- Summary: Southern port town and Duty Free Zone; also known for world-class sport fishing.
- Landscape: Ocean, Rainforest
- Attractions: Golfito Wildlife Refuge, Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, Piedras Blancas National Park, Wildlife
- Activities: Shopping, Sport Fishing
- Caters to: Independent Travelers, Luxury Travelers, Nature Lovers
The southern port town of Golfito is often considered a gateway to other attractions, namely the big waves of Pavones to the south, and Piedras Blancas National Park to the north. Located across from the Osa Peninsula on the Sweet Gulf, the city receives an enormous amount of rain, and is backed by thick, beautiful forests. While the water here is a bit murky for swimming, sport fishing conditions could not be better – and many tour operators use the town as a base for excursions.read more close
Demographically, Golfito is split according to income. The town’s affluent members call the Zona Americana (or American area) their home. It is composed of large, plantation-style houses in which United Fruit corporation executives used to reside many years ago. The working class generally lives on the other side of town, known as the Pueblo Civil.
Once a thriving banana port, Golfito received more than its share of hard knocks – and after many years, the aftereffects of a tumultuous history in the banana industry are still poignantly reflected in the community. In the late 1930s, the United Fruit Company named Golfito its headquarters, bringing hundreds of jobs and a general sense of prosperity to the area.
The company built schools, medical facilities and even a police station. Within 20 years, over 90% of bananas exported from Costa Rica were processed through the port. In 1985, labor strikes, rising banana prices and inflation prompted United Fruit to suddenly pull its operations. After enjoying fifty years of economic activity, nearly everyone had become unemployed overnight.
In an effort to jump start the economy and to take advantage of Golfito’s close proximity to Panama, the Costa Rican government has transitioned the town into a Duty Free Zone. Products are not subject to import taxes – and thrifty shoppers from around the country take advantage of low prices on appliances and electronic goods. An outdoor mall called the Deposito Libre carries everything from iPods to washing machines.
Casa de Orquideas
These gorgeous botanical gardens have been family owned and operated for over 30 years. Bird watchers marvel at the100 species of birds that are attracted to the park’s orchids, heliconias, bromeliads and slew of edible plants. The gardens can be reached by boat, kayak, or on foot for travelers staying on Playa San Josecito. (Playa San Josecito, Golfo Dulce. Guided tours offered Sundays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m.; $8 per person, 3 people minimum. Self-guided walking tours available Mon-Wed and Saturday; $5 per person. 8829-1247.)
Golfito Wildlife Refuge
Surrounded on three sides by the town of Golfito, this wildlife refuge was created largely as a method of protecting the city’s water supply. Animals are plentiful along the park’s trails, and can include collared peccaries, white-nosed coatis, agoutis and pacas. All four species of monkey native to Costa Rica reside in the reserve: capuchin, spider, howler and squirrel. The refuge shares its northern boundary with Piedras Blancas National Park, and as a result the two protected zones feature much of the same biodiversity and wildlife.
Piedras Blancas National Park
Previously a part of the legendary Corcovado National Park, Piedras Blancas is home to a dizzying array of plant and animal life. The Rio Esquinas and Rio Piedras river basins – combined with up to 200 inches of rainfall per year – produce an amazingly verdant habitat for a species list almost identical to Corcovado’s. Rescue organizations dedicated to scarlet macaws and wild cats have a great deal of success inside the park, mostly due to its extreme isolation. Poison dart frogs, peccaries, monkeys, caimans, crocodiles and over 330 bird species inhabit the zone.
The Paradise Tropical Garden
Inaugurated in 2001, this small garden features an enjoyable “see, smell, taste, and touch experience.” Guests are invited to sample edible flowers, fruits, and other plants before heading out into the extensive botanical gardens. The tour winds up with a snack of local foods, including fried plantains and yucca. (Golfito. 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Sun. Donations encouraged, reservations recommended to set up food sampling in advance. 2789-8746.)
Osa Wildlife Sanctuary
Get up close and personal with sloths, spidermonkeys and scarlet macaws at the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. Wounded or orphaned animals and illegally-captured pets are brought from all over Costa Rica and Nicaragua to be rehabilitated in the refuge, which is located on the edge of Piedras Blancas National Park, on Playa Cativo. Tours are available every day from about 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and include transportation from Golfito or Puerto Jimenez, both about a half an hour away by boat. Tel: 8837-1631
Deposito Libre is a duty free shopping mall, featuring imported goods free of the hefty taxes normally added to their price tags. Shoppers must get a special credit slip giving permission to spend up to $500 one day in advance of purchases, and all purchases must be made on the same day. The mall is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and is closed on Mondays. Slips can be obtained Mondays from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Sport fishing is Golfito’s most popular activity, and well-equipped boats can be chartered for a half or full day. The fishing is excellent year-round, and common catches include marlin, yellow fin tuna, wahoo and roosterfish. The dry season months of November through May are prime for pulling in record Pacific sailfish.
Places to Stay:
A number of luxurious eco-lodges mesh effortlessly with the greenery in and around Piedras Blancas National Park and the beaches of Nicuesa, Cativo and San Josecito. Solar powered, self sustainable and only accessible by boat, these resorts are guilt-free escapes from society. Located a short distance from Golfito, several eco-lodges strive to provide fair employment opportunities – and to leave only the most positive social, economic and environmental impact. Downtown Golfito also features a variety of mid-range and upscale accommodations, most of which offer air conditioning and wireless Internet. Budget hotels, catering mainly to backpackers, are also available.
Air: Both Sansa and Nature Air offer daily flights to Golfito.
Boat: Boat taxis run at least five times daily between Puerto Jimenez and Golfito. The fare is about $6 and takes a half-hour.
Car: From San Jose take the Caldera highway, Route 27, toward Jaco and Quepos, continuing south to Dominical. From Dominical, take the Costanera Sur to Palmar Norte. Then get back on the Interamerican highway until Rio Claro. At the light, take a right to Golfito.
Public Bus: $12.75; 7:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (direct, no stops); 8 hours. Departs from Plaza Viquez. 2221-4214.