Colombia’s Choco department, in the far west of the country, bordering the Pacific ocean, is a complex place: the poorest, most deprived region of the country, with some of the highest rainfall on earth, but blessed with a rich natural wealth, from humpback whales breeding in it’s warm waters, to incredible birdl and plant-life. I recently spend some time exploring the area around Bahia Solano, specifically El Valle and the Utria National Park, so here’s a selection of my best photos from that trip. Enjoy!
Humpback whales visit the warm tropical waters of the Choco annually, between June and October, to breed and give birth. Seeing a whale breach (jump fully from the water) is not a common sight, but with some patience and a few trips out to see the whales, many people get lucky and see one of the greatest spectacles there is in nature.
The caption isn’t lying: this beach above is the beach you can see behind the whale in the first photo! This just shows how remarkably close the whales pass to shore during this season. In fact, from the terrace of my hostel, The Humpback Turtle, in El Valle, whales were often seen out to sea.
The other side of Choco’s nature: the deep jungles that blanket the coast and hide a marvelous array of hidden treasures, including the poison arrow frogs and basilisks that we saw walking along this river. This river/path led deep into the forest from the fringes of the town of Jurubida to some small natural, thermal pools, and deep, cool swimming holes in the higher reaches of the river.
Here’s one of the thermal pools in the jungle: it might not look like that much but the water is naturally bubbling up from the rocks at the bottom of the pool, and is breath-stealingly hot! Whilst I sat, enjoying the deep soak in the pool, a giant blue Morpho butterfly fluttered through the nearby tree branches and a tiny black and red poison dart frog hopped along the edge of the pool.
The small (maybe 700 inhabitants) town of Jurubida is where you go to enjoy the hot-springs, as well as the friendly atmosphere of the town and the excellent food. It takes about an hour and a half by boat from El Valle, but it’s well-worth the trip – you can see whales and the Utria National Park on both journeys and the town itself is a truly isolated but beautiful little place.
This guy shows both sides of the realities of the Choco: on one hand, the incredible poverty of the region forcing a fisherman to utilize a ripped tarpaulin as a sail for his little craft, but, on the other, the ingenuity and passion of the people on this coast, who manage to retain a positive and happy attitude to life in spite of the hardships of life in the Choco.
The weather seen in this photo is perhaps not truly indicative of the general weather patterns in this region; one of the wettest places on earth. However, during the whale season, especially in July and August, a visitor stands a good chance of enjoying some stunning blue skies like these. Believe it or not, that morning, taking this same route to Jurubida, I could barely open my eyes against the driving rain, and the distant mountains were completely invisible.
This long bay, which curves into the waters of the Utria National Park, is a popular site for calving humpback whales, and is the access point to the National Park office and cabins: it costs 40.000 COP for foreigners to visit the park, and 15.000 COP for Colombians.
We stopped off at this gorgeous beach for lunch – surprise, surprise…fish! Not complaining though, the food along this coastline is wonderful. Earlier that day we had slipped gently into the water while 3 giant humpbacks passed by, silent and unseen, just 10m in front of us…the visibility is only about 3m: how remarkable that such giants can pass by so close, yet remain unseen and unheard.
The small town of El Valle is about half-an-hour drive from the airport and Bahia Solano, and is where many visitors to this coast stay on their trips. It’s a small community with a good number of hostels and Eco-lodges, and many guides to arrange a number of different trips and tours.
El Valle lies on the estuary of two rivers as they flow into the Pacific ocean. A visit on a canoe on these rivers can bring sightings of otters, caiman and toucans, alongside many other species of Choco wildlife.
So that’s just a little slice of the Choco Pacific: you really need to visit to experience this wonderful place first-hand…