coast, the Caribbean, and its port city of Limón are sometimes overlooked or underrated, but that could soon be changing with a new port and development.

Having weathered some rough times over the years, Limón is poised for an economic turnaround with regional and national ripple effects that should leave few sectors untouched. A new $1.1 billion container terminal, scheduled to open in February 2019, will be unprecedented in scale and scope and have a transformational impact on Limón, Costa Rica port operations.

About $1 billion will be invested
in provincially funded enhancements
to health services, schools, housing,
roads, security and culture.

Limón retains a certain mystique as a sort of wild, untamed paradise where bananas are grown, cocaine enters Central America for transshipment and miles of undeveloped tropical beaches run from the city’s outskirts to the Panama border. Some perceive it to be the kind of place where people truly wanting to “fall off the map” are drawn, fancying the notion of a cold beer and a traditional plate of whole fried snapper, accompanied by rice and beans with coconut oil.

Aerial view of downtown Limon Costa Rica

2014 Aerial shot of Limon and its old cargo port, Puerto Aleman (German Port), which is slated for major renovation to receive cruise ships. The new Moin Container Terminal has moved to the bay in the upper right part of this photo, and is no longer in the downtown area.


Original gateway to the world

On Christopher Columbus’ fourth and final voyage to the New World, he landed in 1502 at Isla Uvita, off the coast of Limón. Columbus was greeted by the Carib Indians, who were festooned with gold jewelry, which he thought was an indication of the “riches” to be found in the country. Some speculate that this gave rise to the country’s name, “Rich Coast,” though the jewelry may have been obtained through trading.

Limón was formally founded in 1854 but remained sparsely uninhabited until 1867, when construction began on the railroad that would connect the country’s new port with the Central Valley to facilitate the export of coffee with bananas planted parallel to the railway. The resulting movement of coffee created an economic boom in Costa Rica and a noticeable increase in wealth in the capital.

Costa Rica’s total population at the time was about 150,000 inhabitants, and Limón became its gateway to the world. It was the most cosmopolitan city in Costa Rica, with an influx of Jamaican and Chinese workers, as well as Italian, German, English and American engineers and merchants who arrived to seek their fortune here.


New Moin Container Port with Post-Panamax cranes
Below: 2018-2019 operational timeline


Natural attractions

Today, Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has much to offer as a destination for tourists, investors and business people. Limón province covers an area of approximately 9,200 square kilometers (3,500 square miles) and is home to some 450,000 people, about 9 percent of the country’s total population.

The region’s pristine natural beauty is unparalleled, with more than 300 square kilometers of unspoiled beaches and a denseness of biological diversity like few other places on earth. The distinctive Afro-Caribbean-based culture is showcased in local traditions centered around food, song, dance, language and customs.

Tortuguero National Park, whose name translates to “turtle nesting ground,” is a Caribbean destination for many Costa Rican travel itineraries. As one of the country’s most visited national park attractions, Tortuguero encompasses 11 different coastal habitats, including rainforest, mangroves, swamps and lagoons. The 22-mile long border of beaches is a protected area where sea turtles lay their eggs, including the hawksbill, loggerhead, green and leatherback species. Other wildlife found in the park include more than 300 bird species, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, jaguars, sloths, tapirs, river otters, peccaries, poison dart frogs, and three monkey species.

Puerto Viejo is a Caribbean beach town popular for surfing and the laid-back lifestyle, with an appealing selection of boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.

Nearby are the Talamanca mountains, home to the Bribri indigenous people, and a desirable locale for many retreats and spas.

Limón today

The city of Limón, with close to 70,000 residents, is located about 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of San José, making the trip a three-hour drive or 20-minute flight.

Limón has always been vitally important to Costa Rica’s international trade economy. It’s the country’s hub for approximately 80 percent of all maritime imports and exports, including the majority of coffee, bananas and pineapple shipments. 


Container terminal

As Costa Rica’s largest public infrastructure project ever, the Moín Container Terminal (MCT) is expected to attract the country’s largest share of foreign direct investment to the surrounding areas over the next 10 years.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, Costa Rica currently has one of the poorest ratings for international port infrastructure quality — in 138th place out of 143 countries. Limón’s new port is bound to boost that ranking when factored into future global comparisons.

MCT’s vastly larger capacity will make it possible to accommodate vessels four times larger than those currently handled in the area, a first for Costa Rica.

Improved efficiencies in handling, unloading and turning around ships are expected to reduce costs by 40 percent and enlarge Costa Rica’s global trade footprint by 23 percent. This translates nationally to 147,000 new jobs and a $2.9 billion GDP infusion.

Limón’s local labor force will benefit from the creation of 550 new jobs directly related to MCT and 1,100 indirectly related jobs.

In addition, a new concession fee structure set by the Costa Rican government requires 7.5 percent of the net income from MCT’s operations to be remitted for regional development. Totaling about $1 billion over a 30-year period, this money will be invested in provincially funded enhancements to health services, schools, housing, roads, security and culture. Other new opportunities for Limón area residents might relate to training and skills development, renewable energy initiatives and wildlife conservation programs.

APM Terminals

Construction and operation of MCT is being spearheaded by APM Terminals, a division of the Dutch shipping firm Maersk.

Phase one got underway in 2015. It took 2.1 million tons of rocks to create the 80-hectare artificial island site for a 1,500-meter quay with a depth of 16 meters and 18-meter-deep access channel. Work crews have placed 16,000 interlocking blocks on the ground surface and inserted 880 pylons.

This building activity alone has been good for local business in Limón. Notably, it can be lucrative if your customers need transportation, meals, lodging and building materials. But the expansion has been profitable in other markets too, ranging from port-a-potty rentals to sales of bedding and beer!

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