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If you are curious about the logistics of visiting El Valle on the Pacific Coast of Colombia and want to know what it’s like there, then read on…
I adore Colombia. I have spent almost four months there in total and I know I will visit again in the future. This large country offers a little bit of everything: Impressive mountains, world-class cities, idyllic Caribbean islands, relaxing hot springs, beautiful beaches, and lush Amazon Rainforest.
I traveled extensively during my two visits there, covering a lot of the country, but one of my favorite places is a place that not a lot of visitors to Colombia make the effort to experience: Colombia’s rugged and undeveloped Pacific Coast.
While the accessible Caribbean Coast is home to many resorts and mass tourism, the Pacific Coast is still very off the beaten path and hard to get to. And that’s one of the reasons we fell for it.
Although I didn’t travel to a lot of places on the Pacific Coast, I wanted to tell you about El Valle, a coastal town where we spent five days. We originally wanted to make it further south to Nuqui and Termales too but with the time we had, it seemed like too much hassle and expense.
Luckily we loved El Valle and did a couple of great day trips to see more of the surrounding area as well. It was one of the best places we added to our Colombia itinerary.
Why You Shouldn’t Miss El Valle on the Pacific Coast of Colombia
All About El Valle
El Valle is a beach town in Bahia Solano municipality in the Choco Department of Colombia. Choco is the only department in Colombia to have coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and Colombia’s entire border with Panama is within Choco.
It is rich in biodiversity and natural resources but has little infrastructure and one of the lowest standards of living in the whole country. Culturally it is very different from the rest of Colombia as 80% of the population is Afro-Colombian.
There are no roads connecting Choco to other regions of Colombia and thick, untamed rainforest covers most of the department. It is also one of the wettest places on earth.
Because of all this, it is one of the least visited departments of Colombia and retains an untouched, end-of-the-world feel about it. You come to Choco if you want to experience a wild place with very little tourism. Don’t come here for luxury, comfort, or amazing food – come here for the adventure.
Arriving in El Valle
Flying into Bahia Solano I was amazed by how dense and vast the jungle was and how few settlements we saw until we were just about to land.
Upon landing, we exited the tiny airport and into the soupy air. We found a shared van to take us over one of the only roads in Choco – and a bumpy one at that – to Playa El Almejal in El Valle, around one hour’s drive away.
Playa El Almejal was our home for the next five nights.
Daily Life As a Tourist in El Valle
Our daily life in El Valle was simple and rewarding and we were very lucky to have beautiful sunny days every day but one during our visit.
There was a beautiful little kitty that claimed us as her own and always waited for us outside our little wooden shack every day. She would sleep with us every night and hang out in the garden with us on lazy afternoons. There were also a couple of sweet dogs that lived at Humpback Turtle.
Humpback Turtle was right on Playa El Almejal and we walked this long, wild beach every day. We would regularly see massive flocks of pelicans flying overhead and lots of different birds flying above the rainforest canopy which came right up to the sand.
There are numerous beautiful waterfalls you can see along the beach, some from a distance, and deep tidal pools that are perfect for swimming in. It is easy to find an empty section of beach to enjoy all to yourself.
In the evenings, the place to be is out the front of Humpback Turtle to watch the sunset with a cold beer or a Colombian Michelada (beer with fresh lime juice served in a salt-rimmed glass). The sunsets at Playa El Almejal are some of the best I have ever seen and it was an important ritual to witness every one during our stay.
As the sun was setting, the bonfire would be lit and we would enjoy chatting with other travelers around the fire with a drink in hand until dinner. Bliss.
We would make the 20-minute pilgrimage into El Valle every day to grab lunch, dinner, or a coconut ice cream (we really got addicted to these). I enjoyed the exercise and all the lush greenery and flowers we would see on the way.
El Valle always looked so sleepy and empty when we were there during the day. Despite being on the mainland, there were definitely laid-back island vibes. My favorite.
The one night we came into town for dinner I was surprised by how lively it was. The pool hall was the most popular spot in town. Pool is a really big deal in El Valle.
The days felt slower here and looking back on it now, it felt like we were in El Valle for weeks, not days.
Eating in El Valle
I hope you like fish because you will likely be eating a lot of it! El Valle is not a place you come for the food and there are only a couple of restaurants in town. You will most likely be eating at your accommodation, and you can expect to only have the choice of eating fish for lunch and dinner most days. This was our experience anyway.
We mostly ate at our hostel. Breakfast was included and was scrambled eggs and a bread roll with coffee, and lunch and dinner was always some kind of fish, usually with patacones (fried plantains), and rice. We had fried tuna a couple of times and it tasted exactly like fried chicken which was an exciting change.
On the walk into town, there was a little bakery stand that sold really good banana bread and little ginger cakes and I always bought something there when it was open. And once we discovered the fresh juices and creamy coconut icecreams at Jugos Donde Pilar in town, we would make a pilgrimage there daily.
We also had good fried chicken at a little restaurant at the beginning of town if you are coming from the beach, Colombian burgers (cheese melted on top of the bun and meat topped with potato straws) on the road to Bahia Solano, and we ate at El Nativo once where we had fried fish, rice, and patacones.
Maybe there are more options in the busier Whale Watching season but this was kind of the extent of it when we visited in January.
Jungle Hike To Playa Larga
One day we attempted to hike to Playa Larga, a lovely beach north of Playa El Almejal that has waterfalls flowing onto the sand.
Unfortunately the trail we took through the jungle from the northern end of Playa El Almejal was overgrown and hard to follow, and we couldn’t figure out where the trail down to the beach from the main trail forked off so we ended up giving up and turning back.
We may not have succeeded in finding Playa Larga but we spent three hours hiking in the jungle and saw colorful butterflies and even a couple of red and black poison dart frogs.
Even though we did enjoy our independent jungle hike, it’s probably better to hike with a guide as the trail isn’t super well-marked and it would be easy to get lost. Definitely don’t hike alone.
Cascada El Tigre Day Trip
Possibly the most famous day trip you can do outside of whale-watching season is to Cascada El Tigre, an impressive waterfall reached by boat north of El Valle.
We went with El Nativo, a local tour guide, after our new travel friend Tobi had read reviews about him online. El Nativo only speaks Spanish and our Spanish is only rudimentary so luckily Tobi did all the organizing and communicating. We asked for him at his family’s posada, halfway between Playa El Almejal and El Valle town, and organized to do the tour the next day.
We set out by boat at 8.30 am for the 20-minute ride to El Tigre Beach. The beach can only be reached by boat or by a tough five-hour hike through the jungle from Playa El Almejal. It is a paradise of dark grey sand backed by a verdant green jungle.
Cascada El Tigre gushes onto the beach and from there a small and super clear freshwater river meets the ocean.
After admiring this beautiful scene we followed El Nativo around to another beach with another gorgeous waterfall cascading onto the sand. The pool was emerald green and so clear so we swam for a while. It was probably the best waterfall swim I have ever had.
There was also a large beach cave with bats that we entered briefly before making our way back to El Tigre Beach.
We had lots of time to sunbathe on the beach, swim in the ocean and under the waterfall before a freshly cooked lunch of fish, rice, and plantains.
After lunch, El Nativo took us up some stairs and along the river that feeds Cascada El Tigre. We climbed up smaller waterfalls, waded through the river, and scrambled over rocks, further into the pristine rainforest. It was so idyllic.
Then it was time to catch the boat back to El Valle. Tobi and Toby decided to get dropped off at Playa Larga to hike the coastline back to Playa El Almejal. The tide was not quite low enough and they said it turned into quite the adventure, where they had to scale rocky cliff faces and wade through deep water. It’s probably for the best that I didn’t join them.
I loved my waterfall adventure and it was one of the best days we spent in Colombia.
Day Trip To Isla Playa Blanca in Utría National Natural Park
The other day trip we did during our time in El Valle was to Isla Playa Blanca in Utría National Natural Park south of the town. We went with El Nativo again because we loved our first tour with him so much.
The boat trip was around 45 minutes each way and I was already in love when I first caught sight of the tiny island. It is home to one of the only white sand beaches in the area and it looked so stunning with the clear emerald ocean and the thick jungle in the center of the island.
This small island is part of Utría National Natural Park and is not far off the mainland. We disembarked the boat in a pretty bay then after a short hike over a hill, we were at Playa Blanca.
I really enjoyed our free time on this remote beach, it was just so pretty. There were numerous small rocky islands just offshore and you could snorkel right off the beach.
We had lunch at the small restaurant on top of the hill – fish and plantains of course – then we got back into the boat to visit another lovely beach on the mainland. This beach also had whitish sand and more hermit crabs than I think I have ever seen before.
And then it was time to head back to El Valle, another successful day trip in the books.
Other Things To Do in El Valle
There are so many things to do in El Valle and whale watching is the biggie if you are visiting between July and October. This is when humpback whales travel to the warm waters of the Gulf of Tribuga to give birth. You can take a whale-watching trip or even see them from shore in El Valle.
You can also surf on Playa El Almejal – it’s a great place to learn, visit a turtle sanctuary (turtle season is June to December), hike to a hot spring, go hiking in Utria National Natural Park, visit an indigenous village, visit nearby beaches, and more.
You can book these tours through your accommodation (Humpback Turtle has all of these tours and more) or if you speak Spanish, book tours through El Nativo (ask for him at his family posada on the way to Playa El Almejal) – he runs a number of different tours and is an excellent guide.
Plan Your Trip To El Valle
Where To Stay in El Valle
I would recommend staying on Playa El Almejal rather than in El Valle proper. It’s peaceful and beautiful, and only a 10-25 minute walk into town depending on how far down the beach you are staying (and how fast you walk).
We stayed at the Humpback Turtle Hostel and we loved it. It’s located near the far end of Playa El Almejal and is one of the best places to watch the sunset with a cold beer.
We booked a private bungalow which was basic but comfortable. There is no air conditioning, the bathrooms are shared and the showers are cold, although you will find this at most places in El Valle. Book online for a discount.
The Pelican House Hostel is another popular budget choice and is right next door to Humpback Turtle. We met a number of people staying here and they really liked it. There are dorms and private rooms available.
Stay at Posadas El Nativo if you want to stay closer to town – it’s halfway between the beach and El Valle. This friendly homestay offers basic but comfortable rooms.
For something more luxurious, stay at El Morro Hosteria on the southern end of Playa El Almejal which offers stunning ocean views and English-speaking owners, or Coco Loco Lodge which has spacious cabins with patios. Both offer rooms with private bathrooms.
Getting To El Valle
There are a few ways to get to El Valle but most of them are not easy.
The easiest but most expensive way to get to El Valle is to take one of the daily 40-minute flights from Olaya Herrera Airport in El Poblado, Medellin to tiny José Celestino Mutis Airport in Bahia Solano with either Satena or SanGerman. In January 2022 we paid $45 for our flight to Bahia Solano and $69 for our flight back to Medellin.
Once you arrive in Bahia Solano you can either take a shared taxi or a tuk tuk to El Valle.
A cheaper but much longer way to reach El Valle is by taking a bus to Buenaventura (around four hours from Cali) and then jumping on a 24-hour cargo boat ride to Bahia Solano. The boat only goes as far as Bahia Solano on Tuesdays (and back to Buenaventura on Saturdays) so you have to time it right. The boat costs around $40 each way so it isn’t much cheaper than flying anyway.
You can also fly to Nuqui from Medellin with Satena and then take a boat (Mondays and Fridays) to El Valle. I would only look at doing this if you are planning to spend some time in the Nuqui/Termales area as well.
Best Time To Visit El Valle
If you plan to go whale watching, you will need to visit between July and October, and if you want to be there during turtle breeding season, that is from June until December. We, unfortunately, missed both these seasons but it was still 100% worth visiting when we did in January.
January is actually one of the months with the least amount of rainfall and we only had some rain on the day we were leaving. The temperatures don’t change much throughout the year so anytime is a good time to go to El Valle.
Tips For Visiting El Valle
- Book your flight back to Medellin well in advance. I have heard of people getting stuck in El Valle for longer than planned because all the flights back to Medellin were booked out for days.
- You can only take 5kg carry-on luggage and 10kg checked luggage on flights and they do check so leave everything you don’t need in Medellin.
- Flights are often canceled due to bad weather so I wouldn’t recommend flying back to Medellin too soon before your international flight out of the country.
- Take as much cash as you think you will need then add more for emergencies. There is no ATM in El Valle – the closest ATM is in Bahia Solano and it’s not always working.
- Most accommodation providers only accept cash for payment so make sure you have enough for that too.
- Pack a water filter bottle so you don’t have to purchase plastic bottles of water.
- It rains a lot in El Valle so build in an extra day or two if you can to account for rainy days. It’s likely you will get at least one.
- Pack a raincoat and an umbrella for rainy days.
- El Valle also has high humidity so you will find that if you have wet clothes/swimsuits, you will want to dry them in direct sun as they never dry properly in the shade.
- If you are a vegetarian, you should carefully plan the place you are staying because a lot of places don’t cater to vegetarians. Fish is king here.
- Wifi is either non-existent or not great. El Valle is a great place for a digital detox.
- You will struggle if you don’t know at least some basic Spanish. Maybe someone at your accommodation may speak some English but pretty much no one else in town will, including local guides. In saying that, the locals are friendly and patient.
The Best Insurance For Your Colombia Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your Colombia trip, just to be on the safe side. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
If you liked this post, why not check out some more of my Colombia and South America posts:
- Offbeat Places To Add To Your Colombia Itinerary
- Your Galapagos Islands Holiday: Things To Know Before You Go
- 8 Beautiful Galapagos Beaches You Shouldn’t Miss
- Colonial Mountain Towns and Exploring Bogota
- Exciting Times in Colombia’s Coffee Region
- The Beaches and Coastal Mountains on the Caribbean Coast