The former banana port of GOLFITO, 33km north of the Panamanian border, straggles for 2.5km along the water of the same name (golfito means “little gulf”). The town’s setting is spectacular, backed up against steep, thickly forested hills to the east, and with the glorious Golfo Dulce – one of the deepest gulfs of its size in the world – to the west. The low shadow of the Península de Osa shimmers in the distance, and everywhere the vegetation has the soft, muted look of the undisturbed tropics. It is also very rainy; even if you speak no Spanish, you’ll certainly pick up the local expression va a caer baldazos – “it’s gonna pour”.
Golfito extends for ages without any clear centre, through stretches where the main road is hemmed in by hills on one side and the lapping waters of the golfito on the other. The town is effectively split in two – by a division in wealth as well as architecture. In the north is the Zona Americana, where the banana company executives used to live and where better-off residents still reside in beautiful wooden houses shaded by dignified palms. Here you’ll find the tax-free Depósito Libre, an unaesthetic outdoor mall ringed by a circular concrete wall. Some two kilometres to the south of the Depósito, the Pueblo Civil (civilian town), is a very small, tight nest of streets – hotter, noisier and more crowded than the zona. It’s here you’ll find the lancha across the Golfo Dulce to Puerto Jiménez and the Península de Osa. Although the Pueblo Civil is perfectly civil in the daytime, be careful at night. Be wary of entering any bar with a sign positioned outside so that you can’t see in – these are for professional transactions only.Read More
United Brands (“La Yunai”)
United Brands (“La Yunai”)
Golfito’s history is inextricably intertwined with the giant transnational United Brands – known locally as “La Yunai” – which first set up in the area in 1938, twenty years before the Interamericana hit town. The company built schools, recruited doctors and police and brought prosperity to the area, though “problems” with labour union organizers began soon afterwards, and came to characterize the relationship between company and town. What with fluctuating banana prices, a three-month strike by workers and local social unrest, the company eventually decided Golfito was too much trouble and pulled out in a hurry in 1985. The town declined and, in the public eye, became synonymous with rampant unemployment, alcoholism, abandoned children, prostitution and general unruliness.
Today, at the big old muelle bananero (banana dock) container ships are still loaded up with bananas to be processed further up towards Palmar. This residual traffic, along with tourism, has combined to help revive the local economy. Many visitors come to Golfito because it’s a good base for getting to the Parque Nacional Corcovado by lancha or plane, and also a major sports-fishing centre. The real rescue, though, came from the Costa Rican government, who in the early 1990s established a Depósito Libre – or tax-free zone – in the town, where Costa Ricans can buy manufactured goods imported from Panamá without the 100 percent tax normally levied. Ticos who come to shop here have to buy their tickets for the Depósito 24 hours in advance, obliging them to spend at least one night, and therefore colones, in the town.