Spectacular Nature on Land and at Sea
At Golfo Dulce Retreat, we are surrounded by spectacular nature - on land and at sea. Our rainforests harbour one of the most biodiverse habitats on the planet with Piedras Blancas National Park at our doorstep, linked by a biological corridor to world famous Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula.
We are blessed with the abundance of sea life of the Pacific Ocean, yet sheltered within Golfo Dulce. Indeed the gulf has recently been identified by National Geographic as one of the ocean’s 20 wildest places and recognised by Mission Blue as a ‘Hope Spot’ for its unique ecosystem for marine biodiversity. These are amazing warm waters where, in the day, dolphins and whales swim wild and free and, at night, algae glow creating one of the most amazing bioluminescence spectacles Earth can offer.
Our Surrounding Forest
Golfo Dulce Retreat sits partly within the Piedras Blancas National Park, which covers 30,000 acres of undisturbed tropical lowland primary rainforest and 5,000 acres of secondary forests, pasture land and rivers. The tropical lowland wet forest is one of the most threatened and least studied types of vegetation. The Piedras Blancas National Park was established in 1992 as an extension of the Corcovado National Park, in the Osa Peninsula, to which it is connected by a forest corridor which ensures biodiversity and self-sustaining ecological and evolutionary processes between wildlife populations.
It is mainly through the effort of small entities that the park has since expanded, as charitable organisations and individuals like us bought many privately-owned areas within and just outside of the park, helping to concentrate efforts to halt the deeply damaging deforestation that was taking place in much of the region.
Piedras Blancas hosts one of the most diverse arrays of wildlife on the planet; our friends at the University of Vienna now believe that its biodiversity is very similar, if not higher, than that found in Corcovado National Park - described by the National Geographic as "the most ecologically intense place on earth."
The year round growth opportunities offered by Golfo Dulce's unique climate of sustained elevated temperature (average 26.6ºC/80ºF) and humidity mean that the flora found in Piedras Blancas is among the richest on the planet. It encompasses several thousand different species of plants including hundreds of tree species, herbs and epiphytes, some very rare and in danger of extinction and with a high level of endemnism. Some of the larger trees to be found in the Park as well as within our property are ceibas, espavels, gallinazos, balsa, guapinol, and many more. The forest is also host to an abundance of lichen and fungi displaying beautiful fruiting bodies. The species diversity of fungi is second only to that of the insects.
The park's fauna is equally as rich. More than 140 species of mammals have been identified, including 5 species of native cats (puma, ocelot, margay, jaguar and jaguarundi), 4 species of monkeys (howler, spider, white-faced capuchin and squirrel) as well as 53 species of bats.
The park is a very important meeting point for birds that come from North and South America. There have been 360 different species of birds identified, making Golfo Dulce Retreat a perfect bird watching destination. Amongst others scarlet macaws, toucans, hummingbirds, great curassows, crested guans, trogons, aracaris, honey creepers, herons, tinamous, woodpeckers, wood creepers, antbirds and manikins can easily been spotted. There are also 100 different types of reptiles and amphibians, including the endemic Golfo Dulce Dart Frog, and thousands of insect species.
With such an amazing variety of life our surrounding rainforest has to offer, it is no surprise that you will most likely encounter several animals in their natural habitat and see some of the most magnificent trees while staying with us at Golfo Dulce Retreat. We have several forest trails departing from our gardens which cater for all levels of fitness and which will let you explore the wonders of both our secondary and primary forest.
The Sweet Gulf
Golfo Dulce takes its name from the large amount of freshwater flowing into it, mainly from four large rivers whose mouths harbour many hectares of protected mangroves. Golfo Dulce is a large bay ringed by secluded beaches which lies between the Osa Peninsula and the southern end of the Pacific Coast. Due to the regions' tremendous biodiversity, the Golfo Dulce region with its virgin rainforest of the Piedras Blancas National Park is the perfect destination for nature lovers, those seeking soft adventure and those who want to escape from crowded tourist destinations. During a visit by the Greenpeace ship Moby Dick, Captain Joel Stewart commented in 1996 that there is "so much biodiversity... so many species, that one is almost forced to defend it."
The Golfo Dulce is one of only four tropical fjord-like estuaries in the whole world. The depth exceeds 200m in the inner basin and it is sheltered against the open Pacific by a shallow sill (60m) at the southern end. Water depths increase rapidly along fault scarp faces on the eastern side of the gulf and tidal ranges are as great as 6m. Due to this morphology, there is only limited water exchange with the ocean.
This area of pristine tropical wilderness is home to resident and migratory communities of bottlenose, spotted and spinner dolphins as well as the occasionally-seen false-killer whales. The bottlenose dolphins can often be seen in groups of 5-10 individuals swimming lazily along the coasts, whilst spinner and spotted dolphins are normally found swimming in deeper waters in large groups that can easily exceed 100 individuals.
From January to April, Humpback Whales from the Northern Hemisphere pass by and those from the Southern Hemisphere in August and September. August is when whale watching season begins with the endangered Pacific Humpbacks breeding and giving birth in the gulf. Bryde’s whales are residents of the gulf and where the gulf meets the Pacific, Cuvier’s Beaked Whales and Pygmy Sperm Whales can also be seen.
As well as hosting more than 25 species of dolphins and whales, Golfo Dulce is home to four of the world's 8 different sea turtles including the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle, along with manta rays, sailfish, marlin, tuna and sharks including endangered hammerhead and whale sharks.
The mangrove systems found within the gulf which are composed of red and black mangrove species, grow in the intertidal region where salt and fresh water meet. They serve as a buffer from storms reducing erosion of shorelines and improve the quality and clarity of the water. The mangroves are a crucial nursery for hammerhead sharks, shrimp, crabs, corvina (sea bass) and other fish. A great variety of other animals reside within this habitat, including caimans, snakes, monkeys, iguanas, and around 100 species of birds including the endemic mangrove hummingbird.
Golfo Dulce's marine environment is not only very unique and rich, but also very fragile. Coral reefs are slowly recovering after having been heavily damaged in the past by sedimentation caused by illegal logging and the construction of a coastal road on the opposite side of the gulf. The reefs present harbour a remarkable variety of fish species that provide a colourful snorkelling experience; these fish include parrotfish, needlefish, triggerfish, pufferfish, surgeon fish, rainbow wrasse, angel and butterfly fish.
Another secret harboured by Golfo Dulce's waters awaits to be discovered at night. Bioluminescent plankton lights up the ocean with sparkles that can be seen when the water is disturbed by the movement of boats or larger organisms such as fish and humans. This can be seen due to the lack of light pollution and creates a magical experience for swimming under the stars.
One of the most memorable parts of your trip while staying at Golfo Dulce Retreat will be exploring our amazing Golfo Dulce on our boat, visiting remote beaches, looking for dolphins and exploring the mangroves.
Neighbours With a Cause
At Golfo Dulce Retreat, we are lucky to have as next-door neighbours Zoo Ave, a privately-owned Wildlife Reintroduction Site, which, in the last 20 years, has released about 300 highly endangered scarlet macaws (Ara Macao) into the wild. Scarlet macaws were once present in Piedras Blancas National Park but the population had regrettably been wiped out due to poaching and pesticide use.
Thanks to the hard work of our neighbours, the population of scarlet macaws here is now considered to be self-sustaining and we hope these beautiful birds will continue adorning our skies with no more future threats. Indeed, one of the most memorable encounters you will have while staying at Golfo Dulce Retreat will be with wild scarlet macaws. You will often see these large, colourful birds feeding in the trees around our tropical gardens and you will hear their loud screeching calls throughout the day.
Although Zoo Ave next door is not open to the public, you can help support their invaluable work by visiting their main centre in La Garita, which is just a 10 minute taxi-ride from the International Airport and, with its many educational wildlife displays and even a zip line course, provides a great day out for the whole family.