Nuqui – A Remote Paradise on the Rugged Pacific Coast of Colombia
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The Pacific coast of Choco on the western edge of  Colombia is remote and magical.  There are no roads through the jungle to get there. Just small prop planes landing at small air strips in the fishing  villages of Nuqui and Bahia Solano located on the Pacific coast and the jungle’s edge.

While not easy to get to, the black sand beaches and jungle around Nuqui are a hidden jewel, a natural paradise, an exotic destination and one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. 

But one  needs to allot enough time to visit Nuqui. Not only is it necessary to fly in and out of town, but the best beaches are located outside of town to the north and south. The virgin beaches outside of town have no  internet forcing one  to disconnect with the world and reconnect with nature and one’s self.

Beaches of Nuqui

The village of Nuqui is small with just over 8,500 people in and around the  town. It is located south of the Gulf of Tribuga.  Nuqui’s sister village, Bahia Solano, lies to the north. Of the two, Nuqui probably receives more visitors than Bahia even though it’s easier to travel to the sites around Bahia which are over land;  while in  Nuqui most of the sites lie outside of town and can only be reached  by ‘launchas’ or small  motor boats seating up to a dozen people. These boats are the  taxis to  all  the  beaches.

Upon arrival in Nuqui there are a few hotels in town and a number of  adequate and modestly priced guest houses down a dirt road running north along the beach. Hotel Restaurant Obega Pacific is considered the best hotel in town. A four story structure it’s across from the park and the malecon with  air conditioned and rooms going for 100,000 cop ($26) a night. There is a good restaurant on the top floor open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with excellent internet throughout.

In town there are some shops, restaurants, bars and  a pool hall. A poor town there’s not  a lot to see. Bring enough spending cash for your stay as there are no banks in Nuqui.  But the town does have a nice clean beach to enjoy. It stretches from the  town’s center  far north for miles and the firm sand is  great for long walks.

The roads in town have recently been paved and a boardwalk or malecon recently built. These are major contributions from the national  govenment which has famously marginalized the Choco region for decades  ignoring the development of Colombia’s Pacific coast.

One could stay in town and take day tours to the surrounding sites for an entire stay.  There are guided tours leaving from  the tourist port in town. They leave in the mornings around 9 a.m. Information on tours can be obtained from Nuqui Tours, with an  office in town, but  also from the hotel managers who are happy to help guest arrange tours.

There are day trips to the south which take in the sites of Termales, Guachalito Beach, Waterfall La Amor with lunch at Port Arusi. The price is 160,000 cop ($42) per person.

There are also day trips to the north of Nuqui to MorroMico  Beach, Tribuga Bay, the town of Juribida and the Utria National Nature park and its coral reefs. The park covers 54,300 hectares (134,150 acrees). The park has few sandy beaches as the jungle spills out onto the seashore. Since it is a long trip by boat the price for these excursions start at 400,000 cop ($100) per  person. There  are a number of secluded beaches, hotels, resorts and cabins dotting the northern beaches as well. 

Upon arrival a first time  visitor could stay  in town and check out the  village of Nuqui and its beaches.  The next day maybe take a tour to get a feel for the surroundings. But after that it’s  best to move to one of the a more remote beaches outside of town. The beaches are: Guachalito, Coqui, Jovi, Terco, Termales, Partado, Arusi.

The best places, and some  of the more upscale places to stay , are on Guachalito beach. Here mountain streams trickle down from the jungle and across the beach sands dotted  by palm trees and black, igneous rocks.

Waterfall  and swimming hole La Amor

Following one of these streams up into the jungle one comes upon the Waterfall La Amor. Here one can swim in the waterfall’s pool and  relax in the jungle shade with the cicadas singing and monkeys jumping limb to limb in the jungle’s canopy.

Guachalito Beach

Guachalito beach is probably the most famous beach near Nuqui. It also may be one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia with its black sands, palm trees and stunning outcrop of  igneous rocks along the beach.

Here one can find premium lodgings on or near the  beach for 200,000 cop ($53) per room per night per couple (Cabanas Iracas) up to 900,000 ($240) for a room per night (Hotel Palmas Pacific).

Termales is a little  fishing village further south that lives off tourism.  There are a number of small, beach front  hotels and posadas in town and north and south of town.  Here prices range from  70,000 cop ($18) a night  up to  100,000  cop a night ($26)  – Casa  Salamon, which is the big main lodge right on the beach, is in the center of town.

And not only  is there no internet but the electricity for the entire town is shut off  at 10:30 p.m. There is a nice bakery/restaurant in  town. And meals can be reserved at the diffferent restaurants and houses around town with  fish being is the main staple.

There is a surf school on Playa Termales. The  surf is descent, the water shallow and safe as the waves pound the beaches day and night.  There are no sharks.  They say they killed them all years ago harvesting shark fins.

Chef Renato Del Valle owner of Restaurant Apapache in Termales

The most famous and accredited restaurant in Thermales is Restaurant Apapache located a 15 minute walk  north up a path or along the beach.  Here the Chilean chef,  Renato Del Valle, will serve wonderful meals – 50,000 cop ($13) fixed men  per person. 

Termales Agua Calientes

Termales is famous for its thermal baths Termales Agua Calientes. Just a short walk from  town there  is a pool of warm, spring-fed, thermal waters. The baths are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Admission is 15,000 and there is a bar on site and same day massages can be arranged. 

It’s a 2.5 hour walk from Termales to Guachalito. And from Thermales one can walk south another  a 2.5 hours, to the small village of Partada. From Partada one can arrange for a tour with the locals to take a boat up the River Arusi to see the mangroves and  a lake back in the jungle. The price is 90,000 cop ($24). There are also guided tours up the Jovi and Coqui rivers.

The accessibility by beach ends at Punta Arusa. In Partada there are tour guides that will also lead people over the mountains and through the jungle to remote beaches on the south side of  the point. One of the beaches, Playa Blanca is a small beach with  round rocks accessible only on foot or  by boat. While another, Punta Brava, is a white sand beach  well known for its surf.

fishing canoe

The indigenous people live inland, in the jungles, and bring fresh produce down the rivers to sell to the coastal villages. They produce bananas, plantains, rice, cocoa, corn, coconuts, yuca and variouos fruits which they bring down to the beach towns during the rainy season or summer months.

During the winter months the rivers are shallow and difficult to navigate  due to lack of rain. As a result,  fresh fruits and vegetables are harder to come by in the coastal towns.

The inhabitants in  and around Nuqui are mostly black, ex-slaves from the bygone era of rubber plantations.  They live by fishing in dug out canoes with nets or hand held fishing lines. A growing tourism industry brings in some some money and they rent huts and rooms, make meals for their guests and ferry tourists and residents by boat between villages.

It’s a quiet, laid back place not many people know about. The weather is hot with most days in the 90s.

There is a lot of talk  about the region of Choco not being safe. But  the towns and beaches of Nuqui and Bahia are considered very secure for tourism by the most reputable sources.  The beaches around Nuqui are probably safer than most other places in Colombia. These are towns  where everyone knows everyone. There is no delinquency and  hardly any reports of crimes or theft.  

Nuqui doesn’t usually see a lot of tourism due to the fact that it’s a remote and  difficult to access. There is always a small number of foreign tourists looking for those off-the-beaten-path destinations.  Colombian tourists don’t flock to the country’s Pacific beaches prefering the more popular, well groomed, activity-laden  beach destinations of  Cartagena, Santa Marta and San Andres island.

The Whale Season

People say the best time to come to Nuqui is during the whale season between July and October when the humpback whales come close to  shore to birth and raise their calves in the warm Pacific waters.  The  small  boats  then do tours out in the ocean and around the islands gettting close to  the  breaching whales.  But this is also the absolute high season for tourism in Nuqui when lodgings are booked and prices are at a premium. 

Baby sea turtles make their way to the sea.

There is also  a group that protects the sea turtles who come to shore to bury their eggs.  They fence off the areas where the eggs are buried.  Apparently animals and people in the village like to eat turtle eggs. The eggs hatch and it’s a big show when in the mornings when turtles are released and make their way across the beach to the sea.  Few of them will survive their first days in the ocean but if they do the females will return again in 20-25 years to lay their eggs. 

How to Get There

There are frequent flights to and from Nuqui from Medellin in the mornings every other day.  The flights leave from Medellin’s smaller airport in the city- Enrique Olaya Herrera and the flight is only 45 minutes. 

Frequent flights also depart from  Quibdo, the capital of Choco. One could also come from Bogota, Cali or other parts of Colombia with an airline and make connections in Medellin or Quibdo to Nuqui. 

The cost of flights from Medellin are 150,000 ($40)  to 200,000 ($53) each way.  Satena, Clic and Moon Flights are the 3 airlines that fly into Nuqui. Tickets can be purchased online.

Upon arriving at the airport there is a entrance fee of 30,000 cop ($8) to be paid  at the airport. 

Nuqui is one of the rainiest places in the world and during the rainy days life stops completely on the coast. This inclement weather frequently forces air departures to be delayed or postponed for a day or two so plan accordingly.

During one trip in October my flight to Nuqui from Medellin was delayed by 6 hours and the flight back  was cancelled.  But Satena rebooked me on a flight the next day and paid for my hotel room and two meals. On  second trip in January,  I experienced no travel delays.  So it’s best to leave a little wiggle room in your itinerary, especially with the  return trip.

One can also arrive in Nuqui by water.  Boats leave from the port city of Buenaventura further south. But it’s a 374 km. trip and a more adventurous route.   The smaller speed boats they say take 8 hours to make the trip and there is a larger cargo boat leaving once a week that takes 12-20 hours. The cost is 200,000 – 300,000 cop. 

Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at: jonmcinnesjon@gmail.com

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