87km (54 miles) S of Palmar Norte; 337km (209 miles) S of San José

Despite being the largest and most important city in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone, Golfito itself is not a popular tourist destination. In its prime, this was a major banana port, but following years of rising taxes, falling prices, and labor disputes, United Fruit pulled out in 1985. Things may change in the future, as rumors perennially abound about the construction of an international airport, major marina, or big tuna farm. For the moment, none of these megaprojects has gotten off the drawing board. Golfito is home to a unique sort of megamall (the “Depósito Libre”) where goods can be bought at greatly reduced duties, making it one of the cheapest places in Costa Rica to buy TVs, refrigerators, tires, or just about anything else.

Golfito is still a major sportfishing center and a popular gateway to a slew of nature lodges spread along the quiet waters, isolated bays, and lush rainforests of the Golfo Dulce, or “Sweet Gulf.” In 1998, much of the rainforest bordering the Golfo Dulce was officially declared the Piedras Blancas National Park ★★, which includes 14,350 hectares (35,460 acres) of primary forests, as well as protected secondary forests and pasturelands.

Golfito is located on the eastern side of the Golfo Dulce, at the foot of lush green mountains. The setting alone gives it the potential to be one of the most attractive cities in the country. However, the areas around the municipal park and public dock are somewhat seedy, and the downtown is run-down and overpopulated with bars. Still, if you go a bit farther along the bay, you come to the old United Fruit Company housing. Here you’ll find well-maintained wooden houses painted bright colors and surrounded by neatly manicured gardens. Toucans are commonly sighted. It’s all very lush and green and clean—an altogether different picture from that painted by most port towns in this country. When a duty-free zone was opened here, these old homes experienced a minor renaissance and several were converted into small hotels. Ticos come here in droves on weekends to take advantage of cheap prices on name-brand goods and clothing at the duty-free zone; sometimes all these shoppers make finding a room difficult.