The Pacific coast of Colombia offers one of the country’s most majestic natural spectacles: spotting humpback whales. These mighty creatures arrive in the Pacific region every year in June and July, and stay until October to give birth and raise their young. The best spots for whale watching are Nuqui, El Valle, Bahia Malaga and Bahia Solano, and there are plenty of trips and tour operators running whale watching tours during the season.
The coastline here is also home to the best surfing in the country. While there might not be world-class waves anywhere in Colombia, Pacific surfing comes pretty close! The best spots to practice surfing are Nuqui and El Valle – El Cantil Ecolodge near Nuqui offers surfing courses for all levels, and the Humpback Turtle Hostel on El Almejal beach near El Valle has boards to rent and instructors working in the hostel. If you want to ‘hang ten’ in Colombia, then make the Pacific your destination.
One of Colombia’s most beautiful and biodiverse national parks is located on the Pacific Coast: Utria National Park. A vast park made up of jungle, Pacific Ocean, mangroves, and gorgeous beaches, Utria is up there as one of the country’s most stunning parks. Most visitors choose to take a stroll along a long boardwalk through the mangroves, hike through the jungle to a nearby beach, or relax on the island beach of Playa Blanca. Most whale watching trips from El Valle include a visit to Utria National Park as part of the tour.
The Pacific coast is home to the two Holy Grail diving sites of Colombia: Malpelo Island and Gorgona Island. Malpelo – an isolated rocky island some 500km (311 miles) from the mainland – can only be visited as part of a diving expedition, but the reward is huge: schools of up to 500 hammerhead sharks have been seen there. Gorgona is closer to the mainland, but the diving is equally impressive: lucky divers can spot whale-sharks, humpback whales, and sea turtles.
The jungles of the Chocó Pacific region are some of the most biodiverse – and wettest – places on earth, so no trip to the area is complete without spending some time hiking in the jungle. It’s not recommended to simply head out alone into the forest, as these areas are home to plenty of poisonous snakes, and it’s easy to get lost; however, hotels and tour agencies offer jungle trekking options. The most popular are located in El Valle and Guachalito Beach, and usually, end up at gorgeous waterfalls in the depths of the jungle. Eagle-eyed hikers can even spot colourful poison arrow frogs along the trail.
The jungles of the Chocó also count on an incredible bird diversity, in the world’s most bird-diverse country. Anyone with an interest in the natural world won’t want to miss the chance to head out into the forest with a pair of binoculars in search of some of the remarkable species that call the Pacific region home. The very best birding takes place on the road between Bahia Solano and El Valle, along the jungle trail behind El Almejal Ecolodge, and in the forest between El Valle and Utria National Park. Local guides can be arranged in most hostels and hotels.
Often named as one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia, Guachalito beach is located almost two hours south of Nuqui by boat, on an isolated and wildly beautiful stretch of coastline. The black sand beach is long – walking along its full length could take hours – and fringed by jungle and waterfalls, as well as several simple hotels and ecolodges, the best of which is the aforementioned El Cantil Ecolodge. The sea is great for swimming and surfing, and whales can often be spotted from the shore during the right season.
One of Colombia’s newest national parks, Uramba is popular with travellers due to the fact that it can easily be accessed by boat from the Pacific port city of Buenaventura, located about three hours from Cali. There are a few small towns to stay in – Juanchaco, Ladrilleros, and La Barra are the most popular – but the majority of the park is virgin nature. It is hugely popular in whale watching season, as the vast Malaga Bay contains one of the highest-density whale populations on the Pacific coast between June and October.
There are several excellent, natural hot springs along the coast of the Chocó – the most popular is definitely in the town of Termales, about a one-hour walk along the beach and coastline from Playa Guachalito (or 15 minutes by boat). Just outside the town is a large hot spring, where visitors can enjoy the natural waters, get a mud facial, or sip a cold drink in the sunshine. The other option is located in the small village of Jurubida, where a one-hour trek through the jungle leads to several isolated natural pools.
This former prison island was named after the mythical snake-haired Greek monster, due to the huge number of snakes living on it. Don’t let that put you off visiting though: the protected island is now a natural paradise, and one of Colombia’s top destinations for off-the-beaten-track eco-tourism. Visitors can enjoy sightings of endemic birds, monkeys, sloths, and lizards in the jungles, and then head offshore for humpback whales sightings, or to dive with whale sharks and hammerheads.