From June to October every year, humpback whales travel north from the Antarctic to the warmer waters off of Colombia’s Pacific coast to mate and give birth. By traveling to the area, visitors can get up close and personal with these majestic animals. Although a bit off the beaten path, seeing them and the relatively untouched pacific coast is a truly unique travel experience. Read on for a guide to seeing the whales, including the most popular destinations where you can catch a glimpse.
Why You Should Go Whale Watching in Colombia’s Pacific
Colombia really does boast an amazing amount of biodiversity. From Punta Gallinas at the end of the desert of La Guajira, to the crystal clear waters of its Caribbean beaches, to forests and waterfalls nestled in the coastal mountains of the Sierra Nevada, to Salento in the mountainous foothills of the Andes, to Leticia and the jungles of the Amazon River, Colombia has it all. And just to top it off, its Pacific coast serves as the winter vacation and breeding spot of humpback whales.
Humpback whales are among the largest of all sea mammals and range in size from 12-15 meters and 25-30 metric tons. They typically migrate up to 25,000 miles every year. They spend much of the year in the cold waters around the poles, but move to warmer, tropical waters to mate and give birth during the winter months.
It is this migration that brings them to Colombia’s Pacific coast, with whales from southern Chile and the Antarctic moving up the South American coast to the areas off of Colombia’s and Ecuador’s coasts. There they mate and then return the following year to give birth. This yearly pattern makes the Pacific coast a great place to see whales in Colombia.
The best areas to see the whales are fairly remote and the jungles inland in the Pacific Chocó province have been havens for both guerillas and drug traffickers. However, the eco-tourism areas are safe, and the implementation of a 2016 peace agreement with the FARC should continue to lead to the surrounding areas being safer.
Also, the city of Buenaventura is the closest large population center and can be used as the jumping off point. However, as one of the most neglected and poorest cities in Colombia, Buenaventura does have a reputation for unrest and being unsafe. So if you are going via Buenaventura, do be aware and be careful traveling through.
All that being said this trip is definitely a bit on the more adventurous side. Don’t expect to be staying in big resorts. However, some of the eco-lodges are quite nice, and the trip is a great way to disconnect and get away from it all and experience a still lightly traveled area with practically empty beaches and beautiful scenery. Do check out the situation before going however, particularly if you’re planning on traveling through Buenaventura.
Whether you are visiting or live here, you should definitely consider going to see whales in Colombia and making the trip to the Pacific to see this spectacular sight.
When is the Best Time to See Whales in Colombia?
The mating season runs from June to October, and whales will be around throughout that time. However, the whales will be most active and easier to spot in August. I went in mid-July and was told a few weeks later would have been better as they were arriving a bit later than normal. So if at all possible, try to shoot for visiting around mid-August to see whales in Colombia, when they should be both plentiful and active.
Even if you can’t swing visiting during whale watching season, the mostly unspoiled beaches are still worth visiting in their own right. Although if you can see the whales too, they are just icing on the cake.
Where to See Whales in Colombia
There are a few options for places to go to see the whales. Below is a quick summary of the options.
Gorgona Island is a national park and is famed for its wildlife. Monkeys, sloths, tortoises and 18 species of snakes call its tropical forest home. In addition to being a great place to see whales in Colombia, sea turtles, sharks, and a variety of other fish also patrol its waters. That makes it an especially popular destination for scuba divers.
To get to Gorgona, you’ll have to take a boat from Buenaventura (accessible by bus from Cali), Guapi (only accessible by flight), or El Charco (also only accessible by flight). Boats include cargo ships that take on passengers, diving tours, and boats offering water taxi type service. You can check out this wikivoyage page and the website for the national park for more information on Gorgona.
Bahía Solano is also a good option for a place to see whales in Colombia with a number of nearby beaches and eco-lodges. It sits to the north of the Utria National Park. The most well known place to stay is The Humpback Turtle. Bahía Solano is accessible by flights from Bogotá, Medellin, and Quibdo. You can find out more about Bahía Solano on this page.
Another option to see whales in Colombia is Bahía Malaga. Part of the Uramba National Park, the bay here is a hot spot for whale breeding. It is just to the west of Buenaventura, where you can take a boat to the bay. There are also a few places to stay around Playa de Ladrilleros at the entrance to the bay.
Located to the south of Utria National Park, Nuqui is where I went to go whale watching in July 2016. It is easily accessible by flight, and there are a number of options for places to stay around Playa Guachalito, which is absolutely gorgeous and nearly deserted. It is where I went in July 2016, and you can check out my complete travel guide to Nuqui here.
Practical Tips When Traveling to See Whales in Colombia
- You won’t find ATMs on the remote beaches of the Pacific, so be sure to take all the cash you’ll need when you go to see the whales in Colombia.
- Cell phone service is likely to be spotty at best, so be sure to take all your travel notes old fashioned style on a pen and paper and take advantage of the opportunity to disconnect for a while.
- Be sure to take plenty of sunscreen and bug spray.
- Don’t forget your camera to make sure you get those great shots of the whales jumping out of the water. And consider taking some plastic bags or other form of protection so your camera doesn’t get wet like mine did.
Interested in learning more about going to see whales in Colombia?
- Check out our travel guide to Nuqui, one of the best destinations to see whales in Colombia.