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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
* ‘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: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.