6.2226° N, 77.4012° W
THIS COMPREHENSIVE TRAVEL GUIDE OUTLINES EVERYTHING AN ADVENTURE TRAVELER NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING THE STUNNING COLOMBIAN PACIFIC COAST; INCLUDING, HOW TO GET THERE, WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHAT TO DO.
While you might be aware that Colombia does indeed have a Pacific coastline - the only country in South America to have a coastline on both the Atlantic (via the Caribbean) and Pacific Oceans - it is quite likely that you don't know much about the Pacific Coastal region. Totally understandable, for this part of the country has somehow been able to stay very much under the radar. Unless you are really into whale watching and possibly scuba diving, it is quite likely that you haven't given much thought to visiting this off the beaten path region of Colombia.
Well let us tell you, if you are a traveler looking to explore a lesser-known region of the country and also mix equal parts adventure and relaxation, then we cannot recommend heading to the Pacific Coastal area enough. Home to dense jungles, thundering waterfalls, wide open sandy beaches and a ton of wildlife, the Pacific Coast is a hidden gem just waiting to be explored.
Below is a comprehensive travel guide full of everything a traveler needs to know about visiting and adventuring in the stunning area; including, how to actually get there (spoiler: there are almost no roads), how to get around, what it costs and what to do.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT EXPLORING COLOMBIA’S HIDDEN GEM: THE PACIFIC COAST
\\ Basic Things to Know About Colombia’s Pacific Coast
Here are a few important things all adventure travelers need to know before they hop on a plane (or a boat) and head for the beautiful Pacific Coast of Colombia.
The Colombian Pacific Coast is split into two different parts: the north and the south. The northern part of the coast is totally encompassed in the Chocó Department, while the southern coast is made up of the Valle de Cauca, Cauca and Nariño departments.
We will mainly be focusing on the northern part of the Pacific Coast (Chocó), and more specifically on the actual coastline itself.
The major cities in the Chocó department are Quibdo, the capital city (population: 100,000), Istmina and Condoto (both located in the interior) and Bahia Solano, Nuqui, and Acandi, which are located along the coast.
In total, 534,826 people live in the entire Chocó Department.
82% of the population are Afro-Colombian, while almost 13% are Amerindians or Indigenous. In fact, the second largest ethnic group in Chocó is the Emberá people - a Native American tribe that mostly lives near rivers. More than half of the total population of Emberá people in Colombia actually live in Chocó.
The department measures 46,530 square kilometers or 17,965 square miles.
Most of the Chocó department is made up of the El Choco ecoregion (not to be confusing), a biodiversity hot-spot that extends all along both the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts of Colombia and down into Ecuador, and which is made up of mostly dense rainforest.
The department is also home to three major rivers: the Atrato, the San Juan, and the Baudó and many smaller tributaries. The capital of Chocó, Quibdo, sits right on the bank of the Atrato River. Somewhat unsurprising, the department is the main source of wood for all of Colombia, and it also has the highest producing platinum and gold mines in the country.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the very small town of Lloro, which also sits on the bank of the Atrato River, is said to be one of the rainiest places on Earth. The town holds the record for highest average annual precipitation at 523.6 inches or 13,300 mm. The small river town is just a bit south of the capital city of Quibdo.
Now that you have a better idea of the area and the region of Chocó as a whole, let's dive a bit deeper into the specific area around Bahia Solano - the largest coastal town (on the Pacific) and also the main tourist and economic center for the whole northern Pacific Coast.
We specifically explored the small town of El Valle, which is located about 30 minutes to the south of Bahia Solano on the only road out of town. While we heard Bahia Solano - or more commonly referred to as just Bahia - was rather boring, we found El Valle to be absolutely incredible.
The landscape, the culture, the adventures. Even for two certified “non-beach people”, El Valle was hard to resist. In fact, after spending four days there we really (really) did not want to leave.
So if you are looking to spend some time in a more off the beaten path area of Colombia and also are looking to explore some absolutely stunning natural landscapes, then you need to add the area around Bahia Solano, and El Valle in particular, to your Colombia travel itinerary. Below is everything you need to know to visit and adventure in the stunning region.
🗣WHAT'S IN A NAME?
One thing we quickly realized upon landing in Choco - and Bahia Solano and El Valle in particular - was that we were totally pronouncing the names wrong. El Valle, which translates to The Valley, is pronounced "el vai-ye" while Bahia Solano, which translates to Solano Bay (bahia is bay in Spanish) is pronounced "ba-ia so-lano" (the h is silent).
\\ How to Get to Bahia Solano and El Valle
Due to the town's very remote location and dense jungle surroundings, the only way to reach Bahia (and in extension El Valle) is to take either a plane or a boat. In fact, besides the road that runs between Bahia and El Valle, there are no roads in and out of town.
The Jose Celestino Mutis Airport is located about 1.5 kilometers from Bahia along the road out to El Valle. The airport contains only one rather small runway and two rooms - one of which has a small store and craft shop selling local trinkets (the other has the three check-in counters). It is the kind of airport where you can show up 10 minutes before your flight and still have plenty of time to grab a snack.
In fact, the airport is so small that they don’t even have security and they don’t bat an eye at you bringing a full water bottle on board. A win.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the airport is infamous for delayed flights due to weather, so much so that it has earned the nickname, “Get Out While You Can”. If you are planning to fly in or out of the Bahia airport make sure to give yourself pleeeeenty of leeway between other connections (by plane or bus) in case of a delay.
FLIGHTS IN AND OUT OF BAHIA SOLANO
From what we could tell, it looked like there was usually only one or two passenger flights in and out of the airport a day. Otherwise all other flights - of which there were very few - were mostly made up of cargo.
The main airlines that fly in and out of Bahia are SATENA, Pacifica and San German Express. We ended up booking our flights with San German Express and had no issues. Similarly, just know that really the only cities you can fly from to reach Bahia are Medellin, Quibdo (the capital of Chocó) and Cartago, a small city near Pereira and Armenia.
Below are the available flights to and from Bahia with San German Express:
MEDELLIN → BAHIA | Flights Monday - Saturday at 8 AM & 1 PM, and on Sunday at 1 PM
QUIBDO → BAHIA | Flights Monday - Saturday at 10 AM, no flights on Sunday
CARTAGO → BAHIA | Flights on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10 AM
BAHIA → MEDELLIN | Flights Monday - Saturday at 11 AM & 2 PM, Sunday at 2 PM
BAHIA → QUIBDO | Flights Monday - Saturday at 9 AM, no flights on Sunday
BAHIA → CARTAGO | Flights Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11:15 AM
Find more flights with San German Express here.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you are thinking of flying into or out of Quibdo, then make sure to plan for a long and often delayed bus ride from the capital. Common routes to and from Quibdo are between Medellin (around 12 to 15 hours) and Pereira (around 6.5 hours). Look for and book your bus tickets on Busbud.
Luckily, the flights to and from Bahia are all quite short. We flew from Cartago to Bahia and it was almost exactly 40 minutes from ground to ground. Then on the way back we flew from Bahia to Medellin and it was around 35 minutes total. Also, be prepared for the planes to be quite small (the largest option seemed to hold 17 people) and very basic (no bathroom, no services).
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: upon landing in Bahia Solano, you will need to pay 30000 COP (around $8 USD / €7.40 Euros) per person before leaving the airport. We don't know exactly what this fee is for, but we believe it has something to do with tourism in the area. Either way, you will pay it (in cash) right when you walk off of the airport tarmac.
Your other option for getting to and from Bahia Solano and El Valle is to take a boat along the coast. We, unfortunately, didn’t look into this too much because we already had our plane tickets booked. But we know from speaking to other travelers that there is indeed a boat that leaves from El Valle to the town of Nuqui (located further south) every Monday and Friday. While the time of departure depends on the tides, the ride, which is done on a fast boat, should take about 2 hours total. We believe the cost to be around 70000 COP ($17.90 USD / €16 Euros), though it is best to ask for the most up-to-date cost at the marina.
Otherwise, your other option is to take a larger, slower boat (really a cargo boat) up and down the coast. If looking to take the cargo boat from Bahia (we don't know if it docks in El Valle) then your likely end destination will be the large port city of Buenaventura to the south, which then gives you access to the interior of Colombia via the very busy highway that runs from Buenaventura to Cali. This boat ride takes around 24 hours total.
\\ How to Get Around Bahia Solano and El Valle
Because there really is only the one road between Bahia and El Valle, which measures around 17 kilometers in length, the easiest way to get around the two towns is simply to walk.
But, with that being said, there are a few instances where having some form of motorized transportation is very helpful and even necessary. For example, if you are looking to explore some of the popular sites around El Valle - including El Tigre Waterfall and Utria National Park - then you might want to look into getting either a boat or motorcycle to take you one of the ways (either out or back).
Many tours to El Tigre Waterfall include a boat ride back from the waterfall, simply because it is such a long, tiring walk that you likely won't want to do it twice, but even more so because the tides can make some sections on the walk nearly impassable. Utria National Park on the other hand, is just a bloody long walk away. Getting a ride on a motorcycle or a boat in either direction will save a lot of time and a lot of soreness.
💬 INSIDER TIP: we unfortunately don’t know how much it costs to hire a motorcycle to take you to Utria National Park. We got picked up by a friendly local on our walk back from the park and he didn’t ask for any money (though we tipped him 10000 COP because he saved us a loooot of time). Similarly, we don’t know if hiring a boat to take you to El Tigre Waterfall by yourself is actually possible since most of the trips are done with a guide. Your best bet for getting a ride, by boat or by motorcycle, is to ask your hostel host or someone in town.
If you are looking to get a ride around El Valle, either from your hostel to downtown or more likely from downtown to your hostel, you can simply flag down one of the many tuk-tuks that cruise the streets (tuk-tuks are small, two-seater cars that feel a bit like covered go-karts). The ride from central El Valle to the hostel area - which is a couple of kilometers away - takes about 10 minutes and should cost around 5000 COP.
🗺 We recommend downloading a handy offline map for exploring Bahia and El Valle. Just know, that while we usually like to use maps.me for things like this, this time around we found that the map was relatively blank. We still suggest downloading maps.me for Bahia and El Valle, but just be prepared to still do a couple of things blind (also make sure to check out our interactive map with all the important points below).
GETTING TO EL VALLE FROM BAHIA SOLANO
If you are planning to fly into Bahia Solano but stay in El Valle then you will first need to get a ride from the airport (or the town of Bahia) to El Valle, which is located around 17 kilometers to the southwest. We went directly from the airport to El Valle - this is what we learned.
The easiest way to catch a ride is to simply walk out of the small airport and ask the first driver that you see for a ride. You can take either a car or a tuk-tuk, they cost the same. It is likely that there will be at least a dozen of them waiting around for you. Then simply tell the driver to either drop you off in central El Valle or at a specific hostel. The ride to and from Bahia and El Valle is on a half-paved, half-dirt road (that was at least under construction when we were there in early 2022). It can be a bit bumpy, but the scenery is so great that you won’t mind the slow speeds.
| COST: 15000 COP per person, per way ($3.80 USD / €3.40 Euros), in either a car or a tuk-tuk
| TIME: 30 - 45 minutes from the airport to El Valle depending on traffic and construction
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you need a ride to the airport and don’t want to stress finding a driver, you can likely just ask your hostel host to call up someone they know. This is what we did and it was super nice to not have to worry about making it to Bahia on time for our flight.
\\ Weather in Bahia Solano and El Valle
We were told repeatedly, both by people who had previously visited Chocó and from various guidebooks and blogs about the area, that it was one of the rainiest places on Earth. Therefore we of course assumed it would be raining 90% of the time we were there.
So you can imagine our surprise when we experienced only two rain showers in our four days exploring the area. And better yet, both of the rain showers occurred in the early morning when we were still either sleeping or just waking up. This meant that all of our afternoons were dry and sunny - perfect for beach and jungle adventuring.
We don’t know if we just got lucky or if this is quasi-normal, but either way, we were definitely grateful (we actually found out later that we did indeed get lucky and happened to visit during the “dry season” where the area only experiences, on average, 12 days of rain and 170 mm of rain).
Unless you are also planning to visit during February, you should not expect similar dry circumstances. Therefore it is very important to plan for a good hearty amount of rain during your trip, for Bahia Solano and El Valle (and the whole northern Pacific Region) do fall into the category of a wet tropical rainforest climate and do in fact have some of the highest levels of rain in Colombia and the world.
Overall, the weather in Bahia and El Valle is wet but warm. The average daily temperature hovers around 25° C or 79° F and 90% humidity the entire year. Similarly, while February is somewhat “dry”, most of the year consists of 20+ days of rain and 300+ mm of precipitation a month.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: February and March are the driest months, while October and November are the wettest. In fact, on average, you can expect 25 rainy days and 770 mm of rain in October alone. Crazy.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT BAHIA SOLANO AND EL VALLE
While February is the driest month, that does not mean it is necessarily the best time to visit Bahia and El Valle. In fact, this month is considered to be more of the “off-season”. That is because the most popular time to visit the area is between the months of June and October when you can very easily spot humpback whales migrating along the coast. Similarly, that time of year is also the best time to see nesting sea turtles along the beaches as well as baby sea turtles heading towards the ocean.
We visited Bahia Solano and El Valle at the end of February and actually found it to be very nice. While we both agreed that visiting during the whale and turtle season would be amazing, during the "off-season" El Valle seemed much more laid-back and real.
In our opinion, the best time to visit Bahia Solano and El Valle depends more on what you want to see and do and not on the weather. If you are going solely to see whales and sea turtles then you have to visit between June and October (supposedly August and September are the absolute best months for whale spotting). But if you are just going to check out the scenery and explore the landscape (like the waterfalls and beaches), then visiting any time of year is great. If anything, the off-season (dry season) might be the best since you don't have to deal with rain nearly as much.
\\ Basic Services in Bahia Solano and El Valle
Overall, we would say the amount of services available in both Bahia Solano and El Valle is quite minimal. Which, if you come prepared, shouldn’t be a huge problem. Below is a brief outline of the services available in the area.
You can find a couple of small stores selling basic goods in both Bahia and El Valle. We were able to pick up a good number of fruits and vegetables, as well as stuff like rice, beans, milk, crackers, bread, and oatmeal, at the main grocery store in El Valle (see interactive map below for the exact location). If you are looking to buy food to cook at your place of lodging, then you should be able to get all of the necessities in town.
There were a few restaurants offering almost solely traditional coastal food, which usually consists of fried or grilled fish, coconut rice, patacones (fried plantains), and lemonade, both in El Valle and Bahia. Similarly, there are a few bakeries (panaderias) and shops selling fresh juices and smoothies dotted around.
One of the best restaurants to check out in El Valle is Rosa del Mar, a small non-descript restaurant that serves up delicious fish and coconut rice. The restaurant is located down one of the three main roads in El Valle. You can find the exact location on the interactive map below.
💬 INSIDER TIP: nothing beats a fresh coconut on a hot beach day; luckily, there is a cute little coconut stand right on Playa Almejal in El Valle. The shop, which also serves up homemade coconut treats, is on the left side of the road as you walk to the hostel area. Find the exact location on the map below.
INTERNET AND WI-FI
Most of the hostels in the two towns offer Wi-Fi, though the strength definitely comes and goes so don’t expect super-fast speeds and access during your whole trip. But if you just need to check in with friends and family you should be able to quite easily.
We would say though, that if you are thinking of combining your trip with work then you might have some difficulties with the internet. While we would have loved to work while exploring El Valle, we found that the Wi-Fi was just too spotty to get anything done.
We were able to drink the water right out of the tap at our hostel and presume that the same thing goes for other lodges in the area. If you don’t feel comfortable drinking right from the tap you can buy water in town, or better yet, bring a water bottle with a filter in it (this one is great).
Also, one interesting thing we learned while hiking around the area with a guide was that all of the freshwater that comes down from the rainforest (above the beaches and town) is totally safe to drink. And better yet, there is usually a freshwater stream every kilometer or so along the coast.
ATM AND MONEY
We were told there was an ATM in Bahia Solano, but from what we gathered from locals (including our hostel host who knew someone who lived in Bahia), the ATM almost never works. So instead, plan to bring all of the cash you might need with you before landing in Bahia. See below for a basic cost breakdown of visiting the area.
\\ What Does it Cost to Explore Bahia Solano and El Valle
We were surprised to find that traveling to this part of Colombia was actually somewhat pricier than other places we had explored previously. We suspect this is due to the overall remoteness of the place for all things must come in either via plane or boat. Below is a quick breakdown of what you can expect to pay while traveling around Bahia and El Valle.
Expect to pay around 25000 COP ($6.40 USD / €5.70 Euros) per person for a decently sized dinner at a restaurant (like Rosa del Mar), and then between 25000 - 30000 COP (~ $7 USD / €6.30 Euros) for a handful of basic groceries at one of the stores in town. That cost includes both fruits and vegetables, and then some packets of rice, crackers and maybe some oatmeal. Finally, it will likely cost around 13000 COP ($3.30 USD / €3 Euros) for breakfast at your hostel.
We found that on average you can expect to find a private room in a hostel costs between $28 USD and $38 USD (€25 - €34 Euros) a night, while a dorm room costs around $10 USD (€9 Euros) a night. These prices are for the standard hostels that line the beach north of El Valle and in central Bahia Solano. If you are looking for something a bit more upscale, you can find a few nicer resorts on the edges of town, especially up near Huina.
While walking is the easiest and cheapest way to get around the area, you will still need to have enough money to get to and from the airport (if staying in El Valle). It costs 15000 COP ($3.80 USD / €3.40 Euros) per person to go from the airport in Bahia to El Valle. If you do need to catch a ride around town, expect to pay roughly 5000 COP ($1.30 USD / €1 Euro) per ride.
There are numerous tours available in both towns. From hiking to waterfalls in the jungle to heading out to get an up-close view of whales, there are many options depending on what you are looking to explore. You can expect to pay between 80000 - 100000 COP (~ $23 USD / €20 Euros) per person for a shorter tour (around 2-4 hours) and 130000 - 150000 COP (~ $36 USD / €32 Euros) for a longer tour (around 4-8 hours), which will likely also include a meal and some form of transportation (commonly a boat).
Activities like scuba diving will cost quite a bit more. It is best to reach out directly to a guide or tour company to get the most up-to-date cost.
🔉 All of the tours we went on were done pretty much 100% in Spanish - in fact, besides the few other travelers staying at our hostel in El Valle, we met no one who spoke English. Be prepared for total Spanish language immersion... but that's how you get better right?
\\ Top Things to See and Do in Bahia Solano and El Valle
While the towns of Bahia and El Valle might be small, the area is large in adventure possibilities. From jungle hiking to beach walking to waterfall swimming, this region of Chocó has a lot to offer adventure travelers.
This is just a short guide to some of the best things to see and do in the Bahia Solano and El Valle area.
EL TIGRE WATERFALL
One of the best adventures in the area is to this stunning cascade that empties right onto the beach. While the waterfall itself is definitely impressive, the true gem of this place is the fact that you can walk up the river that feeds the waterfall for 8 kilometers and have continuous waterfalls with small natural swimming pools the whole way. Wild.
Tours to this waterfall include a hike up into the jungle and some time spent swimming in a few of the refreshing natural pools along the way. It also includes a delicious lunch of smoked fish and coconut rice right on the beach and a trip to a nearby cave full of fluttering bats.
💬 INSIDER TIP: while you can take a boat to and from the waterfall, we instead recommend hiking out to the waterfall and boating back. Along the 4-hour hike, you get to see numerous other waterfalls, learn about the local plants and animals and have some amazing views of the Pacific.
| COST: it cost us 130000 COP (~ $36 USD / €32 Euros) per person to do the full-day tour of El Tigre Waterfall. This included the four-hour hike to the waterfall with a guide, a delicious lunch and the boat ride back to El Valle.
UTRIA NATIONAL PARK (Parque Nacional Natural Ensenada de Utría)
Located almost exactly 9 kilometers south of El Valle, the stunning Utria National Park is a great place to head to if you want to check out stunning beaches, mangrove forests and dense rainforests. The park is also home to the Utria Lagoon (hence the park's name), which is where the migrating humpback whales come to give birth.
The park can be reached on foot - mostly along the well-named 9 Kilometer Beach or along a trail in the jungle (you likely need a guide for this route). You can pick up the beach route right outside of El Valle (see map below). There is also the option to reach the park by boat or motorcycle. The only services available in the national park are at the Jaibana Visitor Center, located near the mangroves.
| COST: 45000 COP ($11.50 USD / €10.30 Euros) per person to enter the interior of the park, though if you just want to walk up to and hang out on the beach it is free.
💬 INSIDER TIP: one thing we have noticed when it comes to visiting national parks in Colombia is that while they might say there is an entrance fee, oftentimes there isn't anyone there to ask for payment. While we don't know the exact setup for Utria, we have heard that you can enter the park for free and then if you want to take a guided tour (likely through the mangroves) you then need to pay.
🦜 The national park is home to tons of unique and amazing wildlife; including, of course humpback whales and sea turtles, but also whale sharks, killer whales, dolphins, jaguars, peccaries, spider monkeys, sloths, and giant anteaters. There are also around 380 different species of birds.
This well-sized beach is a short 20-minute boat ride from downtown Bahia Solano. If you are looking to spend an afternoon lounging in the sun and swimming in the refreshing Pacific waters, then this might be the perfect place to head to. Plus, there are even a few jungle walks from the beach if you are looking to stretch your legs and explore the dense forest.
To reach the beach you will need to head down to the small marina in Bahia to see if any locals are headed that way. Otherwise you can ask around at the hotels to see if they can find you a ride.
While Colombia might not be known for having epic surf spots, if you are hoping to head out into the water on a board then your best bet is to spend some time in El Valle, where you can find some of the best surfing spots in the country.
Two specific places to head to are along El Valle's Playa Almejal, or Almejal Beach, located just north of town (next to all of the hostels) and Bananal, just a bit further north of Playa Almejal.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there is a small surfboard rental spot on the southern side of Playa Almejal (see map below) that offers hourly and daily board rentals as well as surf lessons.
| COST: surf board rentals cost 25000 COP ($6.40 USD / €5.70 Euros) for an hour or 70000 COP ($17.90 USD / €16 Euros) for the day; surf lessons cost 60000 COP ($15.30 USD / €13.70 Euros) for one hour.
During the right season - June through November - you have a very high chance of getting some pretty up-close views of migrating humpback whales, many of whom come to the Bahia and El Valle areas to have their babies in the nearby Utria Lagoon (this occurs between August and October). According to our hostel host, during the whale season you can expect to see whales out in the ocean 90% of the time - either smacking their tales or breaching.
While Utria National Park is a great spot to see whales, especially babies, if you aren’t looking to make the trip down south you can instead simply watch for them on Playa Almejal (Almejal Beach) or head out on a small whale watching tour straight from El Valle.
If looking to head out onto the water to get even an even more exciting view of the majestic creatures, then your best bet is to ask around at your hostel for a guide or a tour.
Other adventures in and around Bahia Solano and El Valle include scuba diving around a sunken ship near Playa Huina, heading out on a sportfishing trip in search of massive blue marlin, swimming in various other beach and jungle waterfalls, exploring a botanical garden (said to be home to the elusive jaguar) and hiking around the thick jungle in search of birds and wildlife.
\\ Some Helpful Spanish Terms to Know for Exploring Bahia Solano
and El Valle
| waterfall - cascada
| beach - playa
| rain - lluvia
| crabs - cangrejos
| spiders - arañas
| frogs - ranas
| snakes - serpientes
| guide - guía
We honestly didn't want to leave El Valle and the Chocó region as a whole. The landscape, the culture and the adventures were just so rich and exciting that we seriously considered missing our flight and hanging out on the beach for a couple more days instead.
If you are a traveler looking for something a bit different - something a bit more real in Colombia, then we truly cannot recommend this stunning region enough. While we loved El Valle, we have also only heard good things about Nuqui as well. We suspect that no matter where you head to along the Colombian Pacific Coast you will have one amazing and memorable adventure.
If you have any questions about this area of Colombia, or just traveling in Colombia in general, then please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly here.
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