Ultimate Travel Guide to the Utría National Natural Park

Discover the natural wonders of Utría National Natural Park in Colombia. It is possible to admire a series of mountainous spurs covered with exuberant tropical jungle, and bathed by the mysterious waters of the Pacific Sea. Its landscapes can be described with rainforest, mangroves, and gray beaches, and it is an ideal place for whale watching in Colombia.

Discovering Utría National Natural Park

This park locates in the Biogeographic Choco Forest, belonging to the Baudo mountain range, in the north of the Colombian Pacific coast, in the department of Choco. This region is known worldwide to be the rainiest, and it is also an important biodiversity hotspot.

The park has a unique peaceful boat ride way inset to the sounds of the jungle. A beautiful lagoon of marine water surrounded by mangroves and gray beaches welcomes you.

At Utría, you can evidence a fracture of the earth generated millions of years ago. This fracture allows seawater to flow for 7km inland.

The Baudó mountain range gives rise to the Boroboro, Jurubidá, Baudó, Chori and Bojayá rivers, as well as the giant Caribbean and Pacific hydrographic areas. The hydrographic representation of this area is 2,242 MMC.

Biodiversity

This protected area has 7 of the 10 species of mangroves and hidden rocky cliffs reaching heights of 1,400 meters above sea level. Depending on the season, mangrove roots protrude like land animals at low tide. When the tide rises, roots hide underwater, serving as a shelter for water animals that visit to mate.

The diversity of the park makes it a magical place to appreciate diverse environments and ecosystems. The contrast of tropical rainforest and reefs makes the flora and fauna of this protected area quite unique and diverse.

Ethnography

Utría is a territory populated by two communities that are strategic allies for the conservation and protection of the park.

On one side, the “Embera” natives, which live within the jungles of the province of Chocó, keeping their cultural traditions intact. Their presence is also noticeable in the provinces of Antioquia, Risaralda, Quindio, Caldas, Valle, Cauca, Cordoba, Putumayo, Caquetá and Nariño.

On the other side, the black afro-Colombian communities of the Pacific coast that are known for developing economic activities related to the art of the sea and are the ones that have the most contact with visitors of this protected area.

How to get to Utría National Natural Park

Bogotá-Medellín-Bahía Solano

Take a flight to Rionegro José María Córdoba (JMC) airport in Medellín. Take a taxi ride to Medellin´s alternative Olaya Herrera airport (OH) at the city center, about 40 minutes away.

From Olaya Herrera, you can take a flight to Bahia Solano using Colombia’s national airline, Satena. Finally, from Bahía Solano take a boat to Utria National Natural Park.

Bogotá-Quibdo-Bahía Solano

Take a 1-hour flight from Bogotá to El Caraño Airport (UIB) at Quibdo city. Once at the airport, you have to take a flight to Bahia Solano with Satena Airline. Finally, from Bahía Solano take a boat to Utria National Natural Park.

Cali-Buenaventura-Bahía Solano

Take a 145-minute flight from Bogotá to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO) at Palmira city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 3-hour ride to Buenaventura.

In Buenaventura, take a 6 hours boat trip to Bahia Solano. Lastly, from Bahía Solano take a boat to Utria National Natural Park.

Although these three routes exist, we recommend the Medellin-Bahia Solano route because it is the safest.

What to do in Utría National Natural Park

Utría National Natural Park is currently closed. Those who wish to visit Utría and carry out ecotourism activities may do so in the day trip mode, that is, enter the protected area in the morning and leave at the time arranged by the park.

The staff of Utría National Natural Park is the only one in charge of registering at the park’s entrance, giving induction talks, explaining the authorized sites, and providing recommendations for any activity within the protected area.

Utría National Natural Park, known as the ‘cradle of whales’, continues its whale season without any setbacks, as in previous years.

Hiking and Trekking

Hiking along any of the 3 available trails is the most exciting activity in Utría National Natural Park:

  • Cocalito Trail, the round trip is about 1 km, 1 hour and it’s of moderate level of difficulty.
  • Estero Grande Trail, the round trip is about 611 m, 40 minutes, low level of difficulty.
  • Water trip, about 1.1 km long, with a low degree of difficulty; it can be done by canoeing at high tide.

Diving and Snorkeling

Diving at Punta Esperanza and Punta Diego, an ecosystem rich in coral formations and marine life is a must-do. At Playa Blanca, there is a marked snorkeling area. Diving programs, rental equipment, and facilities are available on site.

Wildlife Observation in Utría

Utría hosts unique ecosystems on the planet and is ideal for observing a great amount of native fauna and flora. Regarding mammals, at the Utría Natural National Park it is possible to observe:

  • Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)
  • Jaguar (Panthera onca centralis),
  • Neotropical otter (Lontra longicaudis),
  • Gray-bellied night monkey (Aotus lemurinus zonalis),
  • Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi),
  • Mantled howler (Alouatta palliata),
  • Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii),
  • White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari),
  • Tamarins (Saguinus sp.),
  • Colombian white-faced capuchin (Cebus capuccinus),
  • Margay (Leopardus wiedii),
  • Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata),
  • Common opossum (Didelphys marsupialis),
  • South American coati (Nasua nasua),
  • Lowland paca (Cuniculus paca),
  • Red brocket (Mazama americana),
  • Tayra (Eira barbara) y
  • Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Chloepus hoffmanni)

With regards to marine life, it is worth noting that this point of the Pacific is ideal for animal mating and the birth of the amazing humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), Orcas, or killer whales (Orcinus orca), and sperm whales or cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus).

Ocypode gaudichaudii, also known as the painted ghost crab or cart driver crab. Huina Beach, Bahía Solano, Chocó.

The area has 105 species of decapod crustaceans, where the painted ghost crab (Ocypode gaudichaudii) is a predominant species. There is also the presence of bivalves such as the Hacha (Pinna rugosa) and “piangua” (Anadara spp.), and mollusks such as the Eastern Pacific giant conch (Titanostrombus galeatus).

It is also possible to see endangered species of sea turtles on the beaches such as the olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).

Bird Watching

Around 270 species of birds may be observed in Utria National Natural Park, being the most diverse watching spot in the area. The endemic birds in the Utria park are:

  • Choco tinamou or Chocó tinamou (Crypturellus kerriae)
  • The Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja)
  • Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus)
  • The Great Curassow (Crax rubra)

Other bird species are Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), Tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor), Yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and many migratory shorebirds.

Where to stay in Utría National Natural Park

Utría National Natural Park offers shared accommodations within the Park. Additional accommodation alternatives are available close by. Our suggested choices are:

  • Ecolodge El Almejal is located in Bahia Solano, 24 km away from the protected area.
  • Hotel Costa Choco is in Bahia Solano, 30 km away from the protected area.
  • Coco Loco Lodge is in Bahia Solano, 23 km away from the protected area.

Best time to visit the Utría National Natural Park

Humpback whale watching season happens between July and November. Note that at Utría it rains for approximately 300 days a year, and October is considered the rainiest month.

Utría National Natural Park Entrance fees

The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Colombians, resident foreigners, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 13,000
  • Colombians, resident foreigners, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 19,500
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 55,000
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.

What to consider before visiting Utría National Natural Park

  • To take any of the tours inside the park you must hire an authorized and certified guide.
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sun blocker, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • Recommended the use of binoculars to admire animals’ behavior and beauty in their natural habitat.
  • Carry valid identity documents and health insurance. It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you. It’s never enough to carry a personal medicine kit.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

References
About the authors

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Top 18 Natural Breathtaking Landscapes in Colombia

What do we take into account for choosing our next holiday destination? Usually landscapes. According to the sight and the look of a place, we consider it among our travel destinations, or not. In Colombia, you can find it all. It has thousands of different breathtaking landscapes you would never expect to find there and this is due to its geographic conditions.

The Reason of Colombia’s Landscape Diversity

Colombia stands out for having variety of landforms and consequently several altitudinal ranges with a characteristic weather and ecosystem, called thermal floors. Thermal floors are the underlying cause of the country’s megadiversity and each one boasts unique landscapes and sights that you cannot miss when visiting Colombia. There are 5 thermal floors: hot, warm, cold, páramo and perpetual snow and they depend on the altitude of the territory above the sea level. Each 1,000 increase in elevation has a huge impact on the life conditions of the region.

 

Now that you know the variety of environments in Colombia, read on to discover some of the most breathtaking landscapes in this wonderful country.

Seven Colors Sea in San Andrés Islands

San Andrés & Providencia

The second largest coral reef in the Caribbean is located in Providencia island, which belongs to the San Andrés Archipelago in the Colombian territory in the Caribbean Sea.

The array of colors from turquoise to aquamarine in the sea around these islands is the reason it is called the seven color sea.

It is a landscape worth seeing. Actually, the marine territory of the Archipelago, called Seaflower, was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2000 by the UNESCO and shelters strategic ecosystems with high endemism.

Seaflower belongs to the Western Caribbean coral reef hotspot and hosts over 2,300 marine species.

The Most Beautiful River in the World

Caño Cristales, the Rainbow river, La Macarena, Colombia

Caño Cristales is a place that is being visited not only by backpackers but but tourists in general for its stunning landscape.

It has several nicknames, including the 5 color river and the most beautiful river in the world, and this is because it reflects red, green, yellow, blue and black hues due to aquatic plants, sand and rocky formations.

The red hues are caused by Macarenia clavigera plants, which are endemic. Before travelling to this awesome destination in Meta, you should know that the river is not open to the public all year round.

The appropriate season to visit Caño Cristales is from early June to December; during the other 6 months, the aquatic plants have their reproductive period and, although you can still visit the Serranía de La Macarena (where the river originates), entrance to the river is not allowed.

Cabo de la Vela – La Guajira

Sunset at Cabo de la Vela

In the northern tip of Colombia, La Guajira department, Cabo de la Vela is an unrivaled geographical feature with several tourist attractions. This region has the lowest level of rainfall in the country, which causes it to have desert conditions.

At 47 meters above sea level, you can enjoy gorgeous beaches such as Playa Dorada and Ojo de Agua, which have the perfect conditions for kite surfing. Pilón de Azúcar is a hill which you can climb in 15 minutes and appreciate the Caribbean landscape from the top.

The full experience of visiting La Guajira implies staying in a Wayuu farm or ranchería, in colorful hammocks woven by these indigenous.

From Cabo de la Vela, it is possible to get to Punta Gallinas, a magical place with golden dunes and rocky cliffs. Sights in La Guajira definitely will leave you speechless.

Tatacoa Desert

Night at the Tatacoa Desert ©Bernardo Solano

To the north of the capital Neiva, many tourists get to this tropical dry forest for hiking, camping and doing astronomical observation, but specially for enjoying an unparalleled Mars-like sight. There are three distinctive landscapes.

One with reddish/ochre natural sculptures caused by soil erosion in the sector called Cuzco, which keeps vestiges of ancient fossil deposits. Another one is Hoyos, a zone of differently-shaped mounds of gray tones that also has a pool of mineralized water built by locals.

Finally, El Cardón sector offers nice landscapes of sub xerophytic vegetation, including cactus, and possibilities for wildlife and bird observation.

Other attraction of Tatacoa is the uber-clear night sky with thousands of stars that light up the way.

The Coffee Cultural Landscape

Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve, notice it is a refuge in the middle of a highly fragmented landscape.

In the central and western foothills of the Andes, 563,000 families from 18 municipalities in Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Valle del Cauca form a sustainable coffee farming model that is declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

The Arabic coffee grain grown in Colombia is known as one of the best in the world. It encompasses 6 farming landscape that preserve the tradition of coffee growing in the challenging high mountain forests.

If you visit the coffee growing axis, or Eje cafetero, you will witness incredible sights such as coffee plantations in steep slopes of over 55 degrees and colorful towns with colonial architecture.

The Lost City

Lost City – Tayrona Park, Santa Marta

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta boasts wonderful landscapes everywhere you look. The world’s highest coastal mountain is a biodiversity hotspot and a fascinating place to be at.

One of the best sights you can enjoy is the Lost City (or Teyuna) in the national natural park Tayrona. This city is the archaeological record of  an ancient indigenous civilization built around 650 AD that is currently considered the greatest archaeological finding in Colombia.

What remained of the stone roads and buildings is now claimed as a sacred territory of the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo indigenous communities and also is an archaeological park.

In the park there is no mobile phone signal nor communication devices, but who needs technology when one witnesses such natural and historical beauty?

Toche – Tolima

Machín Volcano, Toche, Tolima, COlombia

A village formerly under control of guerrilla groups and quite inaccessible and abandoned by the government has become a tourist destination for nature lovers.

Usually, travelers who come from Salento and want to know the Cerro Machín volcano pass by this little town that is developing tourist infrastructure. However, few people know that Toche boasts the largest wax palm forest in the world.

Between this village and Cajamarca, you can find agglomerations of at least 1,000 palms that add up to 600,000 individuals and many other new plants that take 50 years to get to their maximum growth level.

This is an awesome sight of the beaten path that is strengthened by waterfalls, ancient tunnels, hot springs and a wealthy avifauna.

You can find 3 species of toucans, including the emerald toucanet and the rainbow-billed toucan, 5 species of parrots, including the yellow-eared and the blue-headed parrots, and the rufous-fronted parakeet, also you can spot eagles from there.

Chicamocha Canyon

Chicamocha Canyon

With 227 km long and a maximum depth of 2,000 m, the Chicamocha Canyon, located in Santander, is the largest in Colombia.

The Chicamocha river carved this current tourist attraction that never stops impressing its witnesses. Chicamocha is so marvelous that it was nominated as one of the 7 natural wonders in 2009.

In the heart of the canyon, the Chicamocha National Park allows visitors to enjoy the incredible landscape in several fun ways: you can either go paragliding over it, take one of the 3 cable cars or do canoeing along the river.

Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area

Alejandra_Garcia los Estoraques PNN

In Norte de Santander, to the western Cordillera, a green grass plain with white stone roads leads you to a incredible sight: Los Estoraques.

Rain and wind produced severe erosion, forming huge columns, pedestals and caves of different shapes and color that garnish the dry forest. Gullies, hills and valleys with refreshing ponds can also be found here.

These formations resemble the ruins of medieval buildings! Although Estoraques offers a sight one of its kind, its ecosystem has been damaged by human activities such as agriculture, hunting and logging.

Nariño Lagoons

Laguna de la cocha, picture by Sebastian David Martinez Canchala

Nariño department, southwest of Colombia, boasts several natural wonders. Its lagoons are famous among nature lovers.

Laguna de la Cocha is a beautiful lagoon full of legends that give it spiritual value. In the middle of the water, the Corota island is a biodiversity reserve considered a sacred place for indigenous descendants.

In addition, Laguna Verde (or Green Lagoon) is a must-visit water body in the region. On the top of the Azufral volcano, at almost 4,000 MASL, tourists’ jaws drop when seeing this emerald green lagoon with warm water due to  sulfur concentrations and steam that make it one of the prettiest in the world.

Ocetá Páramo

Páramo de Ocetá

One of the prettiest moorlands of Colombia is still unknown territory for many locals and tourists. In the municipality of Mongui, Boyacá, the Ocetá páramo dazzles with its wealth of silver, yellow and white frailejones, yellow senecios, violet lupins and tons of liquens and moss.

Luckily you will find rabbits, frogs, eagles, white-tailed deer and the national bird, the Andean condor. However, what makes Ocetá stand out from the other moorlands is its Stone City, a rocky zone with alleys enclosed by 15-meter high stone walls!

The peaks also exhibit well-defined rock strata and from there, you can see its water sources and the Pisba páramo to the north. This place makes you want to pay a second visit.

Salt Cathedral – Zipaquirá

Colombia’s First Wonder since 2007 is on the outskirts of Bogotá, in Zipaquirá. This great work of art was built within the region’s salt mines, and the miners had to extract 250 thousand tons of rock salt 180 meters underground.

This Catholic cathedral has three naves representing different stages of Jesus’ life, each one with an altar and great salt sculptures carved by miners and artists.

Religious visitors can follow the Stations of the Cross and get to the dome where a huge cross stands out thanks to the blue and purplish lightning that completes the design of the building.

This place is a must even for non-religious tourists, the underground landscape marvels anyone who visits.

Chingaza National Natural Park

Lakes of Chingaza National Natural Park

If you visit Bogotá, you should probably come know the place that provides 80% of its drinking water. Chingaza páramo is on the Eastern range of the Andes, between the departments of Cundinamarca and Meta, and is protected as a national natural park.

A cloudy horizon that hides the blue sky, which reflects on the lakes with mythological value surrounded by frailejones. This is the breathtaking sight you can experience here. Hiking in this place to have an overview of this amazing natural reserve is highly recommended.

Wildlife in Chingaza includes the spectacled bear, deer, pumas, páramo tapirs, Andean condors and the Andean Cock-of-the-rock Besides frailejones, different species of swamp moss absorb up to 40 times their weight in water! They keep the land humid and alive.

Cocuy National Natural Park

EL Cocuy

Sierra Nevada of Guicán, El Cocuy and Chita is the largest glacier mass in Colombia: within two mountain ranges it has over 25 snow peaks from 4,800 to 5,330 MASL.

The area within the National park is sacred to the Uwa indigenous community, so it should be treated with respect. Plus, if you go there and contemplate the landscape around you, you will not want to harm it.

Waterfalls, lagoons, páramo vegetation and fauna embelish the calm environment of the park located between the departments of Arauca and Boyacá. Similarly to Chingaza, here you can see spectacled bears, tapirs, deer, Andean condors and eagles, as well as frailejones.

The white peaks of El Cocuy are on the list of challenges of professional mountain climbers from all over the world, but getting at least to its slopes and admiring the view is a dream for every adventurous nature lover.

El Tuparro National Natural Park

El Tuparro

This park located in the east of Colombia is simply amazing. A vast savanna crossed by rivers with powerful streams, crystalline water, golden beaches and huge rock formations shaped like rounded hills is what you can contemplate in Tuparro.

One of its attractions, the Maypures stream was named “the eight wonder of the world” by Alexander von Humboldt. Now you can imagine why you should visit this place.

Mavecure Hills

Mavecure Hills – Picture courtesy by Andrés Rodríguez, local indigenous guide.

These majestic rock hills that are part of the Guiana Shield are not a common landscape for most tourists. El Mono, El Pajaro and Mavecure are in the Amazon region of Colombia and were believed to be the home of deities for indigenous communities.

Out of the three majestic black rounded hills that rise in the middle of a jungle, you can only climb Mavecure. The speedboat trip from Puerto Inirida will allow you enjoy unforgettable sights.

Bahía Solano

Bahía Solano, Chocó

Humpback whales arriving to the Colombian beaches of the Pacific Ocean in front of you and an unspoiled biodiverse rainforest behind you is what you will face in Bahia Solano, Choco. Simply unforgettable.

Do not miss your chance to live this and travel with us look here! This natural show can be experienced from July to October each year, but if you travel there at a different time, its jungle is a wonderful ecosystem to explore.

Nevado del Tolima

Nevado del Tolima from the Ukuku Lodge.

This ancient volcano at over 5,000  MASL boasts a green-coated land and a glacier of 2.8 square kilometers.

Enjoy a challenging trekking trail with the possibility of bathing in hot springs and contemplating the nice scenery of Tolima department. You can start the trip from Ibagué until El Silencio, from there, you can take several paths to climb.

Check our tour to this awesome snowy mountain here!

Are you now feeling like traveling to Colombia? You can discover many of these marvelous landscapes and more with us. Check our sample tours here!

References
About the author

Ana María Parra

Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content.  Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.