Want to learn more about El Choco, Colombia?
You’re at the right place!
I lived in Capurganá for over a year and visited a large part of the Pacific coast by boat.
Between its endless black sand beaches, its delicious coconut dishes, and its wild nature, I found some of my favorite places to visit in Colombia.
This department is difficult to access, and few foreign travelers think to add it to their itinerary. I hope it will change thanks to this post.
After reading this guide, you will be able to decide whether or not you want to go. You will also find various articles to plan your trip!
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👉 Check out all of our travel guides for destinations in Colombia.
Plan the perfect Colombia trip
In this section, you’ll find the most important things to know about Colombia: weather, best places, is it safe, best beaches, etc.
1# El Choco has Stunning off-the-beaten-path destinations
Commonly, when travelers visit Colombia, they go to the Caribbean and have a pleasant day in renowned cities, such as Cartagena or Santa Marta. That’s normal. Everyone wants to get sunny beach days for their vacations. Unfortunately, these destinations can be crowded depending on the season.
You won’t have this problem when visiting El Choco. You’ll be most of the time alone on the beach, surrounded by lush vegetation, fantastic landscapes, and exotic animals. Here are three of my favorite areas.
Capurganá & Sapzurro
Capurganá and Sapzurro are Caribbean Coastal villages. Since these locations are hidden in the Darien Gap, national and foreign visitors tend to overlook their splendid shores. What a mistake! The clear blue ocean and the local beaches are ideal for a peaceful time.
To go to Capurganá, you’ll need to take a boat from Necoclí, Turbo or Acandí. Once there, you’ll be able to organize numerous activities. I suggest you hang out in La Coquerita and snorkel near El Aguacate Beach. After a couple of days in Capurganá, don’t hesitate to follow a curved path through the jungle to arrive at Sapzurro — or you can take a 10-min boat.
Practical information to plan your trip:
El Valle & Bahía Solano
El Valle and Bahía Solano are both located on Colombia’s Pacific coast.
Bahía Solano is a city that has a small airport with a direct connection from Medellín. From there, travelers can take a tuk-tuk and arrive in El Valle in less than 30 min. It’s one of my favorite towns in the pacific region, where inhabitants live mainly from fishing and tourism.
In El Valle, you’ll find Playa Almejal and Playa Larga. Its two beaches are flanked by a vast ocean, waterfalls, and lush landscapes. Your experience will be even better from July to October, as you’ll be able to see humpback whales in the ocean.
If you want to enjoy nature, calmness, surf, and spend time with local fishers, it’s the place to be.
Practical information to plan your trip:
Nuquí and Around
The area around Nuquí is one of the most pristine tourist areas in Chocó. Hence, there is not much information about its most beautiful beaches and attractions.
Nuquí is a small city that has an airport with connections to Medellín. The place is not very attractive, and I do not see any genuine interest in staying there. As soon as you arrive, jump on a small boat and head south.
Guachalito is a splendid beach in Chocó, at only 30 minutes by boat. Even further south, you will find small and lesser-known villages such as Coqui, Termales, and Arusí.
The atmosphere in Guachalito will be a perfect romantic getaway. It’s also an excellent spot for ecological walks and animal watching as you’ll enjoy a magnificent landscape with little human intervention.
Practical information to plan your trip:
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2# Beautiful Beaches in El Choco, Colombia
Did you know that El Choco is the only Colombian department with access to the Caribbean Coast and the Pacific coast?
There, you’ll notice extensive, paradisiacal, and almost abandoned beaches. Consequently, these locations will offer you absolute calm and tranquility.
Depending on the month of the year, you might take endless hours of sunshine (January & February) or heavy rains (October & November).
Let’s see where you can find these spectacular beaches.
- Our best Colombian beaches article.
Playa Guachalito: secluded and romantic
I consider Guachalito to be one of the most romantic places in Colombia. You will find long stretches of black sandy beach along a lush coastline. Apart from the occasional fisherman, you will hardly see anyone. It’s like jumping into a Robinson Crusoe adventure, but with more comfort and glamour.
Pick your ecolodge cautiously as you won’t find a restaurant or local agency nearby. You’ll have to rely on your host.
Traveler’s tip: Some ecolodges are close to each other. I advise you to book one that is a little further away.
👉 It’s one of our favorite Colombia landmarks.
Playa El Almejal: surf & restful
Playa El Almejal is another delightful beach, with palm trees, surf spots, and superb accommodations. You can get to this place in two ways: walking 15 min from El Valle or taking a Tuk-Tuk.
Thanks to its proximity to the town, you will be less dependent on your accommodation for meals and activities.
After your hike to the nearby waterfalls, don’t forget to sit on the black sand with a cold beer at sunset to enjoy the show.
Traveler’s tip: You will take small planes, fishers’ boats, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks to move around the coast of El Choco. Take a backpack instead of a bulky suitcase.
Beaches in Sapzurro: Blue Caribbean sea and white-sand
Sapzurro being on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, the weather will be less humid than on the Pacific coast. You’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful beaches nearby all year long — although there is a rainy season from April to November.
From Sapzurro, you can reach Tiburón in just 15min walking. It’s an excellent spot for snorkeling, and you won’t find many tourists. Don’t forget to order a coco-loco at the only restaurant on site — a delicious cocktail made of coconut and rum.
Sapzurro is also next to the Panama border. Climb a hundred stairs to cross it and discover the beach of La Miel. You will find a small village and a beautiful beach well arranged. It is the typical paradise with white sand, palm trees, and some bars/restaurants built with palm leaves.
Traveler’s tip: At the end of the beach, you will find a duty-free shop that sells Chilean wine for a reasonable price.
3# Whale Watching in El Chocó, Colombia
Humpback whales come from July to October along Colombia’s Pacific coast to give birth. This is a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent animals in small groups.
Ensure that the agency you choose treats whales with respect, taking proper distance from them when you stay on the boat.
I advise you to book your accommodation and your plane in advance during this period.
Whale watching around Nuquí
Around Nuquí, the easiest way is to find an ecolodge that offers this tour (most of them do). You might also see whales from your room!
Whale watching around El Valle
Our local partner in El Valle offers packages that include meals, accommodation, and various experiences like whale watching and a visit to Utria Park.
In town, you can also find locals who will be willing to take you on a boat ride.
In Bahía Solano, a local agency named Madre Agua offers fantastic and eco-friendly tours to observe these animals while protecting Choco’s environment.
4# National Parks in El Choco, Colombia
National parks in the Chocó department are little-known, even by its inhabitants. You’ll find endemic bird species in these places and fall in love with a beautiful natural world.
- Find out which is your favorite Colombia park.
Los Katíos National Park
Katíos National Park is near the Darién National Park in Panama. It is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its vast jungles, plains, and biological diversity. Currently, this area covers 72,000 hectares.
To visit Los Katíos, you’ll need to take a boat from Turbo and navigate the sea for 2 hours.
Ensenada de Utria National Park
Utria National Park is the most famous natural reserve in El Chocó, from which you can see mangroves and beautiful birds.
You will have to pass through a bay whose calm and deep waters are a paradise for aquatic animals to enter this park. It is a delightful place for whale watching from July to October
You’ll have to take a 45-min boat from El Valle to get there. Our local partner includes a visit to Utria parc in its tourist package.
5# Birdwatching in El Choco
The pacific coast is not only famous for whale watching. It’s also a paradise for bird lovers who look for endemic species. Some enthusiasts say that it is a Colombia department even richer than the Amazon in terms of the diversity of bird species.
The easiest way to observe them is to visit natural reserves and national parks.
→ Utria National Park is a famous spot for birdwatching. In this place, there are approximately 270 birds species. You can see endemic birds, such as the Baudó Oropendola, Baudó Guan, Dusky Pigeon, and the Black-tipped Cotinga.
→ Katíos National Park has 25 percent of the birds in Colombia.
→The Reserve Las Tangaras, located between Medellín and Quibdo, is home to 250 species, including the famous Bangsia aureocincta and Bangsia Melanochlamys.
→ In the same area (Carmen de Atrato), you’ll also find the Reserve Gorrión de Andivia, a vital location for Oreothraupis arremonops and Henicorhina negreti.
6# Sea Turtle nesting
Various sea turtle species return to shore to bury their eggs in the sand. Between June and December, they begin their fight to avoid the many predators and reach the ocean
To increase the probability of surviving, local associations recover the eggs from the sand and put them in safer places. When tortoises are born, they are carefully released into the sea. Estación Septiembre, which operates in El Valle, leads these initiatives for saving baby tortoises.
You can also stay at an ecolodge and ask them to organize it for you.
Next to Acandí, you can observe leatherback turtles between May and June on the Caribbean Coast.
7# Surfing in El Chocó
The Pacific coast is the most famous area of Colombia for surfing.
Usually, surfers prefer to hit the Pacific Ocean between May and November, when the waves are big.
El Chocó being a remote area, the international surfing community has not yet had much opportunity to explore the place.
Here are the two famous spots to catch some waves.
Surfing around Nuquí
The easiest option is to take a boat and go to the small village of Termales, 1 hour south of Nuquí. There you will find some cheap hotels and surfboard rentals.
The most difficult waves are found at Pico de Loro & Juan Vidrio. You’ll need to find a local to get there.
Surfing in El Valle
Locals love to surf at Playa El Almejal. You can rent a surfboard at the Humpback Turtle Hostel. They also give lessons.
8# Deep fishing in El Choco
Another recognized activity along the Pacific coast is deep-sea fishing.
You should head to Bahia Solano for that.
Depending on the month, you can find more fish species than others. For example, if you want to practice fishing along the shore, it’s better to get from March to June. There will be a great migration of sardines, and you can also catch marlin, sailfish, tuna, snapper, amberjack, tarpon, and roosterfish.
The agency will take you further out to sea from October to January, looking for big catches such as blue marlin, black marlin, sailfish, colossal tuna, and mahi-mahi.
9# Stay in cool ecolodges
Since El Choco is cut off from the world, it is not easy to bring in construction materials. As a result, you cannot expect a 5-star ecolodge.
Despite this, you can find comfortable wooden cabins surrounded by wild nature and a chef who will serve you delicious meals.
Staying in an ecolodge is the easiest way to enjoy El Choco without worrying about logistics, which can sometimes be complicated, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
→ In the area of Guachalito, you’ll find the incredible Gonzalo’s Ecolodge. This small ecolodge of 18 pers max is composed of 3 wooden cabins perfectly integrated into a flowered property close to the beach.
Note: El cantil is another famous ecolodge, but it’s closed for now.
→ Up North, after the town of Jurubirá, you’ll find Morromico, which is an ecolodge located at the border of Utria National Park. There are no other properties for miles, and guests can enjoy a huge private beach.
→ In Playa Almejal, there is an ecolodge with the same name, surrounded by a natural reserve. If you decide to visit El Valle, I advise you to stay with our local partner. It is the oldest ecolodge on the Pacific coast. The setting is beautiful, with access to a private reserve and a freshwater pool.
→ In Bahía Solano, travelers usually choose to stay at Mapara Crab Lodge.
10# The Food in El Choco
Chocó food is one of the best in Colombia.
The irony is that these chefs manage to prepare your exquisite dishes with very few kitchen utensils.
I’m sure you’ll love their coconut rice and fried bananas.
Locals use fresh seafood and ingredients from the jungles to add flavor to their meals. If you can, try their Cazuela de mariscos. It’s a seafood stew cooked with coriander and coco milk. A perfect drink to go with would be a Borojó juice. According to locals, it will provide you with “sexual power.”}
11# Festival in Quibdó
Music is essential to Afro-Colombian culture. Influential bands emerged from El Chocó, such as ChocQuibTown. The percussion beat accompanied by the captivating sound of the marimba is a delight for the ears.
In Quibdó, the department’s capital, you can participate in the San Pacho festival at the end of September. You can attend numerous dances, concerts, and parades for several days. The San Pacho festival ends with a boat ride on the Atrato River, followed by religious processions that reflect the importance of their Afro-Colombian roots.
12# Hotsprings in El Choco
There are several places in the department of Choco where you can enjoy a bath in hot springs.
The natural hot spring of Termales is a 10-minute walk from town. There is a small fee for access to a deep hot water pool. Afterward, if you want to refresh yourself, you can lie down in the nearby cold river.
Usually, Guachalito ecolodges coordinate tours to the hot springs in Termales.
To get to Juribirá’s hot springs, you’ll have to follow a path through lush vegetation for about twenty minutes. There, you’ll find 3 little pools made of concrete. The area is not as well laid out as in Termales, but this does not affect the place’s charm.
You will have to pay a local to guide you to the hot springs.
13# Scuba Diving in El Choco
The underwater visibility along the Pacific coast is not comparable to the Caribbean. However, you might want to go there to swim with the whale sharks — from March to May.
If it’s the case, you should head to Punta Brava.
This beautiful ecolodge owns the only diving center in the area. Once in Nuquí, the hotel’s private boat will pick you up and take you to this little piece of paradise.
Do you prefer colorful reefs, warm water, and good visibility?
Then head to Capurganá and Sapzurro. You will find affordable prices to dive and pass your open water.
The best season is from May to November. The sea becomes almost as calm as a lake, and the visibility is excellent.
Q/A on El Choco, Colombia
Travelers contact us every day to help them plan an itinerary to Colombia. Here are the answers and tips we give about El Choco. Maybe we have already answered one of yours 🙂
-btw, you can join our community to get our kick-ass Colombia Guidebook and tons of practical tips.
Is el Choco safe?
Many places in Chocó are challenging to access. Armed groups and drug traffickers are generally fond of such areas. However, the sites mentioned in this blog post are visited by many travelers each year and are safe to visit.
Our Colombia safety guide.
What is the best season to visit Choco?
The best place to visit Chocó depends on your travel intention.
+ The best months to spend a sunny day at the beach are January and February.
+ Do you want a dive with whale sharks? March to May.
+ Your dream is to observe humpback whales: the season is from July to October.
+ Are you a turtle lover? Sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the beach from April to May towards Capurganá and from June to December on the Pacific coast.
In addition, Capurganá and Sapzurro have different climatic conditions because they are located on the Caribbean coast. For example, the sea is rough from December to April. And you should be able to enjoy some sunny days even during the rainiest months of the year (October, November).
Our best time to visit Colombia post.
Does it rain a lot in el Choco?
El Chocó is one of the wettest areas in the world, especially the area located on the Pacific Coast. The rainiest season will be between October and November.
Can I pay or by with a credit card?
In Chocó, it is impossible to find an ATM unless you are in Quibdó. For this reason, take as much cash as possible. The most well-known ecolodges in Chocó usually accept credit card payments.
Bottom line: El Choco, Colombia
Most travelers know El Choco for the whale season. But there are many other secrets to discover! Bird lovers can get lost in the nature reserves, surfers can live in secluded beach towns without having to share the waves, and everyone can leave their worries at home.
Just talking about it makes me want to go back!
So, are you coming?