Is Colombia’s pacific coast the final frontier for surfing in the Latin Americas? Despite this secluded region of Colombia arguably housing some of the best waves in the region, it’s not exactly a hotspot for traveling surfers and not without reason. This stretch of coast has long flown under the surfing radar, likely from a combination of isolation and the long shadow of a violent past. As recent as ten years ago this beautiful coastline of Colombia was a no-go zone infested with left-wing guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers battling for control of the main drug trafficking route in Colombia . However, as the political situation begins to stabilize and word spreads of the amazing waves hidden here, will we see an increase in traveling surfers flocking to this region? [Continued below]
Years ago, the left-wing guerrilla groups of FARC and the ELN took advantage of this isolation to setup strategic strongholds well out of reach and interference of the powers that be to continue their struggle against Paramilitaries groups such as Los Urabenos who also occupied the area. The violent conflicts were politically motivated, but over time their interests shifted toward the production and exporting of cocaine as a way to fund operations. The state of Choco was an area that most internationals and many Colombians feared to tread. If you were brave or perhaps more accurately stupid enough to visit this region, you were figuratively rolling the dice, putting your life at risk while drug running, kidnapping, and murders were a frequent life hazard.
Fast forward to the present day and this once highly dangerous situation has dramatically begun to shift, with FARC recently signing a peace treaty with the government and the ELN in negotiations for a hopefully similar outcome. Will we finally see complete peace and stability arrive in this beautiful region? Only time will tell. That being said in the major tourists areas the Pacific Coast of Colombia no longer holds the dangers of old and the coastline of Choco is slowly becoming one of the best tourist locations in the nation, overflowing with untouched natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife. The small coastal fishing villages of Nuqui, Bahia Salano and El Valle offer safe, developed and peaceful areas to visit.
Personally, for quite some time I’d kept my eye on this region while hearing whispers of world class waves hidden here. During my recent visit to the country, I was holed up in Medellin for three weeks keeping a close eye on the weather and surf charts for the Pacific Coast. It may have been the offseason for good surf, but I was clinging to some hope for swell in spite of a poor forecast. Nearing the end of the third week I was almost out of time as my travel window not to mention my tight travel funds were rapidly drawing to an end but yet I was still holding out for a glimmer of hope, just some form of movement on the swell charts. When I thought all hope was lost a 2 metre north swell was registering on the charts to hit in a weeks time. A range of sites were all showing different readings but I was desperate now and figured “what the hell, let’s do this.” The next day the swell was downgraded by two thirds. "Good old Murphy's law" I thought as I shook my head and tried to remain positive. I figured would probably have an amazing time regardless of the swell.
To be completely honest, before flying into Choco I was somewhat nervous about the area’s violent history especially considering the fact that I was flying solol. However, within moments touching down and resting my feet upon the airline runway, my fears eroded. As I wandered the raw, rugged, dirty yet peaceful streets of Bahia Solano and El Valle I realized this wasn’t the high-risk area I’d imagined, well at least well at least in this tourist friendly town. [Continued below]
The small fishing village of El Valle has an island feel with a predominantly African Colombian population that barely tips the scales at 3,000 people. Life here is very, very slow paced with a relaxed charm to it. Everybody knows everybody here. No one is in a hurry and life is simple with very few distractions of the modern world. The simple life. Bliss! The majority of the isolated villages in this region are populated by direct descents of people who’d escaped slavery and settled here over 200 hundred years ago before slavery was officially abolished in the country in 1851. These brave people settled in this isolated region in an attempt to escape slavery and start a new life for themselves hidden from the rest of the world.
This area is so isolated that there are absolutely no roads connecting to the rest of Colombia and the only way to get here is via boat or by plane from Medellin. While in El Valle I stayed in a very chilled rustic Hostel (The Humpbacked Turtle) which was located directly on the water in front of a fun beach break with the jungle directly at your back. A hell of a setting. El Valle was definitely the chilled break that I needed and a refreshing change from the heavily tourist saturated Caribbean Colonial town of Cartagena. The Pacific Coast was a complete stark contrast and definitively more up my alley. [Continued below]
I scored really fun waves for my entire stay and I was lucky enough to score one epic session solo on a barreling bank in the head high to overhead range. The local surfers here are few and far between, with most surfers being visitors to the area and I never witnessed more than five surfers in the water at one time. Both towns, Nuqui and El Valle, have a number of fun beach breaks and a river-mouth break each within in walking distance.
However, the true top quality surf spots are very isolated and cut off by thick jungles and require boat access. Via boat fro Nuqui and El Valle there are a whole host of barely surfed point-breaks and reefs that worth on both North and South Swells and some of these waves are rumoured to be truly world class. But be warned the boat charters are not cheap but more on that later. The Pacific Coast of Colombia has a horse shoe like shape to it and it does not directly receive the small to mid sized south swells but the larger swells will definitely wrap around and fire here especially in the 3m plus range. So if you are willing to take a punt of the region and you time it right you could well be surfing a world class wave that has been barely surfed before with just you and a handful of your mates. I am not going to give to much away here but to say that a little bit of internet research is bound to pay huge dividends.
My visit to the Pacific Coast of Colombia was definitely one of the main highlights of my three month visit to this beautiful country. Many people opt for the more easy accessible and developed tourist riddled Caribbean coast of Colombia but if you long for a more untouched, quiet region that is well off the beaten path and is overflowing with natural beauty and richness then why not visit the Pacific Coast of Colombia instead? I took a punt on a dicey swell forecast and I was thoroughly rewarded with super fun to pumping waves during my stay and getting to eat fresh whole snapper everyday was just a bonus. I would love to return one day during the peak swell period but maybe I will have to wait for those boat charter prices to drop first. [Continued below]
Travel/Surfing Tips for the Pacific Coast of Colombia
When visiting the region you have two main options to be based to best access the surf being Nuqui and El Valle (via Bahia Salano airport). I spent my time based in the later El Valle as it was the only place I could find cheap accommodation online. Although I am sure once you arrive in Nuqui you could probably negotiate for some more affordable accommodation by staying in a locals house especially if you arrive in the off season. I stayed in the Humpbacked Tortuga Hostel. The hostel offers a very basic, chilled and rustic dorm accommodation.
While trying to arrange boat charters to access the better surf spots I was quoted between $200 to $400 USD for a single return boat ride to the more isolated spots and $100 USD for spots only twenty to thirty minutes boat ride away. I was shocked and highly disappointed when I saw those quotes especially considering you can access boat charters for a fraction of the coast elsewhere in the Latin Americas. Being a solo traveler on a backpacker budget These costs were way, way out of my price range. I strongly believe that until these prices become more realistically aligned to the industry standard surf tourism in this area will remain relatively undeveloped and only accessible for the high rollers who are more than happy to splash the cash of expensive exclusive surf resorts. There is potential to arrange cheaper boat access by approaching fishermen directly but I reluctantly pulled the pin on this idea as the winds were dicey and the swell forecast did not look the best.
If you do plan on visiting the area and want access to the best waves I recommend coming during the peak swell season (preferably when a good swell is forecast) with a group of three to four surfers in order to keep the boat costs to a minimum. I think you would need at least a two to three window to guarantee top class waves here. [Continued below]
When the waves are down there is still plenty to do here and not just relaxing on the beach. The region offers up numerous tourist boat trips and charters to view the coastline, whale watch and you can even travel up a river to visit an indigenous village. There are also a host of jungle walks and waterfalls in the area.
There is so much wildlife here and it is regarded as one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. Nature here just seems to be so much richer, greener, lush and vibrant and I suppose this is what happens when a region is isolated from the modern world for so long. The coastline here overflows with natural beauty where thick Colombia jungles march all of the way down to the black sandy rugged shoreline. Surfing here you will have some pretty amazing jungle and headlands as backdrops.
If you were to come here during the whale season you could well be sharing the surf with numerous humpback whales. The whales migrate all the way from Antarctica in order to give birth to their young in the sheltered waters of the large lagoons in the area. If the waves are not reason enough to convince you to visit then surely this is? So what are you waiting for? Get those bags packed already. [End]