Monday, 4 February 2013

Lesser-spotted Colombia: Bahía Solano

Very often when travelling the old adage, ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey getting there’ holds true. For our recent trip to Bahía Solano, on Colombia’s secluded Pacific coast, this was partially the case. The route we took to get there was certainly interesting, yet the destination was also pretty impressive.
Bahía Solano from a high
Bahía Solano.
Considering it is cut off from most of the country in terms of the road network, there are just two standard ways of getting to Bahía Solano – by sea or by air. Well there is the option of trekking through dense tropical jungle, but due to some commitments over the next few months, we’re not willing to take a gamble on our life just yet. We’re not ruling out doing it at some stage though.

We decided to take the more relaxed, slower route by sea, departing from the delightfully dirty city of Buenaventura (see last week’s ‘Buenaventura’s dirty delights’ http://bit.ly/11ksFmP). Depending on the time of year, a fast boat is available which would have you in Bahía Solano in about ten hours. This, however, was not an option at this time. In any case, the thoughts of a couple of days steadily sailing on the ocean was more appealing than a rough speed boat ride – if you’re travelling around Colombia’s Pacific coast, it’s best not to be in a rush.
Loading our boat up with the essentials - crates & crates of beer
Stocking up.

We certainly weren’t and just as well. Our planned sail time of a Saturday afternoon was put back to a dawn departure on Sunday morning as our ‘luxury cruiser’ – well an all-purpose small cargo ship (as you know, our standards on luxury are low) – seemed to take on more stuff than Noah’s Ark. Alas the crates and crates of beer on board were not for passenger consumption.
Sunset & dolphins on the high seas
Dolphins!

The delayed departure was far from an inconvenience – we slept on the docked boat that night as well as getting fed, so the $150,000 COP cost (about $80 US) for the initial 36-hour trip became even more reasonable.* When we did get moving, it took about 24 hours to reach our first destination – the little village of Nuquí. The boat ride was comfortable although it seems many Colombians don’t have the best of sea-legs – thankfully sea sickness was not a problem for us. On the way, as a pleasant distraction, we were regularly accompanied by dolphins. This is also the part of Colombia’s Pacific to see Humpback whales; however the season to see them is between July and November.

We docked in Nuquí for a few hours, enough time for us to have a walk around the village, splash in the ocean and grab a refreshing beer. Indeed with the dramatic tide movements around these parts the boat couldn’t move until evening time as it was on dry land for much of the day.
'Docked' in Nuquí
Shipwrecked.

The trip from Nuquí to Bahía Solano took about ten hours, arriving at our destination before dawn on Tuesday. So while it may seem like a bit of an unnecessary long, marathon journey considering you can take a speed boat that gets you there much quicker from Buenaventura, we found it enjoyable. People may use the Spanish expression ‘vale la pena’ (‘worth the pain/effort’ or worthwhile) as regards the trip, but this is a bit erroneous as far as we’re concerned as there is no pain – it’s pleasant.

Even if you do find the boat ride uncomfortable because of sea sickness or whatever, you’ll soon forget all that when you get to Bahía Solano. This is an ideal place to ‘get away from it all’. Relax and unwind, away from the big city madness or work or whatever. Sea, sand and sun practically all to yourself. OK, if you were being critical you might say the beaches aren’t the most pristine in the world, but when there’s no one else around to disturb you, who cares?
A secluded beach outside Bahía Solano
Secluded.

We went to Bahía Solano with one chief aim – to chill out. And on that score it certainly didn’t disappoint. The town itself is sleepy, a population made up of the indigenous Embera, Afro-Colombians and Spanish-Colombians, with a good scattering of this latter group being Paisas (people originally from Medellín and its surrounds – if there’s money to be made, you’ll generally find a Paisa close by). It has everything you’ll need – plenty of little restaurants, quiet bars, grocery stores, internet cafes, ATM, etc. As much of the food stuff has to be transported in by sea from Buenaventura – outside of the plentiful and delicious fish that is – things are generally a little bit more expensive than you’ll find in the bigger Colombian cities, but not by that much.
A refreshing waterfall to cool off in
Refreshing.

In terms of what to do outside of relaxing on the beach, there are plenty of gentle treks you can take around the town, exploring the tropical flora and fauna. Now while you may not feel too inclined to go trekking in the intense heat, many of these little walks are refreshingly interrupted with waterfalls – the clear, cool fresh water good enough to drink.

Something perhaps a little less refreshing, but worth a try all the same is ‘biche’ or 'viche', the local brew of the Embera. This clear, moonshine-style spirit, is derived from the palm tree and it certainly packs a punch. It reminded us, in appearance, taste and strength of poitín – the Irish ‘tipple’ typically distilled from potatoes. You can purchase a 200 ml bottle of biche for the giveaway price of $6,000 COP (just over $3 US) from the indigenous themselves – a nice way to support them while getting something in return.
Biche being served by an Embera
Biche time.

About an hour's drive away from Bahía is the neighbouring village of El Valle. This is worth at least a day visit. It appears a little bit more rustic than Bahía (not that the latter is cosmopolitan or anything like it – everything is relative!) with better waves for surfing if that’s your thing, and a bigger beach.

Now the more pig-headed amongst us may subscribe to the notion that ‘the only things that go with the flow are dead fish.’ Yes, there is some truth to that, but in Bahía Solano and surrounds the tides are in control. They tend to decide your movements – be it from when to walk along the beach to when you want to leave by sea. When you’re here, there’s no other option but to just go with the flow. A refreshingly good feeling that can be too.
High tide
Incoming
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* ‘Renacer del Pacifico’ runs boats with spaces for passengers from Buenaventura to Bahía Solano, usually departing on Saturdays and Tuesdays each week. The journey generally shouldn’t take longer than 36 hours (in fact our return journey from Bahía Solano only took 22 hours) and the standard price for a ticket is $150,000 COP with meals and – usually – a bed included.
The office/point of departure is located at: km 4, El Pinal, Buenaventura. Mob: +57-320-726-07-82 / +57-315-402-15-61.

One budget accommodation option in Bahía Solano is ‘Hotel Bahía Solano’ ($20,000 COP a room per night – you may have to bargain for this price though). E-mail: hotelbahiasolano@gmail.com for more information.

12 comments:

  1. Cheers Corrigan, handy info so now i don´t have to read the overprotective guidebook!

    see you when we head back to Bog town 26th Feb - i want see your salsa skills :)

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  2. 'We're' here to help, as always Susie!

    Safe travelling & see you on the 26th all going well. We'll play it by ear on the salsa!

    It's year since I wrote this, but it still holds true!

    http://wwcorrigan.blogspot.com/2012/02/lord-of-dance.html

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  3. What did lonely planet think of your audition piece?!

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  4. It's safe to assume that 'Wrong Way' is blacklisted from Lonely Planet!

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  5. Hey Corrigan, we're planning a trip there in August. Just want to clarify - there are ATMs in Bahia Solano town? All that I've read said there none. Also, do you know if it's considered high season in July/August?

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  6. Hi 'Anonymous'! Yes, as mentioned in the piece, there is at least one ATM in the town. As ever though with remote places like this, it's always good practice to bring sufficient amounts of cash with you too.

    July in general in Colombia is high season as it's one of the main holiday periods of the year. Also, July to November is the main period for Humpback whales in this region of the Pacific so for that there would tend to be more tourists in the area.

    But it's still not a well travelled spot, so it gets less tourists than the more popular parts of the country and from what our sources tell us prices tend to stay the same.

    Hope this information helps. Have a good and safe trip!

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    1. Hey Corrigan, thanks very much for the reply and the information.

      It sounds like just the place for us!

      We're also planning to go to the Cartagena area for a bit (maybe one of the islands) - any recommendations?

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    3. Well Cartagena is certainly worth a visit - it is hot on the tourist trail and in July/August it tends to be even busier than normal, but it's still a cool spot.

      As it is very touristy, it's a bit pricier than some of the other places in the country.

      By the islands, do you mean those close to Cartagena? Back in 2009 I did a day trip to a couple of the islands with a Colombian friend. To be honest I forget the names of them but there were certainly very nice (my companion, she did all the organising, so hence why I don't have much more info!).

      Of course along the Caribbean coast and not that far away from Cartagena you also have Santa Marta & Taganga (a relatively cheap place to do diving, at least it was four years ago). Then there's Parque Tayrona which is also quite stunning.

      How long are you planning in Colombia? Where exactly are you coming from?

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  7. Hey Corrigan, thanks for the added info. We are coming from northwestern Canada and will be in Colombia for a couple of weeks or so.

    I've been curious about the Caribbean coast of Colombia for awhile, so want to include that in the trip - it doesn't have to be Cartagena itself, as long as it's beach and laid back (nothing more we like than a beer(s) at happy hour at a little beach bar). The city of Cartagena would probably just be a day trip.

    I will check out Santa Marta and Taganga - thanks for passing on those names.

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  8. You'll certainly get plenty of beach bars in both Santa Marta & Taganga, that's for sure. If you were looking for something more tranquil, there is Cabo de la Vela in the department of La Guajira. It's a place where the desert runs into the ocean.
    I've not been, but I'm hoping to get up there next month - it's meant to be impressive.

    Anyway, if there's any more assistance 'we' here at Wrong Way can provide (if we're able!), you know where to find us!

    Safe travelling!

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    1. Thanks again, Corrigan...cheers!

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