This past week, we had our October break and this is the first time I’ve gotten a full week off, so I decided to take advantage of it and finally cross off one of my bucket list destinations in Colombia…the Pacific Coast in the department of Chocó! Chocó is an isolated region along the northwest coast of Colombia and is only accessible by air or boat. Because of this, development has been very slow in Chocó and you truly get a rustic, unique experience. The main attraction of this region is the whale watching that is best from June to October when migrating humpback whales pass through.
Many people choose to visit Nuquí, but flights were already sold out when we went to book a couple months ago because they are small local planes coming from the Medellin EOH airport. So instead we booked to Bahía Solano. A bit later, we learned about a place called Prana Pacífico that was owned by a British gal named Linsey who was friends with some teachers from my current school. We decided to first visit her place for a few days and then head north to Bahía Solano. This first post will focus on the days spent at Prana Pacífico.
Day 1: Departure from Olaya Herrera airport in Medellin > tuk tuk ride > (wet) boat ride to Prana Pacífico
Our departure was uneventful besides one of our friends forgetting his bathing suit and having to rush back to the apartment while we waited in line at the airport. The local airline, Satena, is so small that they wouldn’t even check us in until an hour before so we hadn’t even moved in line. Luckily, all of our bags were just under the 10 kg limit and we were on our way! (Naturally I had to squeeze a friend’s hand the whole way to survive the smaller airplane with propellers where you can feel EVERYthing.)
Upon arrival to the Bahía Solano “airport”, we could immediately feel the change in humidity as we disembarked. (I use the term airport lightly, considering it was a small building with whales wearing Santa hats painted on it outside.) We were shuffled along to pay the tourist tax of 20 mil if you have a cédula extranjería (our ID card), or 30 mil if you’re a foreigner just visiting Colombia on a tourist visa. While paying the man for all of us as they wrote our information in a physical book, he must have known who we were because he gestured at a man behind me that Linsey had sent to pick us up and take us to the port in El Valle where we’d take a boat out to Prana Pacífico. I’m guessing they warned him that there would be five gringos coming, including one giant, blond one. We definitely stood out in this area!
Riding in a tuk tuk is always an adventure, as it is essentially a moto converted into a small vehicle to carry up to 3 people. The “road” was all mud and puddles as it had been raining and continued to rain during our hour long, bumpy, wet trip to the port. Once we were in the town of El Valle, we bought some bread and met up with Carlos, an Argentinian man who would be taking us by boat out to Prana Pacífico. Fortunately, we had the foresight to bring garbage bags to put our backpacks into as it was a VERY wet ride. Well, at least for us three girls who sat in the back. The two boys stayed nice and dry in front of us…. After awhile, I even put on my poncho but still had so much salt water landing in my face that I spent the rest of the trip like a turtle with my head bent forward in my poncho. It was quite amusing to look at it now, but at the moment, a very long two hours.
When I popped my turtle head out of my poncho as the boat slowed though, I was in immediate awe. We were coming upon a small beach where the tide was washing over part of the sand and connected two sides of the island where Prana Pacífico is located. It is on its own private island, built up in the jungle at the top, so you have to walk up around 240ish stairs to get there. With all of our stuff, it wasn’t the most enjoyable stair stepping I’ve ever done, but Linsey had a nice cold beer waiting for us up on top, which I promptly chugged. She discovered the steps maybe a year ago when visiting this part of the coast, though they’re so well-hidden that I’m not sure how she did it. But she is running the place for the owners, which apparently used to be three brothers. The first one bought the land originally for around 50 mil (the equivalent of about $18) and later sold it to his two brothers for about 200 mil (around $50 profit…). Linsey is trying to update it and use it for yoga retreats, as well as a hotel. It’s a beautiful location and as it continues to get updated, it will be amazing.
The rest of the day, we pretty much relaxed, laid in hammocks, took in the views, read, and I got an amazing deep tissue massage from Linsey on the back porch as the sun went down and I could hear the waves. Magical.
Side story: We did freak out a little as we discovered a MASSIVE spider hanging up above in the boys’ room, but the top part of all the rooms was open, so by the next morning, it had come into ours and was dangerously low to our mosquito nets. A bit terrifying, but the boys took care of it for us because they said they didn’t want to wake up to us chatting and screaming again. hahaha
Day 2: Rain, swimming, and whales!
Our second day started with a ton of rain, so we lazed around reading and playing games. There is a small jumping dock down on one side of the island, so the two boys and I decided to check it out. We checked if the tide was high enough, had some fun, and then someone had the brilliant idea to swim from the jumping off dock over to where our boat had arrived the day before. It didn’t look far, so I agreed. Mistake. Halfway through, as I fought against the waves, I realized this was a very bad idea and started to think about all the people who die in the waves, including in the book Refugee that I was currently reading for our book club. Thank God for one of my guy friends who basically let me be dragged by him the rest of the way to the beachfront. Never swimming that much in strong ocean waves again!
Luckily the rain had cleared up by lunch (did I mention that the food here was AMAZING?? Linsey is an incredible cook. I think I gained 5 pounds this week alone.), so we were able to take advantage of it and go on our whale watching tour. There were several other boats in the same area looking for them and it did take awhile before spotting a mama humpback and her baby. The first time I saw the giant tail flip up out of the water, it took my breath away. Getting pictures and videos was hard, so I tried to burn it in my brain. We followed this pair for awhile, but it was kinda slow since they can stay underwater for so long. We knew ahead of time that we were near the end of the whale migration season for that area, so I was just happy to have seen something. But as we headed back to our island a few hours later, we happened to see a baby ahead of us jumping out of the water! My jaw dropped; it was magical. We watched this pair for awhile and the baby was very playful as he jumped, twisted, and rolled in the water. It was SO worth it and I feel lucky we got that experience. (Side note: I’m already planning on going back to the area where we stayed in the second part of the week in either July or August, which is the height of the season, if anyone wants to join!)
We returned to Prana Pacífico to Coco Loco Lunes, which was a delicious alcoholic beverage and served in the coconuts a local boy had cut down and brought up all the stairs (which I later learned firsthand that they are VERY heavy). Linsey also had prepared a bunch of fresh tuna sashimi sushi for us to enjoy plus a ton of other delicious food. We played games, chatted, drank, and enjoyed one another’s company.
Day 3: Attempted hike, a visit to town and termales, and local liquors
Our third day started with more rain, which we later learned is common in this part of the region to be so rainy. But it did start to clear up, so the two boys and I decided to do a waterfall hike that would take a few hours and then meet the others in town at the local thermal baths. Unfortunately, right as we got ready to head down the many stairs, it started pouring again. Knowing the hike to already be muddy even without additional rain, we decided not to go and it turned into more games and reading time.
Later we went down to the jumping dock again, took some pictures, and then headed on a leisurely walk along the secluded beach to the “town” of Termales. It is literally just a dirt path set a little ways back in the jungle with some homes and shops. The main attraction are the naturally heated thermal bath. But the 45 minute or so walk there is absolutely stunning as well. It is a huge stretch of gorgeous beach with just a few buildings along it. We took pictures, I did cartwheels, and the boys played Frisbee as we walked there.
Once at the termales, we washed in the cold river to get rid of all the sand and eased ourselves into the warm water. A man was there using a special type of rock that he rubbed against a stone to create a natural mud for facials. We got our facials on, drank some beers, and relaxed. Near sunset, we started to head back but walked by a lady selling some fish empanadas on the front porch of her home, so naturally we had to stop and enjoy one (or two, in some cases! haha). The walk back along the beach in complete darkness was a bit more challenging as none of us had lights and were getting bit by sand flies (we think), but we finally made it back and “enjoyed” a cold shower coming out of the pipe on the wall.
That night, we ate an amazing curry dish that Linsey created from who knows what and hung out, sad to know we’d have to leave bright and early the next morning.
Day 4: Boat ride to our next destination along the area of Almejal, near the town of El Valle, further north
After getting packed up, some breakfast, and loading up in our boat again, we made sure to put the boys in back this time, hoping they’d get soaked. Of course they didn’t, but a couple hours later, we pulled up along another huge, long stretch of secluded, beautiful beach to basically be dropped off right in front of our next hostel, Pelican House Hostel. I’ll continue this part of the trip in a different post!