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.