Get Ready For Colombia's Pacific Coast
These Colombia Pacific Coast travel tips are part of our 4-Part Pacific Paradise series that uncovers all our favorite finds in this undiscovered corner of Colombia.
Even if you did zero research and hopped on the plane in your bathing suit, you could have a wonderful time visiting Bahía Solano on Colombia's Pacific Coast.
But you'll have an even better time with a little bit more planning.
So with that in mind, here are 15 tips for your trip, broken down into three sections:
Before Your Trip
1. Clear Your Calendar
Kim was supposed to have a Skype call with a potential client during our visit to Colombia's Pacific Coast. Not a chance.
Our friend Felix planned to start up his online portfolio during the down time of a week in El Valle. He never even opened his computer.
Kim hoped to chat with some friends back home on her birthday. Didn't happen.
If you plan on getting some work done while on Colombia's Pacific Coast, plan again. The internet is too slow (if you can find it) and the pull of the beaches and hammocks is too strong.
2. Get the Right Cell Phone Service (if You Must)
If you can't live without cell phone service, sign up with Claro. No other cell company gets reception anywhere in Bahía Solano or its surroundings.
3. Expect the Worst (Weather-Wise)
Our first full day in Bahía Solano was completely overcast. We asked Luisa, the owner-manager of Mecana Ecohotel, if this was usual. "Yeah," she responded, "Just about every day is like this."
We started to doubt our decision to visit Colombia's Pacific Coast.
Then we proceeded to get three days bluebird days.
We were lucky. Luisa told us of a couple of Germans who visited for three days last year and couldn't even leave their huts except to jump in the ocean from time to time because it was a constant downpour the entire time.
Conclusion: Hope to get lucky like us with the weather, but expect the worst. Bring waterproof gear and a couple good books to read, just in case.
4. Stash Tons of Cash
Wherever you're staying, there won't be any ATMs and nobody will accept cards as payment, so bring enough cash with you to cover your whole trip.
5. Prepare to Stretch Your Budget
Compared to Europe or America, Colombia's Pacific Coast is cheap. But compared to elsewhere in Colombia, it's not. If you're a low-cost traveler like us, budget accordingly.
Since no roads connect Bahía Solano with the rest of Colombia it is, for all intents and purposes, an island. Aside from fish and coconuts, stuff is harder to come by here, so it's more expensive.
To give you a quick idea, accommodation at basic huts on Playa El Almejal was 80,000 per night per person at the cheapest, meals are 15,000, and a 20 minute boat ride can cost 60,000 COP.
6. Pack Whatever's Comfortable
This isn't Medellín. Locals don't insist on wearing pants and shoes even when it's as hot as two rats f*&!ing in a wool sock. They wear whatever's comfortable. Pack the same.
7. Pick Your Spots
It's slow, expensive, and time-consuming to get from one place to another on Colombia's Pacific Coast, so don't plan to hop around the different areas from one night to the next. Stay at least a few days at each before changing locations.
Check out our Bahía Solano "Pick Your Paradise" guide for all the options and our recommendations based on the type of traveler you are.
8. No Hablas Español?
If you don't speak Spanish, you'll probably best enjoy your stay by staying at a hotel where the owners or managers speak English. Here are your best bets:
- Mecana Ecohotel on Playa Mecana by the Jardín Botanico. Luisa, one of the owners, lived in New York and London and speaks fluent English.
- El Morro on Playa El Almejal. The on-site owners are an American-Brazilian couple
- Humpback Turtle Hostel. All the guests will be English-speaking foreigners.
During Your Trip
9. Don't Worry About Water
I didn't pack a water bottle because I figured I'd be having to buy them everywhere. Not so!
The water around Bahía Solano and El Valle is potable. And even if you're wary of drinking straight for the tap, our experience was that almost every place had plenty of filtered water available.
10. Don't Worry (too Much) About Bugs
We came prepared with a couple of bottles of bug spray.
We left with a couple of mostly full bottles of bug spray.
The bugs weren't nearly as bad as we had feared. Even when on jungle hikes at the Jardín Botanico and kayaking in the mangroves behind Playa Mecana during the notoriously bug-heavy twilight hours we were mostly left alone.
Sure we got a few bug bites here and there, and bug spray is still a good idea to bring, but don't worry too much about getting eaten alive.
11. Visit Cascada El Tigre the Right Way
Our favorite experience during our travels in Colombia's Pacific Coast wasn't as "unconventional" as our website's name would suggest. It was the tour we did of Cascada El Tigre.
Two reasons we had such a good time were 1) We went with the right guide and 2) We did it in a somewhat unconventional way.
The aforementioned guide is El Nativo. He's the one who oversees the Cascada El Tigre on behalf of the community, so go directly with him instead of with some middle man.
The unconventional way to do the tour is to take a boat to get there, then on the way back to get dropped off at Playa Larga and walk back, exploring three other waterfalls on the way.
For all the info on the tour, read our complete Cascada El Tigre guide here.
At the End of Your Trip
12. Confirm Your Departure Time
Before going to the airport, call the airline to confirm the flight is still scheduled and is reasonably on time.
Our host at Mecana Ecohotel, who travels between Medellín and Bahía Solano frequently, warned us cancellations and delays happen all the time. She's also had guests miss their flights because the plane left 45 minutes early!
13. Be Careful With Transport to the Airport
When it was time for Kim and I to catch our flight back to Medellín, we asked our hotel manager at Eco-Posada El Valle if she could reserve us a tuk-tuk. She said that wasn't possible. We had to do the same as everyone and go to the town's main square to wait for the next one to come by.
We went… and the streets were empty. Worse yet, there were ten other people waiting for rides too.
After about 20 minutes of concerned waiting, we got lucky when an empty pickup truck arrived and loaded us all in. The driver was heading to Bahía Solano for errands. Phew.
If you're staying around El Valle or Playa El Almejal, either coordinate transport well in advance or give yourself extra time.
Speaking of which…
14. Get to the Airport Early
There are two reasons to get to the airport early.
The first reason is to be able to hang out at the nearby Airport Waterfalls (check out our El Valle guide for details).
The second reason is because, inexplicably, the airlines expect you to check in up to an hour and a half early.
When I sauntered into the terminal still dripping from swimming in the waterfalls, I noticed Kim had an annoyed look and didn't have my bag. She told me when she got back from the falls thirty minutes before me—an hour and a half before our flight—the agents scolded her for being late and made her check in her bag and mine immediately.
So get to the airport early, check in your bags (minus your swimsuit), then go to the falls while you wait.
15. Bring Some Souvenirs
Join the many locals who check in plastic-wrapped coolers for their inland flights and bring back some tasty treats as souvenirs.
Kim stocked up on grated coconut, borojó, smoked tuna, and tuna chorizo.
The added benefit of getting smoked tuna and tuna chorizo, which you buy at the airport, is the lady who sells it will let you store your bag at her stall while you walk to the Airport Waterfalls.
More Colombia Travel Tips
Colombia's Pacific Coast
Complete our 4-Part Colombia Pacific Paradise Series with the following three guides: