You won’t find any really good swimming beaches right in Golfito. The closest spot is Playa Cacao, a short boat ride away, although this is not one of my favorite beaches in Costa Rica. You should be able to get a ride here for around C3,000 per person from one of the boat taxis down at the public docks. However, you might have to negotiate hard because these boatmen like to gouge tourists whenever possible. If you really want some beach time, I recommend staying at one of the hotels in the Golfo Dulce or heading over to Playa Zancudo.
Botanical Gardens -- About 30 minutes by boat out of Golfito, you’ll find Casa Orquídeas ★★ (tel. 8829-1247), 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. During the tour, you’ll sample a load of fresh fruits picked right off the trees. If your hotel can’t, you can book a trip out of Golfito with Land Sea Tours ((tel) 2775-1614). If you decide to do it yourself, the entrance and guided tour is $10 per person, but it will cost you between $80 and $100 to hire a boat for the round-trip ride; the gardens are open daily from 8am to 4pm, and are closed on Fridays. 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 (tel. 2524-0607 in San José or 2773-4004 at the gardens; www.threepaths.co.cr), 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. A well-marked trail begins near the ranger station, just beyond the city’s airstrip. You can hike it yourself or go as part of an organized tour with Land Sea Tours (tel. 2775-1614). Sometimes admission isn't charged (when it is, it's $10), and often the hours (8am-4pm) 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; (tel. 8633-4768; www.avellancr.com). 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, and camping is allowed. Meals are served by the friendly owners of the land, the local Gamba family. However, for most folks, the best way to visit this site is to go as part of an organized trip with Costa Rica Trips (tel. 8665-5705).
Sportfishing -- The waters off Golfito also offer some of the best sportfishing in Costa Rica. Most game fish species can be caught here year-round, including blue and black marlin, sailfish, and roosterfish. November through May is the peak period for sailfish and blue marlin. If you’d like to try hooking into a possible world record marlin or sailfish, contact Banana Bay Marina (tel. 2775-0838; www.bananabaymarinagolfito.com) or Fish Hook Marina (tel. 800/353-0678 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2775-1624 in Costa Rica; www.fish-hook-marina.com). Both of these operations boast a full-service marina, a few waterside rooms for guests, and a fleet of sportfishing boats and captains. A full-day fishing trip costs between $950 and $1,800. You can also try the Zancudo Lodge (tel. 800/854-8791 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2776-0008 in Costa Rica; www.thezancudolodge.com), which is based out of the Zancudo Beach Resort in nearby Playa Zancudo. The lodge can arrange pickup in Golfito, and I greatly prefer the Zancudo lodgings and scenery to what you’ll find in Golfito.
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.