COLOMBIA, Caquetá

Cargo boat from Buenaventura to Bahía Solano

A 24-hour cargo boat adventure on the Colombian Pacific region

by Jan Brelih

PUBLISHED JUNE. 18, 2022 | CAQUETÁ, COLOMBIA

Baha Solano is a remote town in Colombia’s Choco region, practically completely isolated from the rest of the country. Here you can find stunning coastline, Afro-Colombian locals, lush jungles, countless waterfalls and Utria National Park. The easiest way to get there is by plane, but for the more adventurous, there is a cargo boat that leaves from the coastal city of Buenaventura. This is my experience of taking a cargo boat journey across the Pacific Ocean with some practical information included for anyone that would like to follow the same idea. As I discovered, the region is generally safe to visit.

Table of Contents

Cali to Buenaventura

I took a small bus From Cali to Buenaventura with a company called Corredor del Pacífico (Rome2Rio).The office is located on the upper floor of the Cali main bus station. The bus travel took around 4 hours, passing through picturesque scenery.
When I arrived in Buenaventura, I discovered how large the city is. The majority of the residences were in slum areas, but the bus ended its journey at the city’s official station. It is essentially an island connected to the rest via a bridge. It seemed to be safe here, with the hotels, businesses, port, banks, and even a subway sandwich store. I’ll soon find the genuine safety situation here.

Buenaventura city in Choco region known for the armed gang violance and drug smuggling. On the very West of the city there is a pretty good infrstructure with a good safety conditions.

Buenaventura

I arrived two days before the boat’s scheduled departure time to confirm that everything was in place and that I had the ticket. My biggest challenge was not knowing the language, and nobody spoke English here. So, now that I had some free time, I decided to go explore this part of town. Despite the concerns having read so much negativity about Buenaventura online, I was pleasantly surprised. After a day, I realised it’s not just a reasonably safe place for a tourist, but also a somehow pleasant one. I frequently walked through the streets by myself, even late at night.

Buenaventura can be actually a pretty interesting and safe place to visit.

Now I needed to contact the boat captain and try to find out the exact date, time and location. I had a phone number that an eco-lodge from El Valle (Bahia Solano) gave me when I contacted them for any information about the boat. I had the number but didn’t speak Spanish, so I added it to Whatsapp and send a message using Google Translate. Soon, I got a reply in a voice message which I used with a Google translate speech translation function. The boat was supposed to leave on Monday. I was still missing the location, so after a few more messages with the boat owner, Oscar, I had some information to work with. I cycled from the hotel crossing the Puente Del Piñal bridge and after some time, I finally found the place of a boat harbor.

Getting on the boat

The cargo boat was leaving on Monday around 11 am. I woke up early in my hotel, packed all my stuff, went for a good coffee and cycled about two kilometers over the bridge to the “Bodega Renacer” where the boat was waiting. Once there, I needed to go up the stairs to the office where I showed my passport and paid 200.000$ COP. The owner Oscar charged me another 50.000$ COP for the bicycle.

The "Bodega Renacer" place is positioned some 100m on the right before crossing the Puente Del Piñal bridge.

After paying, I got my ticket and a wristband. I’m happy that everything worked out and that I’ll be going to the wild Colombian Pacific! Well, not for another 5 hours of waiting while they loaded all sorts of cargo onto the boat. Eventually, they took my bicycle and pushed it via a little wooden plant into the boat, where it joined the rest of the cargo. It was time to get aboard!

On the cargo boat from Buenaventura to Bahía Solano

After leaving, the boat came to a halt half a kilometer later at another port. According to claims, the captain was required to register at the port authorities in order for them to approve our cruise. We waited on the boat for another 2 hours as the Colombian military drove around with small boats, going up and down and checking the area.

After 2 hours, I'm almost hallucinating from the heat and full tropical sun.

Finally, we have started our 24-hour journey slowly getting out of the huge mangrove swamp bay towards the open ocean while passing the main port of Buenaventura. I went to find a bunk bed that they are meant for passengers. They are pretty small and a bit challenging to get to if you are sleeping on the top one but overall it is alright for the standards. Do not forget, we are on a big adventure! So far, life was good. I was enjoying my time on a boat seeing the ocean and now distant land covered by jungle. I even had one beer and lunch that a boat chef has made. In your ticket is included a bunk bed and 3 meals with some drink.

Now, we were going more outside on the ocean being pretty distant away from the land. I thought the boat will follow the coast pretty close. That gave me some sense of better safety because if something happens and we start to sink, I could just swim to the shore. Well, that was not the case now.

The lovely sunset was approaching after two hours of a pretty relaxing boat sail, and it felt good to be here on this big Pacific ocean. I sat on the front bench, looking out into the horizon and relishing the moment. My serenity was soon disturbed by increasingly rogue waves. Feeling seasick for the first time in my life. I thought I could control my stomach, but the small boat has turned into a roller coaster. It didn’t take long for my body to excel at the previously consumed things. It was now pitch black, and the waves were still rocking the boat while I vomited and felt dizzy. Feeling this way here is really risky since you may fall over the low boat fence into the ocean and no one would notice. Following that, I climbed onto my bed and lay down, feeling a little better. I truly slept well and felt much better after falling asleep.

My sleep was good until about 4 a.m. when some people started to have a loud conversation in the sleeping area. It was really terrible and I could not believe how these people can so lack the basic awareness of others. The debate and almost shouting went on for hours. I got out of bed and went outside to sleep on a wooden bench under the starry sky. It was actually rather nice and finally peaceful with only the soothing sounds of the ocean. I awoke in the morning just to experience this view.

Reaching Bahía Solano

This breathtaking sight greeted me after 24 hours. We’re almost there! Hundreds of kilometers of unspoiled jungle and coastline. At this point, I knew it was the right decision to come here. I unloaded my bicycle from the boat and cycled for the first time on the grounds of the Pacific region. Soon, I came across a waterfall coming from the mountains, parked my bike and jumped straight into the fresh water. After stopping at a local restaurant near the airport, I cycled 18km on the only road existing here to the town of El Valle. Here, there is most of the tourism happens with most nice beaches and infrastructure. There were actually much more tourists and foreign backpackers there than I imagined. The area, especially for tourists is pretty safe. Locals in El Valle are friendly and there is no worry of getting robbed on the street or anything similar. It is a truly off-the-beaten-path destination. A hidden paradise.

The way back to Buenaventura

I took the boat back to Buenaventura after spending two months on the Pacific coast. It was far more enjoyable and relaxing than the journey there. The ocean was calm the entire trip, and the weather was great. There were less passengers, and the meal prepared by the boat chef was delicious. It felt funny to be back in “civilization.”

Useful information

  • Bus From Cali to Buenaventura – Corredor del Pacífico (Rome2Rio).
  • Hotel in Buenaventura: Hotel Cordillera Buenaventura.
  • Captian Oscar Whatsup nubmer: +573113406716
  • There are other cargo boats going. There are also speed boats.
  • There are a few ATMs in Buenaventura
  • Bahia Solano has one ATM but does not always has money.
  • Pacific coast is generally more expensive then the rest of the country.

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Subscribe on newsletter for more upcoming articles like this. I will also write about my expeditions to the jungles of Utria national park.

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Nati
Nati
1 year ago

This sounds really great! I hope one day it will be me doing this trip!

Alex
1 year ago

Hi, thanks for the article! I’m considering going there with my little family and use the boat. There are other boats and even speed boats? Do you know how to reach them online?
Best regards

Oscar roldan
Oscar roldan
1 year ago

Tks. U Made me remember abt 4 yrs ago. When i did myself same marvelous trip ever think the same boat..glad bcs.u do not use. Nad press in ir kind comment, congrats!

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