Southern Zone: Dominical – Golfito

Far away over the mountains, via the ominously-named Hill of Death (Cerro de la Muerte), lie the jungle-lined shores of the southern Pacific. Over the years, the region has remained one of the country’s best-kept secrets, and for good reason. A difficult four-hour drive from San Jose to Dominical – and quite a bit further to Golfito and the Osa Peninsula from there – the way is long and the road is rough to the former stomping grounds of the United Fruit Company. But the scattering of hippies who moved there to live out their peaceful existence in the 1970s, their ranks swelled by a smatter of surfers, are now being joined by expatriates seeking a less stressful life. The developers, of course, are right behind.

The area generating the most interest is the coastal zone from Dominical south to Ojochal, but development is spreading in every direction and is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

The area possesses a striking beauty. In many places, the rain forest sweeps down the coastal hills to the shore line. The area has some of the largest mangrove forests on the Pacific side of the Americas, and represents an ecological fantasy land. Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninusula has been dubbed the most ecologically intense places on earth, containing, as it does, 6% of the world’s biodiversity.

The natural richness of the place translates into wonderful landscapes and ocean views – just the type, coincidentally, that sell real estate. It’s a fact that has turned some parts of the area into a battleground, with unscrupulous developers and municipalities on one side, and – for the most part – no one on the other side. The southern zone has not had the benefit of early grassroots defenders like Manuel Antonio and Monteverde, and consequently large swaths of rain forest have already been bulldozed and leveled for home sites, with fresh roads winding through the forest like bright-orange gashes.

Though the local municipalities have done little to reign in the destruction, representatives of the central government occasionally drop in and shut down blatant offenders. They have been doing so with more frequency recently, even as local populations and distinguished groups of scientists continue to demand a building moratorium.

Even as development appears to be running completely out of control and on a path to repeat the sins of Guanacaste, the government is further promoting the region as a place for investment. There’s talk (and so far only talk) about putting an airport between Ojochal and Palmar to encourage tourism, much the same as was done in Guanacaste. A marina in Golifito is also on the drawing board, in the permitting stages. And, after years of delays, the Costanera (Coastal) Highway along the coast between Quepos and Dominical is finally being paved and turned into an actual road, a development which will cut travel time to the region drastically. It should be completed by 2010.

This region is definitely one to watch. With the right handling, the region could be both successful at protecting its precious wildlife and developing its potential as a tourist and real estate market. So far, however, only that latter part is happening.

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