6.2226° N, 77.4012° W
THIS TRAVEL ITINERARY LAYS OUT EXACTLY HOW TO SPEND 6 AMAZING DAYS IN THE TOWN OF EL VALLE ON THE STUNNING PACIFIC COAST OF COLOMBIA. KEEP READING TO LEARN ABOUT THE BEST THINGS TO DO AND ALL OF THE CAN'T-MISS SPOTS.
Hidden away on the far western side of Colombia is one of the least visited regions of the country: the magical Pacific Coast, also known as Pacifico. This stunning region is home to tropical palm tree-lined beaches, biologically diverse national parks, dense jungle, colorful towns and some of the rainiest places in the world. As well as a whole lot of adventure of course.
Now, traveling to Colombia's Pacific Coast takes a bit of patience - and a fair bit of planning. For starters, there are very few roads within the Choco department (the northern half of the Pacific Coast region). Besides being able to take a bus to the capital city of Quibdo, your only transportation options are planes and boats (the latter of which can of course be a bit unreliable and a fair bit slower).
While getting to the Pacific Coast takes a bit of time, it is 100% worth the effort. Once you arrive, you will be welcomed with incredible natural scenery, a plethora of adventures and some very friendly locals. So, if you are looking to have an amazing off the beaten path adventure in one of the least visited areas of Colombia, then definitely start planning your trip to the Pacific Coast of Colombia.
Below you will find our in-depth 6 day travel itinerary for the exciting coastal town of El Valle (located just south of the large town of Bahia Solano). El Valle is, in our opinion, one of the best towns to base yourself in the Choco department for it has a ton of options in regards to things to do, while also being laid back enough to allow you to totally disconnect and just relax.
So with that, happy reading, happy planning, and of course, happy adventuring!
➳ This in-depth 6 day itinerary is a great place to start your trip planning for a Pacific Coast adventure for it gives you a good idea of what to expect in this part of the country as well as an idea of the top things to see and do. With that being said, if you find yourself needing a bit more insight, then definitely feel free to reach out to us here.
\\ Why Should You Visit El Valle, Colombia?
Simply put, to just get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and reconnect with nature.
El Valle, and the greater Choco area, is one of those magical places that pulls you in, takes you for a ride and then leaves you feeling like you have only scratched the surface. The culture, the landscapes, the weather - all are complex and sometimes hard to understand.
You should visit El Valle to just get an idea of a different way of life. A type of life that relies heavily on Mother Nature and less on modern amenities. You should visit El Valle to get lost a bit in that nature.
While the natural beauty of El Valle and the Pacific Coast as a whole should be reason enough to visit, for many people the real draw comes in the form of the seasonal migration of humpback whales.
Between the months of July and November, it is quite easy to view the large whales (ballenas) and their young right out in the ocean off of the coast of El Valle and Bahia Solano. Similarly, while the whales are cool enough, this time of year (July to November) is also an optimal time to view nesting sea turtles along the beaches near El Valle.
\\ How Many Days Do You Need in El Valle, Colombia?
In our opinion, one of the best ways to plan a trip to Choco and El Valle and Bahia Solano, in particular, is to mix an equal amount of relaxation with adventure. A great way to do that is to alternate between having full adventure days with more chill days.
Because many of the adventures in El Valle can be rather tough, including hiking for hours in the jungle - sometimes in the sun, oftentimes in the downpouring rain - or along sandy beaches (which is somehow just as taxing), you will be grateful for the slower days spent lazing around on the beach or on the balconies of your hostel.
We are very much the type of travelers that are go-go-go (it is honestly quite tough for us to slow down), but surprisingly we really found ourselves enjoying the simple moments of just relaxing in a hammock reading a book listening to the sound of the ocean while visiting El Valle. Plus, after a couple of hours of chilling, we were more than ready to get back out and explore some more of the incredible landscapes.
If you can, we recommend trying to spend 6 days in this part of Choco (El Valle and Bahia Solano). That time frame means you will have at least 3 full days of adventure opportunities as well as 3 days of relaxation (with a few small adventures thrown in if you want).
THE PERFECT 6 DAY ITINERARY FOR EXPLORING COLOMBIA'S PACIFIC COAST
🐋 WHALE SEASON: the best times to see the migrating whales (and their offspring) is between July and October. One of the best spots for whale-spotting is down in Utria National Park in the Utria Lagoon, though you have a high chance of viewing them even off of Playa Almejal in town.
🐢 TURTLE SEASON: we heard from locals in El Valle that you can see turtles along the beaches pretty much year-round, but your best chance is from September to December (this is when they start nesting and when their young are born).
A QUICK BREAKDOWN OF THIS 6 DAY ITINERARY
DAY 1 | CHILL ON THE BEACH, EXPLORE THE TOWN OF EL VALLE
DAY 4 | VISIT BAHIA SOLANO OR GO WHALE WATCHING
DAY 2 | HIKE TO EL TIGRE WATERFALL
DAY 5 | EXPLORE UTRIA NATIONAL PARK
DAY 3 | EASY MORNING, NIGHT HIKE IN THE JUNGLE
DAY 6 | SLOW MORNING AND FLIGHT HOME
We feel like it is always a good idea to spend the first day exploring a new place easing into it a little bit, getting the lay of the land per se.
So on Day 1 we recommend spending the morning simply meandering around the area. Some great places to head to are Playa Cueva (a popular spot to see sea turtles), the downtown area of El Valle itself, and Playa Almejal. Luckily, everything is very close so it shouldn’t take you too long to make the full loop around town. In town you can find many small shops and a few restaurants. We recommend stopping by the small coconut stand next to Playa Almejal either on your way to town or on your way back to the hostel area. You can get a delicious fresh coconut for 3000 COP (less than $1 USD) as well as some tasty local treats.
💬 INSIDER TIP: you can find all of the places we mention in our interactive map below.
End your first day in El Valle by heading to Rosa del Mar for a delicious traditional coastal dinner of fried fish (or chicken), coconut rice, patacones and salad. Then make your way back to your hostel in time to catch the sunset along Playa Almejal (the best colors pop up around 6:30 PM).
BEACHES ON COLOMBIA’S PACIFIC COAST | WHAT TO EXPECT IN EL VALLE
We were pleasantly surprised to find the beaches in El Valle to be mostly empty - of people and things (most notably trash). This emptiness became even more apparent during low tide when the beaches would swell to about 40 meters wide.
In El Valle in particular, there are two main beaches: Playa Almejal and Playa Cuevita (which is also known as 9 Kilometer Beach). Playa Almejal is the northern beach in town. It runs the whole length of the road in front of the hostels. You can find a sand volleyball court and some good surfing towards the northern end.
Playa Cuevita is located on the southern side of town. You need to first cross a metal suspension bridge and then turn right to reach the beach (see the map below for directions). This beach is kind of a trip for it runs (with no breaks) for nine full kilometers down the length of the coast. And the landscape - cream-colored sand lined with vibrant green palm trees - doesn’t change for the full nine kilometers. If you are planning to walk the whole distance be prepared to feel like you aren’t making any progress.
From what we have gathered, it seems that the beaches on Colombia's Pacific Coast are a mix of either dark colored sand with a couple of rocky sections and tide pools (like Playa Almejal) or totally wide open with cream colored sand and very little change (like Playa Cuevita). Either way, both beach types are almost always lined by thick green jungle with numerous palm trees - which is why some people have given this region of the country the nickname "The Polynesia of Colombia."
Once you get your bearings of this part of Colombia, it is time to head out on your first adventure. We suggest doing the hike to El Tigre Waterfall - a natural waterfall that spills directly onto a big, sandy beach.
You have the option to take a boat out to Playa El Tigre (and the waterfall) or to do a four hour hike that crisscrosses various beaches and jungles. We of course recommend doing the latter for it gives you the chance to explore a few other natural waterfalls, check out a cave, search around tide pools and swim in numerous natural pools.
► We have written a full adventure guide for hiking to El Tigre Waterfall, so if you are curious to learn more we highly recommend checking it out!
If you choose to do the four hour hike to El Tigre Waterfall then you will get to take a boat back to El Valle (don’t worry you only have to hike one-way). The tour usually gets back between 3 and 4 PM. Once you land in town, either head in for a bite to eat or make your way back to your hostel for some rest and relaxation.
Spend your morning on day 3 taking it nice and easy. Eat a bit of breakfast, read a good book, maybe head down to the beach for a swim. After the hike yesterday to El Tigre Waterfall your body will likely be looking for a bit of calm. Plus, there is something so nice about just lazing around in a hammock listening to the sound of the ocean.
JUNGLE NIGHT HIKE
After spending the day relaxing, we recommend booking a guided hiking tour of the nearby jungle at night.
Now before you freak out and think "oh I can't do that, that is waaaaaay too scary" remember that we also thought that. But also know that this hike, by the end of our stay in El Valle, was by far one of our favorite adventures.
Yes, hiking in the jungle is a bit nerve-wracking. Even during the day. Add in the fact that you will be doing it in the dark when most of the creepiest of crawlers are out and about (including snakes, spiders, and scorpions) and you will be easily forgiven for being a tad nervous. But don't worry your guide, Mylor, is a true professional who focuses on safety more than anything.
In fact, during the whole night hike, we felt surprisingly calm. Even after seeing a number of large arachnids (arañas) and a coral snake we still felt totally safe. Plus, the sounds and the sites of the jungle in the dark is truly special.
A few important things to know about this adventure: firstly, you will need to make sure you are wearing proper clothing for the hike. This includes long pants that cover most of your legs, and a light, loose shirt (it is quite humid and you do do a bit of climbing on the trail). Luckily, Mylor provides mud boots (the tall plastic boots that many locals tend to use) for you to wear, which is great because the trail is muuuuuudy. Plus, the boots protect you against any nosy animals on the ground. Secondly, make sure to wear heavy duty bug spray. The whole hike is done in the jungle so the bugs are absolutely rampant. Nothing spoils an adventure like getting attacked by mosquitos, so make sure you come prepared. Finally, bring plenty of water with you on the hike. The trail, though it is well-marked, is still pretty treacherous and relatively long (around 8 kilometers). Similarly, the first quarter of the hike is up a steep hill.
Overall, we cannot recommend this jungle adventure enough. It is scary - but in the way that kind of makes you excited, and jittery even. If you are someone who wants to explore the jungle and have the opportunity to see various animals and plants, then this is the hike for you. We not only were able to see spiders and a couple of snakes (thankfully only one - the coral snake - was venomous), but also a few monkeys, a bioluminescent scorpion, some poison dart frogs (and regular frogs) and maybe the coolest thing of all, glowing mushrooms.
| COST: 80000 COP per person (roughly $20 USD / €18 Euros); also bring around 10000 COP ($2.60 USD / €2.40 Euros) for a light dinner after the hike.
| TIME: 6 hours total; you start around 4 PM and get back at 10 PM (this includes stopping for food).
💬 INSIDER TIP: this hike definitely pushed us a bit out of our comfort zone, but in the end we were so thankful we did it. One thing that Mylor stresses is to always look where you are putting your hand while hiking (meaning don't grab a tree unless you look at it first in case something is on it). To make sure you are being extra safe, bring a strong headlamp with you.
We recommend on your fourth day in El Valle to either head to the nearby town of Bahia Solano for the day or to book a whale watching tour (if you are visiting during the right season).
If you choose to explore Bahia Solano - the largest town on this part of the Pacific Coast - then you will first need to catch a ride from El Valle to Bahia Solano. This should take between 30-45 minutes and cost 15000 COP ($4 USD / €3.65 Euros) per person each way.
Some of the best things to do in Bahia Solano are to head to the local Botanical Garden - which offers a couple of different tours of the garden as well as the opportunity to go ziplining - and Playa Mecana (both require a short boat ride from town). Or you can go the opposite direction and instead head out to Punta Huina - a beach that has a few upscale resorts, some nice swimming areas and even a few jungle trails. Or if you really just want to not worry about taking a boat you can simply wander around the town (we have heard there are a few waterfalls close by).
If you are visiting in the right season - August to October - we instead recommend booking a tour to head out into the ocean to get up close and personal with the migrating humpback whales. Both El Valle and Bahia Solano have places to book whale watching tours so you don't have to worry about going anywhere.
Because we didn't visit during whale season, we don't know too much about this adventure. But from talking to our hostel host, it sounds like during whale season it is quite easy to find a boat heading out onto the water near either town. Or, if you really want the full whale experience, you also have the option to book a tour that heads down to the nearby Utria National Park and the Utria Lagoon - which is where the whales actually head to to give birth.
If there is one thing we always recommend doing at least once (if not more) while traveling, it is to get up nice and early to catch a sunset. And in El Valle we recommend doing this even more since there is the added bonus of possibly being able to see sea turtles on the nearby beaches (especially Playa Cuevita).
💬 INSIDER TIP: the most common sea turtle along this stretch of Colombia's Pacific Coast is the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, which is the second smallest sea turtle in the world and also the most abundant.
After catching sunset (and maybe finding a couple of sea turtles along the beach), head to town or back to your hostel to grab breakfast. Once finished, make your way across the bridge in town to start the walk along 9 Kilometer Beach (or Playa 9 Kilometro) down to either the sea turtle sanctuary (known as Mama Orbe Family Farm) or to Utria National Park. From El Valle, the sea turtle sanctuary is roughly an hour walk down 9 Kilometer Beach, while the national park is roughly a 3-hour walk from town (you can also ask for a ride on a motorcycle in town).
If you are visiting during turtle season, we recommend stopping in at Mama Orbe's Family Farm to learn more about the turtles and to even volunteer (the sanctuary is entirely volunteer-run). Once done at the sanctuary, you can either head back to town along the beach or keep walking south until you reach Utria National Park, which is located at almost the very end of 9 Kilometer Beach.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: Mama Orbe's Family Farm also offers lodging, so if you are looking to spend even more time at the sea turtle sanctuary you can reach out to them to see if they have availability.
UTRIA NATIONAL PARK (Parque Nacional Natural Ensenada de Utría)
This coastal national park covers roughly 54,300 hectares or 134,400 acres of biologically rich land. The park is split into two specific biomes: lush mountainous forests that see some of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, and a coastal marine system that includes the Utria Lagoon - the main destination for migrating humpback whales - and some coral reefs.
Utria National Park also overlaps the territory of the Emberá people, an indigenous group that has lived in the Pacific region for centuries and who have a well-preserved cultural tradition that is very much connected to the natural landscape. Similarly, the park is also home to a couple of coastal fishing villages of Afro-Colombian people. Some tours of the national park will take you to see some of the local villages of the Emberá people as well as to some of the coastal fishing villages.
Besides visiting humpback whales and sea turtles, other common animals that reside in the national park include jaguars, pumas, various species of peccaries, spider monkeys, giant anteaters, sloths and over 300 species of birds in the forested ecosystem and whale sharks, dolphins, sperm whales, killer whales and 180 species of fish in the marine ecosystem.
GETTING TO UTRIA NATIONAL PARK FROM EL VALLE
As we mentioned, you can simply walk the whole length of 9 Kilometer Beach until you reach the national park - this is what we did while visiting El Valle. While the walk is quite beautiful, it is also very long. Plus, the scenery does not change that much over the whole 9 kilometers - so much so that you kind of feel like you aren't actually moving.
In our opinion, if you are looking to spend the day hanging out on the beach and going for a nice walk - then walk the whole beach (don't worry it is very enjoyable). If instead you are looking to just explore solely the national park, then consider either hiring a boat to take you to the park entrance or asking around to see if someone can drive you to the park on a motorcycle (for a fee of course). Unfortunately, because we chose to walk to the park, we do not know how much either of those rides would cost (we suggest asking around at your hostel to get a good ballpark estimate).
It took us 3 hours to walk from El Valle to the entrance to the national park along the beach - though this included stopping a couple of times to swim, eat a snack, reapply sunscreen and look at the beautiful landscape.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there is also the option to take a trail through the forest to reach the national park, but from what we heard about that route, it seems like it is best done with a guide - which could actually be really fun. If you aren't looking to do a guided walk to the park, then we suggest taking the beach route instead.
Once again, spend your final morning just relaxing: read a book, listen to the waves, go for a dip in the ocean. Soak in those last blissful moments in El Valle and the Pacific Coast of Colombia while you can. Very likely, all too soon it will be time to pack your bags and head back to the airport in Bahia Solano.
To reach the airport, you can either flag down a ride in the center of El Valle or ask your hostel host if he knows someone who can give you a ride (this is what we did). Either way, the ride takes between 30 and 45 minutes to go from the hostel area in El Valle to the small airport on the outskirts of Bahia Solano. We suggest getting to the airport no more than 40 minutes before your flight for there isn’t much to do in the airport (there isn’t even a security line you have to queue for).
FLIGHT TIMES OUT OF BAHIA SOLANO, COLOMBIA
Below are the regularly scheduled times for flights leaving Bahia Solano. The three main cities you can fly to are Medellin, a major city in the central area of the country; Quibdo, the capital of the Choco department; and Cartago, a medium-sized town in the northern part of the Valle del Cauca department.
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
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: these are the flight times running when we visited in early 2022. Obviously, these times can change so always make sure to check the most up-to-date flight schedules. Similarly, the airport is known to have regular delays so make sure to add enough time between catching either another flight or a bus from whatever destination you land in.
If you are looking to head to other areas in Colombia by bus or by plane then we suggest flying into Medellin for they have a large bus terminal with a lot of regular bus routes (the bus terminal is an easy 10 minute walk from the airport you land in), as well as an international and domestic airport with numerous flights. The other two cities - Quibdo and Cartago - are also fine options if you are just looking to visit other parts of Colombia and don't mind taking a bus. From Quibdo you can take a bus only to either Medellin or Pereira, while from Cartago you can take a bus to either Cali or Pereira. From any of those big cities you can connect to practically anywhere else in Colombia.
🚢 HEADING TO NUQUI, COLOMBIA
If you are looking to explore more of the Choco department and the stunning Colombian Pacific Coast, then you also have the option to take a boat from El Valle to the small town of Nuqui located further south. The boat ride takes around 2 hours and leaves every Monday and Friday (times depend on the tides).
We have only heard good things about the town of Nuqui and the numerous adventures you can partake in there. If you are looking to explore more of the coastline then we highly suggest looking into this boat ride.
\\ Other Adventures Nearby
While we have covered a good number of possible adventures and things to do in El Valle and Bahia Solano, there are of course many other options. This includes heading out to go scuba diving and snorkeling in the nearby reefs (including some near Utria National Park), taking a boat to visit some hot springs, exploring some of the nearby indigenous villages and just heading out to go birding (the coast is an incredibly biodiverse area - especially when it comes to birds).
Many of these adventures do require a guide - including scuba diving and snorkeling and heading to the hot springs. We unfortunately didn't look into either due to our time requirements, but we have heard especially good things about the hot springs.
If you are curious to learn more about any of the above adventures, then we recommend talking to your hostel host - they usually know all of the best spots :)
IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW | EL VALLE, COLOMBIA
We found that the water was actually quite safe to drink and was easily available at most hostels and even some of the restaurants in town (including at the popular restaurant Rosa del Mar). If you are really worried about whether the water is safe to drink, there is always the option to buy water bottles in town (though this should be a last, last resort), boil water at your hostels or have a reusable water bottle with a filter (this one is great).
Most hostels do offer breakfast during your stay - though it is likely you will have to pay for it (we paid 13000 COP per person at our hostel, Utria Hostel). Otherwise, your best option is to head into town and either purchase basic goods at the few stores in El Valle (see map below for specific locations) or to stop in at some of the local restaurants or panaderias (bakeries).
For dinner, your options are somewhat limited for there are not that many restaurants in El Valle to choose from. Your best bet is to either grab groceries in town and cook at your hostel or plan to visit the same view restaurants every night. While we were in El Valle, our dinners usually consisted of rice with grilled veggies and maybe an egg. Simple, but filling (and tasty).
We felt very safe in El Valle and in the area around it. For the most part, it felt like a place where you could walk around without much worry about your safety. Though with that being said, you should obviously still be smart and make wise decisions - like don’t walk around at night alone and make sure to keep all of your stuff within arms reach. But these types of safety measures should be followed wherever you are in the world, not just in El Valle and Colombia.
While the town itself felt very safe, there are a few safety precautions you do need to take in regards to the area that El Valle sits in. Because the town is located between the Pacific Ocean and dense jungle you need to make sure you are aware of a few natural dangers; including, snakes, spiders, and scorpions (this danger tends to increase more around dusk and at night), riptides and if you are visiting in the dry season, too much sun exposure and heat exhaustion.
For adventurous digital nomads, we recommend signing up and using SafetyWing for all your travel medical insurance needs (including COVID-19 coverage). Don’t worry, policies can be purchased while already abroad (including while exploring Colombia).
There are two somewhat distinct seasons in this part of Colombia: the wet season and the dry season. For much of the year you can expect a whole lot of rain (this is one of the rainiest parts of the world after all), especially between the months of April and December where, on average, it rains 20+ days a month.
We were lucky to visit in late February which falls in the middle of the "dry" season. During our four days in El Valle we only experienced two rainstorms and both of them were in the morning. Otherwise, it was a whole lot of sunshine (a bit too much actually). If you are looking to explore the area and want to do it with a bit of sun then February and March are your best bets.
💬 INSIDER TIP: while we were glad for the sunshine during our trip we unfortunately came unprepared and left the coast a bit burnt (crisped really). If you are planning to visit during the dry season make sure you come with good sun protection: sunscreen (reef safe of course), a hat and some light, long articles of clothing. Also, when in a pickle, your rain umbrella also works great for sun protection.
If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern society and just reconnect with nature, or if you just want to relax on a beautiful beach, then we highly (highly) recommend booking a trip to the Pacific Coast of Colombia and El Valle in particular.
The small coastal town is vibrant, colorful and fun - plus its location between the ocean and the thick jungle gives you plenty of opportunities for adventure. In our opinion, you need at least 6 days in the town - but more is of course better. Hopefully, this 6 day travel itinerary for El Valle helps you plan the perfect adventure in this part of Colombia, but if you have any questions then please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly.
➳ Looking for even more information on exploring the Choco department, then make sure to read our comprehensive Pacific Coast travel guide.
EXPLORE OUR INTERACTIVE MAP OF EL VALLE & BAHIA SOLANO
WANT EVEN MORE INSPIRATION FOR VISITING COLOMBIA'S STUNNING PACIFIC COAST? THEN CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO!
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PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR COLOMBIA
| Reusable water bottle: we cannot imagine traveling without our LARQ water bottles thanks to their fancy rechargeable filter that eliminate up to 99% of bio-contaminants.
| Eco-friendly sunscreen: we love MadHippie sunscreen because it’s cruelty-free, vegan, broad spectrum, and reef safe. And even better, they donate $1 for every purchase to conservation efforts.
| Allbirds shoes: comfortable shoes can make or break an adventure or travel day, these eco-conscious and cozy shoes from Allbirds have been our faves for years.
► Find our full sustainable travel packing list here.
STAYING SAFE & PLANNING AHEAD
| SafetyWing: make sure you are staying safe with this easy-to-sign-up health insurance that is specifically meant for digital nomads. You can even sign up once you are already abroad.
| WayAway: this flight aggregator helps travelers find the best rates on airline tickets to tons of different locations.
| BusBud: explore millions of bus routes and destinations in one easy-to-use search; plus, you can compare prices and book your tickets online (in your language).
| Rentalcars.com: check out the world’s biggest online car rental service that is available in over 150 countries.
| iVisa: this site helps make sure you have all of the necessary documents and entry requirements while traveling.
| Wise: this app makes it super easy to transfer money between currencies while abroad, keeping you from worrying about whether you are getting the right exchange rate or not.