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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.