The Most Beautiful Place I’ve Ever Been To
Part 2 of my Medellin, Colombia series focusing on experiencing the jungle. Read Part 1 here.
I thought I met her in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
I thought I met her in Providencia, Colombia.
Being born in Jamaica, I thought I knew her intimately from my childhood. However, El Valle proved that I barely knew her. I’m talking about Mother Nature, the only woman I have truly known to love.
Mother Nature has a personality that not a lot of people can fathom and she showed her true colours on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.
Her character runs deep. How can someone be so gentle one moment then rough the next? How can someone be so unpredictable but yet understood? How can someone be a provider and a destroyer all at the same time? Mother Nature is a contradiction, but a beautiful one none the less.
She is constantly growing and moving so much, that when I think I know her she does something else to prove me wrong.
You can look at Mother Nature, but think hard before you touch her. In some places she’s soft and in others she is wild. On Colombia’s Pacific Coast, she’s a savage.
It wasn’t enough that the Pacific Coast of Colombia was the most beautiful place I’ve been to in Colombia. Oh no, it turned out to be the most beautiful place I’ve been to. This is where the jungle meets, no, runs headstrong into the ocean. A place so wild, there are towns with no roads, the only way to get to them is by boat.
The name of the department is Choco and Bahia Solano and Nuqui are the only two towns with an airstrip which makes it easy for tourists to visit, and this is where the adventure begins. Welcome to the jungle.
Flying into Bahia Solano from Medellin, through the window I only saw jungles and rivers. No buildings. No roads. Just green interspersed with rivers gilded by the tropical sun. Once we landed, we took a tuk-tuk to El Valle and I knew I was in a different part of the world. Right across the road from the airport was a sign leading to a waterfall. This place was a National Geographic dream.
The road was a blend of asphalt or dirt track. We drove through jungle and a couple of subsistent farm lands. The people here are either Indigenous Indians, descendants of runaway slaves or Paisas that moved there from Medellin for business. Apart from the people who moved to the Pacific Coast, the Afro Colombians and the Indigenous population are warriors because on the fittest can survive in the conditions of Choco.
As with all places of stark beauty, Choco’s story is bitter sweet. The Choco has been plagued with guerrilla warfare, drug trafficking, corrupt local government, displaced people, illegal logging/gold mining for years. One of Colombia’s poorest departments and yet one of it’s richest in natural resources, the trickle down of funds to residents is little to nonexistent. Out of every 100 students in the Choco, only 2 will go on to University. The U.S. has intervened in an attempt to curb the drug trafficking. The result of this is an hydroelectric plant…that has not been working for years.
This is where tourism comes in. Tourism in the Pacific is the only thing the government has shown interest, and it is the main source of income for many in Choco. Community run projects and co-ops is the go to choice here. In El Valle, almost everyone suggested we did a tour with them. You can support them at your own risk, but I say talk to your hotel owners about reputable and safe guides. Everyone has a hustle.
I came to El Valle for a friend of mine was coming to the coast for her birthday. We only spent 4 days, a long weekend which was ample of time to enjoy the coast. I never considered the Pacific Coast as a weekend trip from Medellin, like Jardin or Guatape. Now I can add Bahia Solano and Nuqui to the list! Colombia’s Pacific beaches are a respite from the noise and air pollution of Medellin.
The boulders and rocks along the coast are from the volcanoes in the Andes that had erupted when Colombia was being created. The waters in the springs are fresh to drink (and drink it – the taste is divine!). The crabs leave cool designs in the sands. The sunsets are spectacular.
It’s weird being surrounded by jungle but yet eating seafood. On one hand you feel like you are on an island, the next like you are in a nature documentary. The kindness of the locals made this a very special trip. If you think Colombians are lovely, Chocanos are just as lovely. Forget the Caribbean, have your romantic rendevous on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.
What to do
Beach scramble to Playa Larga. Some describe this as a hike but I can only describe it as a scramble as you are climbing, crawling and flinging yourself onto the rocks as you make your way. The end of this ‘scramble’ is Playa Larga, a beautiful gray sand beach with crystal clear green waters (the most beautiful beach I’ve seen) as well as three waterfalls. This ‘scramble’ is not for the unfit and weak (there are points you have to hoist yourself up onto rocks because of the tide). For the unfit, do not despair as it is possible to arrange a boat to take to the beach.
Visit PNN Utria. It was this national park that sparked my interest about the Pacific Coast and I have been told it is a gem to behold. With trails of varying difficulty into the jungle and it’s own white sand beach (Playa Blanca), this is a gem amongst Colombia’s National Parks.
Whales. I didn’t come during the whale season which everyone told me was the highlight of the Pacific Coast. This is because of the proximity of the whales to the coast as they feed in the warm waters during summer (Jun – Oct). It gives me more reason to visit a second time.
Beach hop. You can take boats from Bahia Solano that go on to Playa Mecana (for entrance to the Jardin Botanical), Punta Huina, and Playa Cocalito. I have been told that it is even possible to hop all the way to Nuqui…But that will be for another time.
Waterfall hop. Along the coast there are numerous waterfalls to visit. There are two waterfalls closer to Bahia Solano than to El Valle, these are Cascada Chocolatal and Salto del Aeropuerto (no joke, this waterfall is just outside the airport, there is a river to cross so that is why no one visits before their flights). For waterfalls closer to El Valle, you have the ones along Playa Larga. A big attraction is Cascada El Tigre.
Eat at Rosalina. This is the best restaurant in town. It is always packed and rightly so.
Digital detox. Wifi connection is very limited (think as nonexistent). So El Valle is a great spot to chill or get writing inspiration for all you digital nomads. However, humidity is very high here, and it will ruin your electronics (especially if you plan to stay here long). I always wrap my camera in my towel for extra protection when I’m not using it, my LifeProof case for my iPad mini and Aqua Quest waterproof laptop bag protects my Macbook. Prevention is cheaper than replacing.
Be amazed by the tide. If you do the ‘scramble’ you will definitely see the effect of the tide. Boulders that were hidden under the water are revealed once the tide goes back. From my hotel, it was possible to see just how high and low the tide could be. It amazed me walking on dry parts of the beach I knew was under water that morning. This photo is of the same beach at low and high tide. Yea… Mother Nature.
Where to Stay
If you want to be on the beach, stay in El Valle which is a municipio of Bahia Solano. And stay at El Morro Hosteria, which has the best views in El Valle because it is perched on a rock. During my stay here, I always had my camera at hand because no matter what time of the day, there was always a great shot. This was the view from my room…
And the hotel owners, Jupi and his wife Monica, are not only adorable but they speak English (added bonus in this neck of the woods). Jupi is a great cook, so breakfast was a highlight (I don’t eat bread but they had this bread…oh my goodness…). But definitely have dinner at Rosalina – that fried fish was the best I had outside of Providencia.
Fly into Bahia Solano with ADA or Satena.It is a 40mins tuk-tuk ride from the Airport to El Valle. There is a cargo boat from Buenaventura for the more adventurous
/environmentally conscious/crazy. Everything you could potentially need is in El Valle, although I heard rumours of an internet cafe with wifi. If you choose to stay in Bahia Solano, there are collectivos and tuk-tuks that run between Bahia Solano and El Valle.
Have you been to Colombia’s Pacific? Please tell me what it was like! This trip has opened my mind to visiting more of the Choco so tell me of your experiences in the comments below :).