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A guide to the Costa Rica town of Golfito

May 31, 2021

Within the Puntarenas province is a tranquil remote destination near the border of Panama, little gulf. Golfito is a small town on the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica, often referred to as the gateway to Pavones where surfers venture for legendary waves on the remote and unpopulated beaches of the Pacific Coast.

However, it is more than just a stopover, it has a rich history as a port town built in the thirties.  It is the most southern port town in Costa Rica opposite the Osa Peninsula where it became a flourishing banana port for approximately forty years.  The United Fruit Company established housing for their employees and company buildings here as it was the main banana port for their organization in all of the country.

They continued to build up the company town from stores, schools, and even a hospital. At one point Golfito provided 90% of the exportation of bananas from Costa Rica making it a thriving community.  Labor disputes and inflation of export taxes caused a significant change in this remote town in 1985 turning it from a booming community to one struggling in economic hardship as the banana production was abandoned here. Unemployment took over the town and poverty spread throughout the homes as a result of the company relocating.

In order to revive life back into the area and rebuild itself, the government stepped in making Golfito a duty-free zone in hopes that it would encourage Costa Ricans and foreigners to shop for imported items. Import taxes tend to be quite high especially on appliances and making this out-of-the-way journey can save one quite a bit of money. 

Alcohol, cigarettes, chocolates, and especially electronics draw people into the free port and in turn, has benefited tourism and improved the economic sector bringing in more stability. For most making this drive, it is not a short trip and many will take advantage of it making it a small weekend getaway as there is more to do than simply shopping in Golfito.

One of the special characteristics of the town of Golfito is that it lies within a declared protection area and is the only one of its kind in Costa Rica. The preservation of the water supply of Golfito was the premise behind the government declaration on November 11, 1988. 

This area receives very heavy rains which in turn keeps the wilderness dense with lush green forests of many species of trees and brushes calling Golfito National Wildlife Refuge home. The thick forest in the refuge is bursting with towering trees with a vast array of species from the native silk cotton tree to the walnut tree. This area is characterized by the thick evergreen forest with the common black palm growing below to the rare primitive plant güira.

Golfito National Wildlife Refuge

Although small, Golfito National Wildlife Refuge has an extensive variety of animals living within where all four of Costa Rica’s native monkeys reside, the mantled howler monkey, white-faced capuchin monkey, Geoffroy’s spider monkey, and the Central American squirrel monkey. Not only are the distant sounds of monkeys echoing through the forest but listen for the sounds of the birds in the tree canopies above.

The vibrant macaws and toucans will contrast against all the greenery overpowering you and keep your eyes open for parrots, herons, and owls as well.  There are hiking trails to help you stay on course as you explore the forests and even a waterfall flows within the refuge.

Along your route, you may spot coatis and anteaters rummaging through the forest or even the tropical rodent agouti. The refuge offers a stunning view of Golfo Dulce if traveling on the Playa Cacao trail where you can stop to take in the breathtaking beauty of the area.

If you choose to discover the wilderness within the Golfito National Wildlife Refuge ensure you bring rain gear, good foot attire, and your bug repellant as it is one of the wettest places in the country.

The cost is $10 for entry daily from 8 am to 4 pm and does not offer any bathroom facilities. There are longer trails such as the Radio Tower trail if you are looking to immerse yourself for several hours, however, shorter options are available if time does not permit.  Costa Rica never disappoints with its overflowing biodiversity and stunning flora and fauna and this refuge is sure to prove it.

Fishing in Golfito

Golfito is paradise if you have a love for being on the water as it has become one of Costa Rica’s top sports fishing destinations with fishing all year round. World record catches have been set for bill fishing in the Golfo Dulce attracting avid anglers and sports fishermen to chase after their own bragging rights.  

Experienced charters can take you out to plenty of Sailfish, Blue Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna, Black and Striped Marlin as pretty much every type of fish in Costa Rica is found within these waters just dependent on the time of your visit. You don’t have to go far offshore to enjoy a day fishing at the water with plenty of inshore catches of Roosterfish, small Barracudas, and Cuberas. 

Countless charters can provide deep-sea offshore fishing, inshore fishing, and overnight packages whether you are looking for a fun day out or a luxury experience.   If staying in one of the natural, tranquil eco-lodges or hotels they may offer their own captain and sportfishing boats.

Final Thoughts

Golfito may be small but can make a great quiet weekend away from the busy city. Sansa Airlines offer flights daily from San Jose to Golfito’s domestic airport which is close to the port making the trip even quicker. Take advantage of the savings of the duty-free shopping stocking up on some household items and explore the true nature of the mountainous rainforest with unforgettable scenery before you return home making it a worthwhile journey away.

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