Backpack Colombia: Colombia’s Choco Region Guide
Welcome to Choco, Colombia. One of Colombia’s least explored but most beautiful regions. Situated on the western part of Colombia, the Choco region has sections that range from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Luckily for myself & those who have experienced this blissful region, the Choco region has far more than you could imagine. For those who haven’t, here is a look into one of Colombia’s least developed and traveled departments.
Getting to the Choco Region
When you backpack Colombia, certain regions are far less developed than others. Getting to the Choco Region is simple but not easy. The region is limited in options of transportation due to its rough terrain and lack of infrastructure. There are no roads west of Quibdo, the department’s capital, but the probability is you are venturing to the Pacific Coast. Boat travel rules the coast and is your only way to move from town to town. Here is how you can make your way to the Pacific Coast.
The Nuqui Airport is about as basic as they come. No need to be early as security takes a whopping 10 seconds to walk through and flights only operate on certain days. To decrease your fear of flying, enjoy the abandoned cartel plane that’s sits adjacent to the runway. (Note: No Starbucks or premier flying lounge here.)
Medellin – Nuqui –> This is definitely the easiest and most efficient route. Only a 30 minute flight. Average price for these tickets will be about $70. Time it right and you can find some solid rates. Pretty amazing scenery from the air also the fact you are leaving an extremely isolated area to one of the most populated in all of South America in only 30 minutes.
Quibdo – Nuqui –> Don’t know why you would be in Quibdo, (unless you’re like Amir and hooped for the Basketball squad) but if you are, this is your only option.
Buenaventura –>Nuqui or Bahia Solano – 24 Hour slow Boat. Economical, 3 meals and TINY bunk included, (120,000 COP to Nuqui/150,000 – Bahia Solano) for the adventurous or those with a thin wallet. I took this route to Nuqui since I was so close to Buenaventura (2.5 hours from Cali) and was curious to see what this boat trip would entail.
- HIGH IMPORTANCE – Boats only operate on Tuesday to Bahia Solano. I was given the wrong information and had to wait 2 days AND return back to Cali. Captain Oscar +57 314 617 8859
- Other boats operate to Nuqui.
- I make this of importance because Buenaventura isn’t a particularly safe city to be sticking out in. People know of onward travel to the coastal towns where ATM’s don’t exist. Buenaventura is also one of the least economically stable areas of Colombia.
Half of the fun was getting here. Read below about the boat trip that went wrong:
Transportation in the region
Boats. Boats or Lanchas, rule the region. There are only a handful of roads that connect cities so like I learned the hard way, you need to be prepared or flexible with your time. These Lanchas operate daily on the coast for about $10 trips. Down from Nuqui at 1pm and up from Arusi at 6 am.
Boats from certain cities only run specific days and times. But like anything In this world, if you have enough money you can go anywhere you want. (HOWEVER, VERY EXPENSIVE). Just ask around as everyone knows the accurate and exact timing. Nuqui and Bahia Solano have the most frequent departures.
What can or will I do in the Choco?
Whale Watching – This is the #1 reason for tourism to the coast. As amazing as this is, there are far more things to experience. The season runs from July-November.
Surfing – Yes. Surfing is available here and some good breaks are at your fingertips. Termales, & El Valle have shore breaks but is dependent on daily conditions. Advanced surfers should hire a boat to Termales point for the coasts best reef break.
Hiking – Being lightly trekked, even the locals are finding new routes daily. Keep your eyes open for a plethora of creatures lingering in the bush or on the branches. Expect to see a variety of birds, frogs, lizards and whatever animal you may be lucky to enough to cross.
- La Cascada de Cuatro Encantos (The Waterfall of the Four Charms) – Very popular hike for visitors. Must have a guide.
Fishing – Don’t let whale watching and surfing take all the spotlight. Fishing is world class but has been kept on a low simmer. Whether it be a hired boat or shore fishing, your rod is going to get bent.
Termales (Hot Baths) – Bathe in the natural hot baths secluded in the forest. Truly a natural experience. Because options are limited in town, locals tend to frequent the spot daily. Either way, a must experience spot. Locals are protective and regulate entrance. Day 1 Cost: 10,000 COP. Day 2 Cost: 6,000 COP Day 3: 3,000.
When should I visit the Choco region?
The majority of people will head to the Choco during Whale mating season and Turtle Hatching season. This runs from approximately:
- Whale Watching – July-November
- Turtle Hatching- October – December
The Choco is one of the wettest regions in the ENTIRE WORLD. Expect daily rains and a humid 30 Celsius. Embrace the weather as the scenery more than makes up for it.
What cities to stay in Choco?
Pura Vida (30,000 COP/night) –> Paulo is a legendary owner and only speaks a little English but will make your Termales stay memorable. Hammocks, comfortable bunks, and a lovely view from the deck, make this a great option. Kitchen and water at your disposal. His place is the last option at the east end of town.
Prana Pacifico – Prana Pacifico is the ideal place to stay if money is not an option. Situated atop a massive hillside at the end of Termales Beach, the views and experience at Prana is an unforgettable one. Lyndsey, an Australian local, runs the Yoga retreat center and offers an all inclusive stay with her delectable meals that will make you wish you could stay longer. Book here
El Cantil Eco Lodge – Another all inclusive option, El Cantil is tailored for those with a wider budget. Positioned meters in front of one the areas top surf breaks, El Cantil is designed for travelers who want the easiest and quickest access to surf. Chartered boats and tours are available from here as well. The place is gorgeous and an excellent option for anyone willing to pay $75/night.
The Humpback Turtle Hostel – Most popular and well established. Prices below
- Hammock $25,000 COP
- Dorm Beds $39,000 COP
- Private Room $60,000 COP
Where should I Visit on the coast?
- Bahia Solano – Major town up the coast that serves as major area of activity. Adjacent to Ultria National Park.
- El Valle – 1 hour south by road from Bahia Solano airport, sits El Valle. Surfing is one of the main activities here as well as Turtle & Whale watching. Organize your trips here or just soak in the Choco vibes. *Recommended*
- Termales – A gorgeous oasis of tranquil rainy days. Termales has one main road that is home to about 100 people. Guest houses will range from 20,000 COP – 100,000 COP. Where I spent almost all of my time. *Recommended*
- Nuqui – Nuqui is one of the gateways to the region. Home to an airport and the end destination of most slow and fast boats. Not a pretty city, I recommend arriving and getting out as quick as possible. The other towns provide much more beauty and culture. If you decide to stay, you are looking to pay roughly 20,000 COP-100,000 COP
Choco is one of the poorest departments of all Colombia. The department is limited but abundant in its resources. Strange phenomenon but don’t be expecting a glorified getaway. T he region is more than 80% Afro Caribbean which makes it strikingly different than anywhere else. That difference is reflected in the language, food, and culture. A great change of pace for sure.
Internet Connection? Not Here..
Seeking a strong internet connection while swaying away in your hammock? Not here. This is your place to disconnect and connect with the surrounding nature. Speaking of nature. The beaches of the Pacific are not your quintessential Caribbean blue and golden sand. Be expecting dark sand contrasted by rich verdant green palm trees, where the jungle meets the ocean. Simply spectacular.
Is it the the right time to backpack Colombia?
It’s never been a better time to strap on a pack and backpack Colombia. What are you waiting for? Because tourism to the area is growing, it has never been a better time to visit the Choco region.
Need some reading for your long boat ride or quick flight to Medellin? Check out 9 FREE activities in Medellín, Colombia to fill your schedule and keep your pockets filled. Need ideas for tours? Medellin is rich with tours which can be overwhelming but these are 5 Medellín Tours Every Backpacker Can´t Miss
Drop a comment or ask a question if you want to backpack Colombia. Get here before everyone else does so you can join the discussion of what it’s like to backpack Colombia. The table isn’t fully set yet but when it is, you will be wishing you didn’t skip appetizers.