Venture Where Google Maps Hasn’t
This El Valle, Chocó, Colombia Travel Guide is one of our 4-Part Pacific Paradise series that uncovers all our favorite finds in this undiscovered corner of Colombia.
El Valle, a town in the Chocó department of Colombia’s Pacific Coast is so isolated that Google hasn’t even bothered mapping its streets!
Look for yourself if you don’t believe me. Google hasn’t even mapped out the “highway” between it and Bahía Solano’s airport 13 kilometers to the north.
But just because Google’s mappers haven’t bothered to visit El Valle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Quite the opposite.
Offering activities ranging from diving into jungle and beachside waterfalls to saving turtles to eating fresh fish to surfing to relaxing on the beach, there are tons of things to do in El Valle.
Here are our favorites.
El Valle, Chocó Travel Guide Outline
Since Google won’t do it, we picked up the slack and sketched out a map ourselves. We’ve also pinpointed all the highlights and things to do in El Valle that we mention in this guide.
Internet is scarce in El Valle, so before you go make sure to download this map on your phone. Our Google Maps tips post has the simple instructions.
Things to Do in El Valle, Chocó
Waterfalls, Waterfalls, Waterfalls… and Beaches!
Cascada El Tigre Tour with El Nativo
Of all the things to do in El Valle, this is the one we recommend highest.
This tour blew away our expectations.
It’s not just a waterfall; It’s FIVE waterfalls. And a cave. And some yummy wood fire grilled fish. Maybe even a snake too (if you’re lucky/unlucky).
On the map you can see all the highlights marked out.
Read our post on the Cascada El Tigre tour for everything you need to know to do the tour the right way.
Blowholes in Your Budget
Go Whale Watching
Whale watching is unquestionably the most popular of all things to do in El Valle.
We didn’t go in season (Jul-Oct), but apparently during those months El Valle’s tourism blows up with blubber-loving oglers. And by “blows up,” I mean you might actually see other foreign tourists.
Most go on expensive whale watching boat trips, but beachside resorts claim you can see whales from the shore.
If you’re planning to visit during whale season and you’ve never seen whales before we recommend it. We’ve gone whale watching elsewhere and it’s truly awesome to see those swimming mammalian dinosaurs up close, especially when they jump.
It’s expensive, but there a lot worse ways to blow your money on than on blowholes.
Mama Orbe Turtle Sanctuary
If you love nature, Captain Planet, and cute baby animals, Mama Orbe’s is for you.
Mama Orbe’s is a turtle sanctuary and eco-lodge 5 km south of El Valle on Playa Cuevita, the second longest on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. It is remains an important turtle nesting grounds thanks in large part to Mama Orbe.
Picking up the slack where nobody else has, Mama Orbe and her family are single-handedly fighting to keep turtle populations strong. Every night during turtle season (Jun-Dec), Mama Orbe’s son, Dario, walks 36 km up and down Playa Cuevita rescuing eggs.
Join Dario at night for a long walk on the beach or visit during the day to see some adorable little turtles and learn more about their project. If you’re like us, you’ll want to stay longer.
To get to Mama Orbe’s, we recommend walking along the well-defined jungle trail to Utría National Park (see Map) then turning to the beach at the clearly marked turn-off to Estacion de Septiembre. Mama Orbe’s is a few hundred meters up the beach back towards El Valle.
Once you’ve saved your share of turtles, resist the temptation to take one home and head back to town along the beach.
If you want to stay at Mama Orbe’s, click here for rates and availability.
Sharks out of Water
El Valle Pool Hall
Before visiting El Valle, our friends told Kim that pool was a favorite pastime there. Since it’s also one of Kim’s favorite pastimes, we headed to the local pool hall to play a game or two after an awesome birthday dinner at Rosa del Mar.
Maybe I’d even let Kim win. It was her birthday and all.
Not a chance. El Valle’s pool hall was jam-packed. There were five to ten people around each table and spectators crowded around the outside windowless windows to watch.
If we had asked, they almost certainly would have let us play eventually, but we didn’t want to interrupt or be the center of attention.
Too bad we didn’t. Not playing pool is perhaps our only regret from our whole trip.
Don’t Overthink Things
El Almejal Beach
Playa El Almejal is a ten to fifteen minute walk from El Valle town and where quite a few of the hotels are.
Like you do at any other beach, go there to leave all your worldly worries behind: Surf, bodysurf, read, swim, nap, build sandcastles, drink a beer at Don Ai’s, do yoga, bury little children up to their necks with sand, and get sunburnt.
Get on Board
We didn’t surf while in El Valle, but here’s what Chris from Stumpy Vision wrote about his experience surfing on Playa El Almejal:
“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.”
For comprehensive info on surfing on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, check out Chris’ full post here.
U-try-it (…if You Really Want to)
Utría National Park
Utría National Park is 10 kilometers south of El Valle. It’s a bay with mangroves, a white-sand beach, and jungle.
We skipped it because it’s super expensive and heard mixed reviews from those who went.
A group of Luxebourgish (fun word!) people regretted going. They said it was just a little boardwalk in the mangroves and definitely not worth the significant cost (46,500 COP park entry fee plus guide plus boat). A couple of pastors from Cali said they liked it, but the highlights they shard were things they saw from the boat, not at the park itself.
If money’s not an object for you, go ahead and visit Utría. Otherwise, spend your money and time elsewhere.
The Very Unconventional Route
Playa Juná and Cascada Chadó Overnight Trip
Chadó Waterfall and Juná Beach are just north of Cascada El Tigre. The most conventional way to get there is to round up a group and charter a boat. It takes 30-40 minutes.
The much less conventional route is to hike.
The hike to Playa Juná and Cascada Chadó takes five-to-six hours. It absolutely requires a guide, but it sounds like quite the adventure, especially when done as an overnight trip.
Here’s how a guy I met at the Airport Waterfalls explained it to me:
First, pack a tent or somehow find one around town. Second, go to El Valle and ask around for a native to be your guide. El Valle is so small that this shouldn’t actually be too difficult. Third, follow the guide through jungle and across beaches to get to the beach and falls. Fourth, join your guide as he hunts for fish and other sustenance. Fifth, after sleeping on Juná beach, hike over the hills to end up near the Bahía Solano airport.
The guy told me he and two French guys did it and it was amazing. Before trying yourself, I recommend double-checking this story by asking around town. The same guy had other tall tales to tell me that had me doubting his ability to stick to straight facts.
The Ultimate VIP Airport Lounge
Only 0.6 km from Bahía Solano’s Jose Celestino Mutis Airport, the Airport Waterfalls were the most stunning waterfalls we saw on our whole trip, which is saying a lot. And considering 0.6 km is shorter than the distance between gates in most big airports, they are the world’s most beautiful waiting lounge.
Check into your flight early, make the quick easy walk to the falls (directions here), and take a dip in the refreshing swimming pool below.
Just be careful not to lose track of time and miss your flight, as I almost did.
Where to Eat and Drink in El Valle
Rosa del Mar Restaurant
Rosa, Rosa del Mar’s owner and chef, loves two things: roses and food. She really loves them. Ask her about either and she’ll start glowing and raving like a child talking about their visit to Disney World.
Kim and I were so pleased by our meal at Rosa del Mar’s on our first night in El Valle that we asked what special dishes she might be able to prepare for Kim’s 30th birthday the next evening. She replied with big eyes, a big smile, and a big, “Oooooo! Tantas cosaaaas!” (So many things!) and listed an array her specialties like peanut sauce fish filet and garlic prawns.
The food lived up to her hype so much so we came back again for a third straight night.
Come early, or stop by in the afternoon request and reserve your meal in advance. Even in the offseason when we were there, Rosa’s restaurant was so busy she’d run out of her best fish before the night was done.
Pilar’s Juice Bar
Pilar does juices the way they should be done.
She collects whatever fresh local ingredients she can get her hands on and shoves them into a blender with some ice.
Ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 pesos each, her “jugos” (smoothies, really) are the best way to taste El Valle’s local fruit. We highly recommend mamey with coconut milk.
She’s got beer too. In the evening, it draws a regular clientele of friendly old men to her outdoor bench. It also makes their already difficult-to-understand accents impossible to comprehend.
Betty’s is the only other standalone restaurant in El Valle. She doesn’t offer the same panache and enthusiasm as Rosa does, but her restaurant is a solid alternative when you feel like trying a different place and spreading the wealth.
Homemade Ice Creams
Right beside La Posada Eco-Turistica is building that’s completely empty except for two things: a freezer and a chair.
Ask the young lady sitting in that chair (or possibly lounging outside) for what’s inside that freezer: ice cream.
You can choose between “cremas” (ice cream they buy from elsewhere) or “helado casero,” which is home-made. Go for the “casero” of course. Both are 1,000 COP a cup.
If you get tired of the limited food options, try eating at one of the hotels’ restaurants.
Ones worth considering are El Morro (45,000 COP for a family-style meal), Cabaña El Bien Germina Ya (for vegetarian, beside El Morro), Don Ai’s (for a basic beachside meal on Playa Almejal), and El Nativo (for typical fish and rice or maybe even a local conch-like shellfish called cambute).
Where to Stay in El Valle
The Best Spot Period:
El Morro Eco-Lodge
El Morro’s location is perfect.
It’s perched on volcanic rocks on the south side of Playa El Almejal, which is the closest you can get to town while still being on the beach. The views from the decks and rooms are enough to keep you entranced for hours.
The three rooms available at El Morro are more expensive than anywhere else in town (220,000, 280,000, and 420,000 COP), but still easily affordable by anyone visiting from abroad.
The fact that it’s the only hotel in El Valle with fluent English-speaking owner-managers (they’re from the US and Brazil) can be helpful too.
The Best For Couples on a Budget:
Posada Eco-Turística El Valle
The Posada Eco-Turística El Valle is the best accommodation option for those looking to stay right in El Valle.
The hotel has many upsides:
- Cheap: It offers some of the least expensive private rooms available (60,000 COP per couple)
- Professionally run: Very clean, rooms made every day, water jug for each room, helpful service
- Well-located: It’s right in the town, but far enough from the noise of the town square, between Playa Cuevita and Playa El Almejal
- Patio: It has a decent waterfront view covered patio area
The biggest downside is the rooms are side-by-side and the walls aren’t super thick. It didn’t bother our sleep, but light sleepers may want to stay away.
The Best Budget Cabins:
Posadas Turísticas El Nativo
El Nativo, “The Native,” and his family are an El Valle tourism institution.
El Nativo’s the CEO, his sons manage the Cascada El Tigre tour, and his daughter and granddaughter run the restaurant. They all chip in on managing the cabañas.
Posada Turísticas El Natvio‘s location is good (by the water between town and El Almejal), prices are affordable (as low as 30,000 each, plus discounts on his tours), and it’s an authentic El Valle experience.
The Best For Making a Difference:
Mama Orbe Family Eco-Farm
Mama Orbe is isolated, for better and for worse.
Staying there you can have Playa Cuevita’s entire 9 km to yourself, make a day hike to the waterfalls 4 km to the south, and, most importantly, support and take part in their turtle sanctuary project. Cabañas are 30,000-40,000 COOP per person per night.
The downside of Mama Orbe’s is it’s 5 km from El Valle so you can’t easily pop into town for dinner, a drink, or a game of pool.
We recommend staying for a night or two both here and in El Valle town to get the best of both worlds.
The Best for Hanging Out with Fellow Backpackers:
Humpback Turtle Hostel
If you’re looking to hang out with fellow backpackers and be right on the beach, Humpback Turtle Hostel is your one and only option in El Valle.
It’s expensive for what it is (25,000 COP for a hammock, 39,000 COP dorm, 60,000 COP per person (!) for a cabaña) and it’s inconveniently far from town (a 30 min walk at least).
Nobody we met who was staying there was complaining, though.
The Best Cheap(-ish) Beach Spot:
Posada Don Ai
If you want to stay on Playa El Almejal but El Morro is out of your budget and you don’t want to stay at Humpback Turtle, Posada Don Ai is a mid-range alternative. It’s 120,000 COP per person per night, including food.
Mario, a fellow unconventional-router, and Swiss-Colombian author, speaks very highly of it. He returns there annually for their friendly, open-minded service and convenient beachfront location.
How to Get to and From El Valle
Not possible (…unless you put the bus on a boat or airplane). There are no roads from inland Colombia to El Valle.
According to the owner of Mecana Eco-Hotel (a private paradise with great food you can read about in our Bahía Solano guide), San Germán is the most reliable but also most expensive and Satena is the least reliable.
From Bahía Solano’s airport, take a motor-mouse (a.k.a. tuk-tuk) to El Valle. It takes about 40 minutes and costs 30,000 COP (so 10,000 each if you can fill it with three people).
To get back to the airport either ask your hotel or go to El Valle’s main square. Wait there with the rest of the locals for the next tuk-tuk, car, or truck to come by.
Boats leave from Nuquí to El Valle every Monday and Friday at 6 a.m. and return at around 11 a.m. They cost 70,000 COP.
More Colombia Travel Tips
If we’ve done our job, you should now be super excited to visit El Valle, Colombia.
Before you rush away to buy flights, don’t miss the rest of our 4-Part Colombia Pacific Paradise Series: