Bahia Solano & Nuqui

If you’re visiting Colombia and you are really looking for an off-the-beaten track experience that most tourists who visit the country don’t get to experience, then you may want to consider visiting Bahia Solano and Nuqui.

Before you start to book your trip to these two beautiful and distinct places in Colombia, it’s important to do your research first on how you can get there, what to do when you get there, and how to make the most of this mostly undiscovered part of the Pacific coast. Although Bahia Solano and Nuqui fly under the radar in terms of destinations to visit in Colombia, both of these places are becoming more and more popular as more tourists strive to discover these hidden gems.

Nuqui is both a town and municipality located on the Pacific coast of Colombia and is not a very big place when compared to Cartagena, Santa Marta, or Cali. There are only eight thousand residents of Nuqui in total and is located within the department of Choco specifically. The Choco department is wedged between the Baudo Mountains and the Pacific Ocean making the scenery quite unique and appealing to visitors.

There’s a lot of diversity, both culturally and ethnically to discover in Nuqui, and it’s a great chance for tourists to experience the Pacifico culture in Colombia while meeting the friendly and down-to-earth locals. Similar to Bahia Solano and the rest of the Choco department, the majority of the population there are Afro-Colombians or are the descendants of the various indigenous tribes that still call Colombia home to this day. You’ll get a chance to experience a different regional culture that is very different when compared to other regions such as Antioquia or Santander.

What may draw some tourists specifically to visiting Nuqui is the fact that there is an extremely diverse amount of flora and fauna to see and explore. It’s only a short trip from Nuqui to visit the mangroves of PNN Utria where you also have the option to go snorkeling or relax at the Playa Blanca. The main draw of Nuqui is considered to be the pristine beach of Guachalito that is mostly empty but is filled with mocha-colored sand next to a nearby jungle. Between checking out the marine life, hanging out on the mostly untouched beaches, and wading through the deep jungles, there’s plenty to do when it comes to visiting Nuqui.

There are also numerous other activities that you can do in Nuqui as well. If you want to chill out, you can hang out at some thermal springs and rub some healthy mud all over your body. You can do some ecological hikes just a stone’s throw from the beaches and check out some waterfalls where you can do some swimming to cool off. The most popular waterfall is known as the ‘Terco’ waterfall, which is about a four-hour hike but is worth the effort to get there.

If you happen to visit Nuqui between the months of June to October, you can check out whale watching and get up close to those beautiful mammals. Don’t be afraid to hit up the surf with the massive waves that can be found in Nuqui especially ‘Cabo Corriente’ if you’re up for the challenge at a more advanced level. Lastly, you can also tour the Jovi river especially by canoe if you would like to get some exercise into your trip.

In order to get to Nuqui, it’s possible by flying from the Olaya Herrera airport in Medellin or from Bogota with a stopover in the city of Quibdo. You can also take a boat to Nuqui from the beach of Guachalito, which will take about an hour or so.

Bahia Solano is pretty similar to Nuqui in terms of location as they are both located in the Choco department of Colombia. However, compared to Nuqui, Bahia Solano is considered the tourist capital of the Pacific coast of Colombia due to its’ location and its’ relatively cheap cost of touristic activities. Bahia Solano has the only airport on the Pacific coast or in Choco so you can fly to there first from other cities in Colombia before you travel on to Nuqui or another part of the Choco department.

There’s also a seaport, which will allow you to travel there by boat from other parts of the Pacific Coast if that is what you choose to do. Bahia Solano has a little bit of everything to offer the seasoned traveler or tourist. Between the mangroves, marshes, rivers, beaches, mountains, and scenic coasts, Bahia Solano has a natural biodiversity that is unmatched when compared to other destinations in Colombia. The flora, fauna, and overall biodiversity will draw you in as well as other sport activities such as surfing, fishing, and scuba diving. Bahia Solano is very close to other tourist draws such as the beach town of ‘El Valle’ and the nearby Ensenada de Utria National Park, which is also accessible from Nuqui too.

If you are looking for an organized tour within Bahia Solano, you may want to check out Pacifico tours. It will be a good chance to meet new people and explore the undiscovered Pacific coast with customizable trips that focus on your outdoor activity preferences. You can also partake in surfing and whale watching (June through October) through these tours or on your own.

‘Huina’ is a beautiful, remote beach in Bahia Solano that is popular with the locals and hasn’t been spoiled yet. You can choose a number of hikes to do that last from four to six hours to destinations like the ‘el Tigre’ waterfall from playa Aljemal or to the ‘Boro Boro’ area to explore the jungle part of Choco. If you want to do canoeing in Bahia Solano, you can tour the Rio Tundo to combine exploring the coast with exploring the jungle by passing through this river.

Whatever you decide to choose to do, Nuqui and Bahia Solano have a lot to offer the average tourist or traveler. You are going to be impressed by the natural beauty, warm people, and agreeable climate that you will encounter when you visit this part of the Pacific coast of Colombia. Have a good time and remember to take some pictures and video to remember this unique travel experience.

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Note: For this blog post, while I haven’t been to either of these places yet, I did some thorough research regarding these two destinations as well as talking to other Colombians and friends of mine about these places. They have been highly recommended to me and I hope to visit Bahia Solano and Nuqui in the future.

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Cartagena v. San Andres Island – A Comparison

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“San Andres Island: Located Northwest of mainland Colombia and closest to the coast of Nicaragua. Very small island as you can see from this map.

If you’re in a cold, winter climate right now and you’re looking to escape the frigid temperatures and snowy weather for a little while, you should consider the following two destinations for a vacation. Recently, I was lucky enough to take two, separate trips in December to the San Andres Island in Colombia and then to the coastal, colonial city of Cartagena, which is also located in Colombia. While these destinations are similar in many respects, they are still unique in a number of ways. Depending on what you’re looking for in a tropical destination, both San Andres and Cartagena have a lot to offer for the average traveler.

San Andres Island

After visiting the San Andres Island in early December, I consider it to be a hidden gem of the Caribbean. I write this because I find it to be much less of a tourist destination than other tropical islands such as the Bahamas, Bermuda, U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, etc. and small countries such as Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. What it lacks in notoriety and sheer size, San Andres is just as much of a Caribbean destination than other more popular islands.

The island is rich in both biodiversity and sheer crystal blue beaches that you can swim in, go snorkeling, or go riding around in a boat or Jet Ski. San Andres is blessed with vibrant coral reefs, sand banks, and outer cays, which are easy to explore by foot or by boat. You can snorkel with the fishes or go scuba diving with them depending upon your personal preference. The island is smaller than most tropical destinations at only 26 square kilometers in total area but I consider it an advantage to be able to see a good amount of the island in only a week if that’s how long you plan to stay.

There are a number of ways to get around the island including local buses, which will do a circular loop around the island and can be hailed from anywhere you are in the main street. You can also rent your own scooter or golf buggy cart to get around the island for a day or more. Taxis are also plentiful in most areas but tend to be more expensive depending on where you’re going on the island.

Most restaurants, hotels are located in the northern part of the island and tend to be a little bit cheaper than Cartagena in terms of pricing. The great thing about San Andres is that there is a number of bed and breakfast places available, which are cheaper than the major hotel chains if you’re looking to save some money. The smaller hotel chains and the bed and breakfasts are usually located closer to the island’s less popular but still very beautiful beaches, which are also less touristy overall.

During the low season for San Andres’s tourism, it’s possible to find a beach where there are few tourists around and where there’s still white sand and crystal blue waters. All you would have to do is make sure you do your research and find out where these lesser-known beaches are and take public transportation or your own scooter there for the day. You won’t find these beaches in El Centro or in the north of the island.

Luckily, I was able to find a beach like that ten minutes south of where I was staying by bus, which was the highlight of my trip. If you’re looking to visit San Andres, make sure you visit during the low season and be ready to explore the island beyond just the touristy areas. In addition to being accessible by plane from Colombia, which is the owner of the island, you can also get to San Andres from the countries of Panama and Costa Rica. With the right planning and set-up, you’ll be able to walk to the nearest tropical beach when you stay in San Andres for your visit.

Cartagena

A city with an interesting mixture of colorful, colonial buildings and modern, towering skyscrapers, Cartagena is the most popular tourist destination in all of Colombia and has been growing in popularity in recent years. Known most for being the location of the oldest Spanish colony in the Americas, Cartagena offers a lot of history, culture, and diversity to those tourists who visit its’ colonial streets, coastal beaches, or plentiful hotels. Cartagena is very easy to get to by bus, by boat, or by plane with its’ modern international airport named after former President of Colombia, Rafael Nunez who was a Cartagenero.

If you’re short on time, it would not be a complete trip to Cartagena without visiting sites like the Felipe de San Barajas Castle, which was a Spanish fortress designed to protect the city from foreign invaders and from scheming pirates. There’s also the walled colonial city with its’ colorful buildings, which have been somewhat transformed to offer restaurants, boutique hotels, and artisanal shopping to its many tourists. In my opinion, the walled colonial city still has a lot of character and its architecture is really pleasing to the eye. Costenas are among the friendliest people in Colombia and are truly welcoming to the sheer amount of tourists that come to the city each year.

While I was not able to go there during my recent trip, the La Popa hill has great views of Cartagena and you can take a tour of a monastery there with a history dating back to the 17th century. While Cartagena has a number of beaches, the best ones take some effort to get to, which can take a whole day trip back and forth. The most famous beach in the area is La Playa Blanca located on the Baru Island, where you can find white sand beaches and the crystal blue water that can’t be easily found elsewhere in Cartagena. Lastly, Cartagena is a big city with over a million residents and thousands of tourists. If you don’t get to do everything in one trip, you can rest assured knowing that it’s a city that is worth more than one visit.

Comparison

Overall, I had an excellent time during my two separate visits to Cartagena and San Andres Island. Both of these destinations have a lot to offer to the average tourist and are relatively affordable and easy to get to from other parts of the Americas. If you’re looking for a warm destination with friendly and open people, these two locations should be high on your list.

If I were to give recommendations based on what each place can offer as its’ specialty, you’ll want to give San Andres the edge in terms of its’ beaches and its’ water sports activities. The manageable size of the island to navigate along with its various modes of transportation makes it easy for the traveler to explore different beaches, coral reefs, and outer cays without having to go very far. San Andres is also a bit cheaper of a destination in terms of average lodging and food costs compared with Cartagena.

While San Andres has the advantage with its’ beaches and its’ overall costs, Cartagena shines when it comes to the history of the city, its’ open and friendly people along with the numerous options for dining and lodging. In all of the cities of Colombia, the walled colonial city of Cartagena is very special along with the San Felipe de Barajas Castle. The restaurant and nightlife scene is also much more vibrant giving the average tourist a lot to do, see, and explore at nighttime compared with San Andres.

I would suggest that while Cartagena has a number of accessible beaches, the special ones like Playa Blanca take some time to get to and are not located within the city. When it comes to crystal blue waters and white sand beaches, San Andres Island is a destination that offers that in a number of locations without too much effort needed.

The beauty of these two destinations is that they each have something special to offer the tourist, the traveler, or the backpacker. If you’re looking for beautiful beaches and water sports activities, head to San Andres Island but if you’re looking to learn more about history, culture and to experience good restaurants and nightlife, head to the city of Cartagena. Either destination has its’ own specialties and advantages. You won’t regret your time in either destination and it will be a good travel experience that you’ll have fond memories about.

Cartagena

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Cartagena, Colombia

San Andres Island

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CameraiPod Touch, 6th Generation

Location: San Andres Island, Colombia

A Trip to Minca

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This past weekend, I was able to make my first road trip here in Colombia with a few fellow Peace Corps trainees. When I found out that we would be going to visit a current volunteer in the Magdalena department, a different and very unique, beautiful part of Colombia that is much different from where I have been currently living in Atlántico.

It was quite the trip for the four of us trainees, as we had to use three different modes of transportation such as cars, taxis, and buses in order to get to our final destination. However, the scenery and landscape changes that we were able to see and enjoy could not be matched. Going from the savanna/dry flatlands of Atlántico to the lush tropical mountains and hillsides of Magdalena was quite fascinating for me. It was almost as if we had transported ourselves to a different country but in fact, we were only four or so hours away from our original starting point.

This small road trip was able to put into perspective for me just how biodiverse and unique Colombia is as a nation. I have only seen a little bit of the wide range of landscapes and scenery that this country has to offer but I have been really impressed with how different it is even when just describing the Atlantic coast. Along with China and the United States, Colombia ranks as one of the most bio-diverse and naturally rich countries in the world, which is amazing considering its size compared to those two aforementioned countries. I really do hope to see as much as Colombia as I can and to be able to see how diverse and unique it really is.

Getting back to the trip, it was smooth traveling for us all even when we had to take a car halfway up the mountain to about an altitude about 1,000 meters. Our host, a current Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia was generous, gracious, and showed us around the town of Minca and all it has to offer. When you’re up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you can indulge in a lot of different outdoor activities.

Minca recently has become a more popular tourist hotspot with cafes, restaurants, and small hostels being filled with French, German, and other European tourists. It is difficult to conclude whether or not the locals of Minca have benefited or not from this influx of tourists who have come to see the natural sights and sounds. I would argue that this is part of a growing trend for Colombia as more and more tourists come to explore the country given that the safety and security situation has been improving.

During our short stay in Minca, we were able to meet some of the locals who have benefited from the Peace Corps’ volunteer being there to help with their English. In addition to working full-time at the school, the volunteer here gives English lessons to adults and also those business owners who would like to have a decent level of proficiency for dealing with the incoming tourists. I really admired the hard work and effort that the volunteer has put in to the community there and the close comradery, affection that the local people have for the volunteer too.

In addition, the teachers and students at the school in Minca welcomed us with open arms and allowed us to observe their lessons, answer their questions, and answer our many questions as well. I believe that it will be vitally important for myself, as a volunteer-to-be is to establish a productive and successful working relationship with my Colombian counter-part. It’s also important to really get to know all of the students in the school on some level and be able to interact with them, which should help when it comes to classroom learning.

We were truly lucky to spend a day with a current Peace Corps volunteer and to observe them at work and at home to see what kind of life may await us for our two years of service. Minca is a really peaceful, unique town nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The beautiful vistas, and the cascading waterfalls will stay in my memory for a long time.

Even if my site placement puts me far from that type of location and environment, I definitely hope to be able to visit the Magdalena department of Colombia soon again. If for anything else for the fact that I really enjoy hiking up the mountains, breaking into a sweat, and then cooling off by diving into the cool, refreshing waters of the many waterfalls to be found there. Stay tuned for more road trips in the future. Colombia is a very big country and I hope to visit more places here in the future.

The Beauty of Magdalena

Location: Magdalena Department, Colombia.

Photos taken with the iPod Touch, 6th Generation.

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