If your first reaction to reading the title of this article was, “well that’s a bit redundant,” I completely agree. If you’ve come to a place like Nuqui Colombia, a lush, secluded, isolated stretch of rugged Pacific Coast, you are already likely, by definition, a nature lover.
From the teeming Choco-Darién moist forests–a place One Earth describes as “one of the most active centers of endemism and speciation in the world”–to the humpback whale migratory route just offshore, Nuqui is a place whose name has always been synonymous with nature and naturalist tourism.
That said, there are a few destinations/excursions around the Nuqui part of the Chocoan coast that don’t get as much attention as they deserve.
I’ve lived in Colombia on and off since 2016 and have travelled extensively throughout the country. I’ve watched the eco-tourism industry take off along Colombia’s isolated Pacific Coast and of all of the various resorts, lodges and experiences available, these are the three I’m most excited about.
If you are serious about nature, and particularly wildlife observation, have a look.
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This is not so much a destination as it is a wildlife tourism outfit based out of Nuqui specializing in Chocó-Darién herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians).
If, for example, you were on your way to the Pacific Coast of Colombia and were unaware that this was a part of the country synonymous with some of the most spectacular looking dart frog species anywhere in the neotropics, and wanted to experience these incredible frogs up close and personal, then there would be no better tour guides in the Nuqui area than these guys.
They are a local, community and family-run eco-tourism company (part of Colombia’s burgeoning reptile and amphibian tourism industry), and they know the surrounding countryside and local people intimately.
You can get a hold of them through their Instagram page.
If reptiles and amphibians are your thing, check out my list of herpetofauna guides and tour agencies around the world. There is another field herping outfit just to the north of Nuqui in Bahia Solano with a similar origin story and a similarly wonderful list of reptiles and amphibians they observe on a regular basis.
Situated on Colombia’s isolated Pacific coast, an hour or so south of the town of Nuquí, sits El Amargal, a privately owned station and 40-hectare reserve with strong ties to Colombia’s biggest universities and research institutions, including La Universidad de Los Andes and the Humboldt Foundation, thanks to how well preserved its Chocoan forests are.
It is a favourite spot, both in Colombia and internationally, for plant biologists, mycologists and herpetologists, who come to study things like bioluminescent fungi and rare dart and harlequin frog species.
El Amargal, and the rest of Colombia’s Pacific Coast, is also right on the main summer migratory route of Humpback Whales, making it a prime whale-watching destination. When the ocean is calm enough, there is also good Tropical Eastern Pacific snorkelling just off the beach.
El Amargal has limited space, and you may find yourself sharing the place with local or international researchers while you are there.
Perched atop a bluff overlooking a private, 1 km-long black sand beach, where waterfalls come cascading out of Colombia’s Pacific rainforest, El Amargal is beautiful, rustic and isolated.
The surrounding locals, including places like the Arusi River, are gorgeous and remote.
Private guided excursions to these kinds of places put you right in the middle of sublime Pacific Coast wet forest and the myriad streams that cut through them.
Snorkeling in Utria National Park
Don’t come to the Pacific Coast of Colombia (or anywhere in the Americas) looking for the kinds of seascapes you would expect from places in the Coral Triangle or places like Quintana Roo, Belize, and Northern Honduras.
The seascape here is rocky and relatively devoid of coral. The Pacific Coast of Latin America, save for a few places off the coast of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, as well as Gorgona (further to the south in Colombia) is inhospitable to coral.
If you have ever wondered why the Tropical Eastern Pacific doesn’t get the kind of large coral formations found elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, according to the article “Marine Biodiversity in the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of South America: Knowledge and Gaps,”
Coral reef development in this region is limited by the regular impact of El Niño events and unfavorable conditions that result from freshwater input from river runoff, siltation, nutrient enrichment, and upwelling influences. The overwhelming majority of reef habitat in this region consists of rocky reefs (Miloslavich et al., 2011).
Nevertheless, the Tropical Eastern Pacific Bioregion–of which Colombia’s Chocó is a part–is home to an impressive amount of biodiversity, including 1,212 species of fish (71% of which are endemic), 863 species of crustaceans, and 875 species of molluscs 875 species.
If, like me, you would like to get into the water as much as possible on holiday, then Utria National Park, just north of Nuqui, is really the only place along the coast with calm enough waters to do it.
Here are some of the commonly asked questions about Nuqui. It is quite remote and fairly difficult to get to, so it’s worth having a read-through before making any travel arrangements.
Is Nuqui Worth Visiting?
I would say Nuqui is not only worth visiting but if nature and wildlife are the main objectives (or one of a couple) of your trip to Colombia, it might even be more worthwhile than the Amazon (at least the jungle experience). The forests around Nuqui are spectacular, and my impression was that the eco-tourism was a lot more high-effort than in the Amazon. It is also, bar none, the best whale watching destination in Colombia and one of the best in the Americas.
When to visit Nuqui?
It really depends. The most popular months are definitely from late June through mid-October, which is peak whale watching season. It is also the most expensive, and some of the more “boutique” places around Nuqui and along the entire Chocoan coast can get quite pricey.
Expect some rain pretty much all year round, as this is one of the wettest places on earth, but the official dry season (no longer really reliable anywhere around the world because of climate change) is typically January through April.
Those are my three. I chose them because they are three of the places in Nuqui Colombia that I feel best represent the awesomeness of the Chocó-Darién ecoregion and allow you to experience it in a way that is authentic, grounded in community involvement and that won’t empty your pockets.