Visit Nuqui and See the Majestic Humpback Whales – A Travel Guide to Nuqui, Colombia

Waves washing ashore with palm trees in the background, one of the sites you see when you visit Nuqui.

Nuqui, Colombia, a small town in Chocó province, is one of the top destinations to see the humpback whales who come to breed and give birth every year along Colombia’s Pacific coast.  The nearly untouched beaches and beautiful surroundings are just a bonus when visiting during Colombia’s whale watching season from June to October and make Nuqui one of the best places for whale watching in Colombia.  Read on for a complete travel guide to Nuqui, Colombia, including why you should go, available accommodations, things to do while there, and practical tips.

Waves washing ashore with palm trees in the background, one of the sites you see when you visit Nuqui.
The windswept and practically deserted beach in Nuqui is a nice bonus to seeing the whales.

Why You Should Go to Nuqui

The main draw here is undoubtedly seeing the whales.  Humpback whales, which are among the largest of all sea mammals, migrate from the colder waters of the Antarctic and southern Chile every year to Colombia’s Pacific coast to breed.  They then return to give birth a year later.

Nuqui and the nearby Playa Guachalito is one of the most popular and best places to go whale watching in Colombia.  It is relatively easy to access, safe, and besides the whales, boasts a spectacular and nearly deserted beach.  I made the trip to Nuqui in July 2016, and I was not disappointed.  It is one of the more unique and memorable travel experiences in Colombia.

This trip is a bit on the more adventurous side.  Expect to be removed from civilization a bit, which by the way is part of the allure of going anyways  The inland jungles in Chocó around Nuqui have also been havens for guerillas and drug traffickers, although the eco-tourists areas are still quite safe.  However, it is probably worth checking up on the situation before you go, especially if you are traveling there via Buenaventura, which has a reputation for crime and unrest.

Whether you are visiting Colombia or live here, you should definitely consider making the trip to the Pacific to see this spectacular sight.  There are a few other spots along the coast where you can also see the whales, which you can read about here.  This guide will focus on Nuqui, which is probably the best blend of ease of travel and price without sacrificing the experience.

A whale's tail stuck out of the water with the jungle behind, sites you can see when you visit Nuqui.
A humpback whale’s tail as it prepares to dive to the depths below, the type of stunning sight you can see when you visit Nuqui.
When is the Best Time to See the Whales in Nuqui?

The mating season technically runs from June to October, and whales will be around throughout that time.  However, the whales will probably be most active and easier to spot in August.  I did the trip 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 when the whales should be both plentiful and active.

If you’ve been convinced to stray from the beaten path and go whale watching, read on for a complete travel guide to Nuqui, Colombia, including how to get there, available accommodations, and what to do when you visit as well as some practical tips.

How to Get to Nuqui

The easiest way into and out of Nuqui is by air.  The airines Satena and ADA both offer a few flights a week out of Medellin.   You’ll fly in on a small prop plane.  Nuqui’s airport is hardly more than a concrete landing strip, all of which adds to the adventurous spirit of the trip.  The flight actually was not nearly as bad as I expected, as you don’t really ever get high enough to feel any turbulence, and they give you some handy ear plugs for the roaring of the engines.

A small prop plane on the small runway at the Nuqui airport, adding to the sense of adventure when you go to see the whales in Colombia's Pacific.
The little prop plane and pot-holed, rickety landing strip is all part of the adventure when you visit Nuqui.

You can also travel by boat from Buenaventura, although the voyage is long and subject to rough waters.  When I went, a girl arriving by boat the same day did not make it sound like a pleasant trip.  Again, be aware that Buenaventura, with the exception of the privately owned port, has largely been neglected by the Colombian government and can be unsafe.

Where to Stay in Nuqui

There are a number of good options for places to stay in Nuqui.  I stayed at Piedra Piedra, and was not disappointed.  Sitting on a rock overlooking the water, it has a stunning view from the little pool sitting at the edge of the rock.

The manager Victor, was very friendly and having traveled extensively in Colombia had some good stories.  The food was also terrific and super fresh.  A two minute walk down to the deserted and seemingly endless Guachalito Beach make it a great option for a place to stay in Nuqui.

A view of the rock that Piedra Piedra, one of the nice places to stay when you visit Nuqui, with the hostel and palm trees beyond.
A view of Piedra Piedra, one of the best options for places to stay in Nuqui, from the water.

Another popular option is La Joviseña.  Locally owned and operated, their popularity blew up after they were featured in ChocQuibTown’s music video for the song “Nuqui (Te Queiro Para Mi).”  I actually booked at La Joviseña, but because they were overbooked, they worked out for me to stay at Piedra, Piedra.  Sitting on a little point with beach on three sides, La Joviseña is definitely a great option.  You can check out their website here.

Probably the most luxurious option is El Cantil.  They have a beautiful property and offer an all inclusive experience that on top of food and lodging, also includes boat outings to see the whales.  They also offer surfing lessons, tours to a nearby waterfall, and even a honeymoon package.  You can check the latest prices and make reservations at their website.

Most of the places to stay are located out of the town and along the beach, about a 20 minute boat ride away.  The places featured above and presumably other places should arrange to pick you up in Nuqui when you arrive, but it is probably worth double checking.

What to Do in Nuqui

See the Whales

If you’re reading this article, this is probably the whole reason you came anyway.  I know it was my reason for going.  Anywhere you stay should either have the boat excursion to see the whales included or should be able to set it up for you.

I went out with the other person who got in the same day as me the first afternoon, shortly after arriving.  We spent an hour or so out on the water and the pilot was great at tracking around and trying to put us in the best position to see the whales.

A whale surfacing with the jungle in the background behind it, what you'll see whale watching in Nuqui.
I couldn’t land the epic breach shot, but still got to see the whales up close and personal, a must do activity in Nuqui.

We didn’t have the best luck in the world as we didn’t any great views of whales breaching (jumping all the way out of the water), much less that epic photo to include in my blog.  However, we still got some good views of them surfacing to breath and then flipping their tails up in the air as they dived to the depths below.

It was actually a school of dolphins who stole the show on our outing.  A big group of them got behind our boat and had a blast jumping the waves thrown up by the wake of the boat.  All in all, totally worth it, and getting that epic breach photo is just an excuse to go back one day!

Visit the Utria National Park

My second day, a group of us staying at Piedra Piedra opted to do a trip to Utria National Park, about a 90 minute boat ride to the north.

The bay at the entrance to the park is actually called a natural cuna, or cradle for its calm waters where the whales go to give birth.  Unfortunately the increased boat traffic also scares them a bit, and again I was probably a couple weeks early, so we didn’t see any whales in the bay.

Still, the visit to the park was worth it.  We got a great talk from a park ranger about the wildlife in the area and the importance of the mangroves for the coastal ecosystem (and also a stern, lecture about how litter, particularly plastic bags, wreck havoc on sea life, especially sea turtles who think the bags are tasty jellyfish).  There’s also a nice boardwalk through the mangroves, where you can see lots of birds and other wildlife on a quiet walk.

A shallow inlet with mangroves on either side that you can see on a visit to Utria National Park, one of the things to do in Nuqui.
The mangrove swamp you can see during a visit to Utria National Park, one of the things to do during a visit to Nuqui.
Chill on the Deserted Guachalito Beach

One of the best parts about staying at Piedra Piedra is it was just a short walk down off the rock to reach Playa Guachalito.  I ranged down the beach one day, taking in the sound of the waves and birds and the gorgeous view.

I saw maybe 5 other people on the beach all day.  Where I finally stopped to sit on a washed up tree trunk, I had the beach all to myself.  Well ok, I did have to share it with a bevy of little beach crabs peering out of their little dens at me, but I didn’t mind sharing the view with them.  I also ran into a pelican on my way back.

Enjoying a nearly deserted but beautiful beach was really something special.  I finished nearly an entire book between dips in the ocean and just being alone with my own thoughts and my new found crab friends.  Finally, I reluctantly headed back to Piedra Piedra and thoughts of returning to civilization the next day.

The beach at Playa Guachalito with one person in the distance and come footprints, showing how isolated the beaches you see when you visit Nuqui are.
Playa Guachalito stretches seemingly forever and there’s hardly a soul to be found when you visit Nuqui.

One important thing to note is that the tide does come up quite a bit.  There’s a little river that runs into the ocean about 20 minutes or so down the beach from Piedra Piedra that you will have to swim across at high tide.  I actually let my camera get wet during this swim!  It did decide to work again after it had dried out, but take some plastic bags (don’t litter them!) to keep your electronics in just in case.  There are also some rocks along the shore that the waves crash up against at high tide, so be careful passing there.

Visit the Hot Springs and Waterfalls

There are some termales, or natural hot springs, about a 30 minute hike from Playa Guachalito.  I didn’t go, but pictures online look nice and I’m sure the walk through the jungle is also worthwhile.

There are also several waterfalls that can also be reached from the beach.  These include a series of three along the same path known as Sendero Cascada (literally, the waterfall trail) Cascada del amor, and La Roñosa.  I didn’t make it to any of these either, but I’m sure they are worth seeing if you have the time to make it there.

Practical Tips on a Visit to Nuqui

  • There are no ATMs in Nuqui, so make sure you bring all the cash you will need.
  • Cell phone service is spotty at best, especially once you leave the town of Nuqui proper.  Take it as a blessing and forced disconnect from the distractions from the beautiful surroundings.
  • Bring lots of bug spray as the mosquitos are brutal at night.
  • Bring sunscreen.
  • Don’t be like me and put your camera at risk then struggle to get it to turn on long enough to snap a few shots, bring a plastic bag or something else to store and protect your electronics.
  • Bring a flashlight or lantern.  While your hotel or hostel should have a generator, there’s no electricity and it gets dark along the beach after sunset quick, as I learned the hard way.

Interested in learning more about visiting Nuqui and whale watching in Colombia?

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