Check out these three eco-lodges in Colombia's Bahia Solano region, an undiscovered warm-weather outdoor adventure mecca on the country’s rugged Pacific Coast:
Colombia's Pacific CoastColombia: this off-the-beaten-path country conjures up a great many things to a great many people — not all of which is complimentary. However, most misgivings are out-of-date. Colombia is adventure travel’s Next Big Thing. Extremely varied topography creates unique environments to explore — from the high alpine, to the expansive jungles, to the warm beaches. Plus, welcoming people will enhance your experiences; the food is mouth-watering; and the country is generally safe to travel freely within. Considering Colombia? Explore visited recently and uncovered three eco-lodges within Bahia Solano, an outdoor adventure mecca on the country’s Pacific Coast, which should be on every traveller's radar:
Easily accessible by vehicle from Bahia Solano’s José Celestino Mutis Airport, El Almejal is remotely set on a low-tide-access property fronted by empty beach and enclosed in boundless jungle. A surf break is located directly out front and the town of El Valle is a short walk or drive away — El Valle is a jumping-off point for bird-watching jungle treks into 54,000-hectare Utria National Park. These hikes can culminate with a visit to the local turtle sanctuary — a conservation hub that stewards olive ridley turtles and runs educational programs with the goal of ending local turtle-egg harvests.
El Almehal’s accommodations consist of simple and comfortable private cabins — some with ocean views and all with a bedroom that opens to a spacious deck with hammock. Meals — cilantro-scented soups, crispy arepas, locally caught tuna — are served family style in the main dining hall. With its proximity to town, El Almejal enjoys 24-hour electricity, but you can forget about TV, Wi-Fi, radio and even hot showers.
This eco-lodge lives up to the moniker, priding itself in a four-part environmental ethos. Conservation: the lodge assists with and runs programs that protect and conserve local flora and fauna. Recycling/composting: today’s table scraps help grow tomorrow’s foodstuffs, thanks to a comprehensive composting/recycling plan combined with on-site gardens. Community involvement: local craftspeople are invited in to sell their wares and daily meals are provided via local fishermen. And, as I toured the jungle learning about El Almejal’s programs and about the local flora and fauna, I discovered the fourth part — Education, a little of which I am now passing on to you. El Almejal
Hidden on Bahia Solano’s southern edge, El Cantil is a boat-access-only respite located near the town of Nuqui (which has an airport). "Intimate" describes the experience here — owners welcome guests with a handshake but send them off with a hug. There are just seven cabins, all with ocean views, hammocks, two beds and a private bathroom (no hot water). Only the main lodge has electricity, which is provided via micro-hydro and available from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. nightly. Oil lamps light up the cabins; evening entertainment is in the form of star gazing, reading, quiet chats or merely enjoying the jungle’s symphony or frequent nighttime lightning storms.
Family-style meals will leave you weak in the knees. Savour fresh-caught albacore tuna simmered in passionfruit and ginger; deep-fried yuca, a finger-food more addictive than french fries; sweet layer-cakes; and coffee, glorious Colombian coffee, enjoyed tinto (black) for proper effect. And they feed you until you can eat no more.
El Cantil is a recreation hot spot. There is a surf break out front, which seasonally gets large enough to attract the pros, as well as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards at guests’ disposal.
Adventure abounds: on one excursion, we paddled along the coast and up an unnamed river, snaking through the overgrown jungle like rainforest explorers of yore. On another, we visited Thermales, a therapeutic natural hot springs where I spent an afternoon soaking in lukewarm spring-water, rubbing pumice on my face and rejuvenating amidst towering palms and rain-soaked jungle flora. And on both, I picked fresh star-fruit and viewed vibrant endemic flowers growing along the beachfront. El Cantil
Utria National Park Visitors Centre (Jaibaná)
Located inside Utria National Park, this eco-lodge is part of the park's Administrative Centre. Along with full room-and-board, guests enjoy interpretive tours through the mangrove forests and educational talks about the park’s innumerable plants and animals. (Brush up on your Spanish.) Access is via boat from Nuqui or El Valle, or via a nine-kilometre jungle trek from the town of El Valle (plus a pre-arranged boat pickup for the last leg across 500 metres of water).
Rooms are spacious, sans electricity — oil lamps are lit every evening — and are found inside one of the two sleep-lodges on-site. Large screened-in windows allow the soothing sounds of the jungle to fill your ears as you drift off each night — frogs, toads, bugs, bats and who-knows-what; a veritable orchestra of ribbits, buzzes and tweets. Meals are served family style at the main ranger station; the arepas are particularly scrumptious.
On-site activities include kayaking, snorkelling, swimming and hiking — but most come to view the humpback whales, olive ridley turtles and migratory birdlife as it passes through the region every July through October. As many as 3,000 leviathan whales swim north from Antarctica to Utria’s offshore reaches during calving season. They are easily viewed during unobtrusive boat trips — I actually heard whale-song while on such a tour. In between humpback sightings, keep watch for turtle-pairs mating in the open Pacific. Birdwatchers will be impressed by the region’s 300 different species, including dozens of endemic birds (like the Baudo oropendola, which live in swaying, basket-like nests that dangle like swings from towering treetops). Fans of slithery species will love the fact that Colombia is home to 250 different snakes — 50 poisonous and 200 predatory — as well as the world’s most poisonous frog. Interested, though squeamish, parties can see preserved fauna on display within the park interpretive station. Jaibana/Utria