Calima Darien it the largest reservoir in Colombia. If you’re staying in Cali, the lake is just a 90 minute bus ride outside of town offering a cool escape from a hot city. The lake is at an altitude of 1,485 meters (4,900 feet) nestled between two mountain ridges in the Andes mountains. It is 13 km long (8 miles), 1.5 km wide (1 mile) and 110 meters (360 feet) deep. The Lake also boasts Colombia’s fastest winds regularly topping 40 knots.
Also called Embalse Calima there is a hydroelectric dam at one end of the lake. Built in 1966, the lake is fed by 2 rivers Rio Bravo and Rio Calima. After the dam was built they say it took 33 years for the lake to fill to its present size.
While most lakes with dams have very little recreational development, Lake Calima is well structured for recreational activities and water sports. Every weekend thousands of tourists flock here. Most of the them come from the nearby cities of Cali and Buga. There are many chalets, cottages and apartments on the lake along with hostels and hotels. Nearby cattle farms offer agricultural tourism, lodgings, camping and glamping.
Lake Calima is famous for extreme water sports like wind surfing and kite surfing. The Lake is windy 365 days a year with the fastest winds in Colombia. People here come from all over Colombia to wind and kite surf. The South American windsurfing championships are regularly held here. There are wind and kite surfing schools all around the lake offering lessons and renting equipment. Beach #5 is the main water sports spot.
There are six large, public beaches around the lake. All beaches, with the exception of one, are far from town but accessible by bus. Beach # 6 is just a half hour walk from the town of Darien.
The beaches are a little too soft-bottomed for swimming from shore due to changing water levels due to dam activity. Locals offer pontoon boat rides which depart from make shift docks around the lake. Jet skis, kayaks and sunfish sailboats are also for rent.
And all of the beaches have plenty of food trucks, food stands, restaurants and bars. And along the road heading into town there are a multitude of restaurants catering to tourists.
At one end of the lake lies the village of Darien. It only has a population of 16,000 people. It’s quiet during the week but fills up on the weekends and holidays. The bus stops at the village where there are plenty of hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops and bars.
Fondadores Park is the town’s main square. Founded in 1912, the town was named Calima Darien. Calima means fog or haze.
Once a cattle farming community, today tourism has replaced agriculture as the town’s main activity.
The town has an interesting pre-Columbian archeological museum – Museo Arqueologico Calima – tracing the Calima civilization which is one of the oldest indigenous cultures in the Americas dating back to 8,000 B.C.
There are also ecological trails and horseback riding expeditions leaving from town and following the rivers up into the mountains to the Maria Luisa waterfalls and the Tribune lookout.
How to get there
Buses go to Calima from Cali or Buga with the bus company Trans Calima. The buses follow the road to Buenaventura and leave every half hour. Tickets cost around 18,000 COP each way.