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.
I took a small bus From Cali to Buenaventura with a company called Corredor del Pacífico (Rome2Rio). You can find the office at Cali main bus station’s upper floor. The bus ride lasted for about 4 hours crossing some pretty high mountains, waterfalls and other beautiful scenery. Once reaching Buenaventura, I really realized how big of a place it is. The majority of the houses were slum neighborhoods, but the bus made its final stop at the city’s official station at the very end. It is basically an island separated from the rest with a bridge connection. With the hotels, stores, harbor, banks, and even a subway sandwich, it looked a little safer here. I’ll soon discover the true situation of safety here. All this time, I’m traveling by my bicycle.
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.
I arrived two days before the boat’s scheduled departure time to ensure that I find everything and get the ticket. My biggest challenge was that I didn’t speak the language, and of course, nobody spoke English here. So now, I had some spare time and decided to go explore this part of the city a bit. Despite my concerns with reading all the information online about Buenaventura, I was pleasantly surprised. After a day, I realized it’s not just a pretty safe place, but also an enjoyable one. I walked down the streets normally, all by myself sometimes even at the night.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
After two hours of a pretty relaxing boat cruise, the gorgeous sunset was approaching, and it felt good to be here on this vast Pacific ocean. I sat on the front bench, overlooking the horizon and enjoying the moment. My peace was soon interrupted by increasingly rough waves. For the first time in my life, I felt seasick. I thought I could keep my stomach calm, but the small cargo boat has turned into a roller coaster. It wasn’t long before my body began to excel in the previously ingested goods. In other words; I vomited over the fence into the sea. It was now pitch black, and the waves continued to rock the boat while I threw up and felt dizzy. Feeling this way here is outright dangerous since you might tumble over the low boat fence into the ocean and no one would even notice. After that, I climbed on and lay on my bed, feeling a little better. I actually got a good night’s sleep and felt much better once laying down.
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.
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.
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.”
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