May 08

¡Vive PAZ-ifico!: Travel in Colombia off the beaten track in El Chocó (From the archives)

Vive PAZifico!

To start with, the Pacific coast of the Chocó is vast: so vast in fact that to attempt to cover all of it in this one Colombia Travel Blog post would be downright irresponsible of us! Therefore I am simply going to describe the trip I took in September last year to Playa Guachalito near Nuqui.

Nuqui's airport - seriously, move the wrecked plane!
Nuqui’s airport – seriously, move the wrecked plane!

I land in Nuqui airport after an exhilarating light-aircraft flight from Medellin over the Chocó’s largely impenetrable inland jungles, to be met with the none-too-comforting sight of an identical plane, ancient and plant-covered, and clearly destroyed. It’s not the first time I’ve been greeted by a sight like this at a tiny airport either – why has no-one suggested moving these planes?

Anyway, I meet the boatman from the hotel where I’m spending the weekend and he leads me down to Nuqui’s ‘port’: zipping along through the waterways connecting the town and the ocean feels a little bit like being an unpaid extra in a Vietnam War movie – it’s all sandbags and machinegun turrets, but it’s all for the sake of safety, and has been largely effective in removing the threat of guerrilla violence which once made this area of coastline a no-go zone. After half an hour the boat arrives at Playa Guachalito where I will be spending the following 2 nights, staying at the fantastic El Cantil Ecolodge.

Playa Guachalito in the early morning
Playa Guachalito in the early morning

The setting is simply stunning: a long, winding beach, fringed by palm trees and a staggering variety of orchids; behind all this lies the jungles of the Chocó, covered by their seemingly permanent veil of mist. It’s all very ‘Jurassic Park’ to be honest; I half expect a scaly head to suddenly appear amongst the palm fronds, grunting in surprise at my presence. No such luck!

The giants I am here to see however certainly don’t disappoint: this stretch of coast is home to breeding humpback whales from July until October, and Playa Guachalito is a fantastic base from which to go whale-watching, the purpose of my visit. El Cantil is home to a knowledgeable group of guides, and as we push off from the shore on our tiny fishing boat I’m feeling pretty optimistic.

Breaching humpback whale in El Choco
Breaching humpback whale in El Choco

As it turns out, my optimism is well founded: over the next three hours (and three more after lunch), our little group of four is treated to the majestic sight of several groups of whales breaching (when they jump out of the water), fluking (that thing they do with their tails), fin-slapping (does pretty much what it says on the tin) and generally showing exactly why so many cultures around the world have revered them for thousands of years. I have been whale-watching in many countries around the world, but I have never had a more intimate and dramatic whale-watching experience than in the Chocó – no other boats, just our tiny little one, whales, and nothing in the background but jungle, mist and the occasionally fishing village. It is certainly one of Colombia’s best natural spectacles.

The rest of my trip consists of walking along the beach (watching hundreds of species of birds as I go) to reach the two waterfalls hidden in the jungle, wandering along the rocky coastline and through the forest to a group of hot-springs (the perfect way to relax after a somewhat bumpy boat journey), lying in my hammock outside my little cabana watching a rather persistent hummingbird fighting for nectar supremacy with his equally belligerent namesake, and stuffing myself fit to bursting on El Cantil’s amazing array of fish-based delicacies, all served in the turret restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean beyond. Put simply, Playa Guachalito is a paradise; one which is sadly under-visited and should become one of South America’s top ecotourism destinations within the next ten years. I highly recommended visiting it whilst it remains so untouched.

El Choco from the air...
El Choco from the air…

How to get there: There are several weekly flights from Medellin to Nuqui with Satena or ADA – call ahead to check when they will be flying. Book a hotel on Playa Guachalito – I stayed at El Cantil, but there are at least 5 options for accommodation along the beach – and you will be met at the airport and taken to the beach by speedboat. Bring bug spray; they can be vicious in the early evening.

If you are interested in visiting this part of Colombia or have any questions, please get in touch and we will be happy to help.


4 thoughts on “¡Vive PAZ-ifico!: Travel in Colombia off the beaten track in El Chocó (From the archives)

  1. Stuart Oswald on

    Nice post. Really makes me want to do this too. I’ve been eyeing up the Pacific coast for a while.


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