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Exploring Colombia’s Pacific Coast: Everything Travelers Need to Know

6.2226° N, 77.4012° W

Sunny tropical coastline in Colombia

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.




DEPARTMENTS


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.







CITIES


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.




POPULATION


In total, 534,826 people live in the entire Chocó Department.




ETHNICITIES


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.







TOTAL AREA


The department measures 46,530 square kilometers or 17,965 square miles.




GEOGRAPHY


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.




Line of sunlit palm trees in Colombia's Pacific region

EXPLORE MORE | GETTING OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN COLOMBIA'S WINE COUNTRY





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.



PLANE


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.