Golfito is not known for good swimming beaches, but a short boat ride away is the lovely Playa Puntarenitas, a sandy spit at the entrance to Golfito Bay (not to be confused with Punta Arenitas on the western side of the Golfo Dulce near Puerto Jiménez). This is a primitive but quaint area with beach shacks that sell beer, seafood, lobster, pork, chicken, and other delicacies, cooked the old-fashioned way on wood-burning stoves. You may feel a bit lost in time, as if you’re visiting Costa Rica in the 1970s. Before you ask for the Wi-Fi password, notice there is no electricity. Here you’ll find calm waters and soft sand that make for perfect swimming. You can get to Puntarenitas in a taxi boat for C1,000 per person with four people, or you can even take a kayak.
Another option is Playa Cacao, where the beach is rocky but the seafood is good at two old-fashioned and charming restaurants on the beach, Lola’s and Siete Mares. A taxi boat to Playa Cacao can run C3,500 per person, and it’s always good to settle the price in advance.
Botanical Gardens: About 30 minutes by boat out of Golfito, you’ll find Casa Orquídeas ★★ (tel. 8829-1247; Sat–Thurs 8am–4pm), a private botanical garden lovingly built and maintained by Ron and Trudy MacAllister, who settled this remote piece of land in the 1970s. Most hotels in the area offer trips here, including transportation and a 2-hour tour of the gardens. You can also book your own trip out of Golfito with Golfito Monkey Tours (http://golfitomonkey.com; tel. 8665-5705). During the tour, you’ll sample fresh fruits picked right off the trees. The entrance and guided tour is $10 per person, but it’ll cost you between $80 and $100 to hire a boat for the round-trip ride. Regularly scheduled tours are on Thursdays and Sundays at 8:30am (three-person minimum).
If you have a serious interest in botanical gardens or bird-watching, consider an excursion to Wilson Botanical Gardens ★★★ at the Las Cruces Biological Station (www.threepaths.co.cr; tel. 2524-0607 in San José or 2773-4004 at the gardens), just outside the town of San Vito, about 65km (40 miles) to the northeast. The gardens are owned and maintained by the Organization for Tropical Studies and include more than 7,000 species of tropical plants from around the world. Among the plants grown here are many endangered species, which make the gardens of interest to botanical researchers. Despite the scientific aspects of the gardens, with so many beautiful and unusual flowers amid the manicured grounds, even a neophyte can’t help but be astounded. All this luscious flora has attracted at least 360 species of birds. A 4-hour guided walk costs $40; a shorter, 2-hour hike will run you $30. If you’d like to stay the night here, 12 well-appointed rooms are available. Rates include one guided walk, three meals, and taxes, and run $98 per person. Reservations are essential if you want to spend the night, and it’s usually a good idea to make a reservation for a simple day visit and hike. The gardens are about 6km (3 3/4 miles) before San Vito. To get here from Golfito, drive out to the Interamerican Highway and continue south toward Panama. In Ciudad Neily, turn north. A taxi from Golfito should cost around $40 to $50 each way.
Hiking: With a trail head located just on the outskirts of town, the Golfito National Wildlife Reserve ★ is the closest place to Golfito for a hike in one of the area’s typical local lowland rainforests. This reserve is home to much of the same wildlife and flora you’ll find in other, more famous national parks. You can hike it yourself or go as part of an organized tour with Costa Rica Trips (tel. 8665-5705). Sometimes admission isn’t charged, and often the hours aren’t enforced.
About a 20-minute drive over a rough dirt road from Golfito will bring you to the Cataratas y Senderos Avellán (Avellán Waterfall & Trails; www.avellancr.com; tel. 8633-4768). Admission to the site costs $5 and includes a 2-hour guided hike through the forests and a visit to a beautiful forest waterfall, with several refreshing pools perfect for swimming. A taxi should cost around $25 one-way. Horseback riding ($30) is available, camping is allowed, and meals are served by the friendly owners, the Gamba family. For most people, the best way to visit this site is to go as part of an organized trip with Golfito Monkey Tours (http://golfitomonkey.com; tel. 8665-5705).
Sportfishing: The waters off Golfito offer some of the best sportfishing in Costa Rica. Most game-fish species can be caught here year-round, including tuna, dorado, blue and black marlin, sailfish, and roosterfish. Nov through May is the peak period for sailfish and blue marlin. If you’d like to try hooking a big one, contact Banana Bay Marina (www.bananabaymarinagolfito.com; tel. 2775-0255) or Fish Hook Marina (www.fish-hook-marina.com; tel. 2775-1624). Both operations boast a full-service marina, waterside rooms for guests, and a fleet of sportfishing boats and captains. A full-day trip costs between $1,000 and $1,800. You can also try the Zancudo Lodge (www.thezancudolodge.com; tel. 800/854-8791 U.S./Canada, or 2776-0008 in Costa Rica), based out of the Zancudo Lodge in nearby Playa Zancudo. The lodge can arrange pickup in Golfito.
Ziplining: High above Golfito in the rainforest reserve is a thrilling canopy zipline tour run by the adventure pioneers of this area, Canopy Bosque Mar (tel. 8846-6673), who have built 13 platforms with 3,000m of descent and a 75m waterfall along the way. Cost is $75 per person with free transportation from your hotel. Contact Osa Tropical (www.osa-tropical.com; tel. 2735-5062) for more information.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.