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.

When and Where to Go to See Humpback Whales in Colombia 

The second half of the year is the best time to see whales in Colombia. Here you can witness an astonishing show sponsored by nature: the migration of humpback whales from cold Antarctica to the waters of its Pacific coast. 

Whale watching in Colombia is one of the greatest experiences nature travelers can live. Plus, the kind people, the tasty food and the breathtaking landscapes of this biodiverse country make your trip to Colombia an unparalleled adventure.

In this post, we will tell you where to see whales in Colombia, how you get to those destinations and what you can do there, the best season for whale watching and some recommendations for your whale watching trip. 

Whale Watching Season in Colombia 

During the second half of the year, large groups of Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate from Antarctica and Southern Chile during the winter to the warm waters of the northern Pacific Ocean to mate, give birth and raise its calves.

The route is about 8,000 km.  Although the whale migration to Colombian waters occurs from late June to November, it is more likely to see the whales from July and October.  

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), Bahía Solano, Chocó

Humpback whales have robust bodies, large flippers, and many irregular fleshy knobs. They are almost entirely black, with some white spots.

You can distinguish its spout because it is an expanding column, somewhat balloon-shaped, which can reach up to 6 meters (20 feet) high! These marine mammals range from 13 to 16 meters (43 to 52 ft) and weigh around 30 metric tons.

One interesting trait about humpback whales is the songs produced by males, which last 10 to 20 minutes and are thought to be the longest continuous vocalizations of any mammal. 

During the migration season of whales in Colombia, you can be part of the lucky travelers that see them playing around and listen to their songs! 

Where to See Whales in Colombia 

Chocó, Cauca and Valle del Cauca are the best places to see whales in Colombia. These three departments cover most of the country’s Pacific coast and stand out for its warm climate and people. The food, in general, is also great.

But the most amazing thing about these regions is the biodiversity they host since they belong to the Biogeographic Chocó with 2,750 of endemic plant species, moist, dry and montane forests, and a variety of wildlife. Bahía Solano, Nuquí, Gorgona island and Málaga Bay are favorite spots to watch whales in Colombia 

Bahía Solano 

Bahía Solano is one of the coastal municipalities of Choco, the one with most inhabitants (9,400). It is located in the northwest of Colombia, in the Serranía del Baudó. It acts as an economic and tourist center of the region.

The solaneños live from fishing and tourism, which has grown over the years with the increasing interest in nature and ecotourism. The megadiverse rainforest and sea are deeply cherished in the region. 

Our whale watching tour in Bahía Solano is an ecotourism experience, where you not only have fun seeing the whales’ acrobatics but you learn from a scientific perspective about these large mammals and the environment around you.

The tour also includes a stop to practice snorkeling and listen to the whales song underwater, and sail to the Mecana beach, where you can enjoy a natural pool of the river and wildlife observation. It is also possible to tour the mangrove in Mecana. 

How to get there 

  • By plane: There are daily flights from the cities of Medellín, Quibdó, Pereira, and Bogotá to José Celestino Mutis Airport in Bahía Solano. Flights take up to 2.5 hours. 
  • By boat: Some ships travel from the port of Buenaventura to the seaport in Bahía two times a week in a 6-hour ride. 

Accommodation 

There are a few hotels in Bahía Solano with medium to good quality. We can recommend these: 

  • Hotel Costa Chocó is in the town center and offers big rooms with air conditioning, balconies, pool, restaurant and a rooftop with view.  
  • Playa de Oro Lodge is a two-floor hotel in front of a golden beach in Punta Huina, which you can get to after a 20-minute boat ride from the Bahía Solano port. Although the rooms have no view, from the restaurant you can see the ocean. 
  • El Almejal Ecolodge is 40 minutes south of Bahía by road and is privileged to have a private nature reserve and the Utría NNP just 30 minutes away. The accommodation is in separate cabins. 

Other Attractions 

In Bahia Solano you can visit several waterfalls —such as Cascada del Amor and Nabugá—, beaches —Punta Huina, Playa de Los Deseos, Cuevitas, Mecana—, crystalline rivers and the Utría NNP.

At this rich park with mangroves, coral reefs, rocky littorals, and tropical rainforest, you can practice diving, snorkeling, hiking, bird, dolphin and turtle watching. 

Nuquí 

 Nuquí is a municipality south of Bahía Solano, also on the Pacific coast, with nearly 9,000 inhabitants. Most of them are Afro-Colombians, while others belong to indigenous communities.

Nuquí is another great destination for ecotourism and community-based tourism in Colombia, as it shares the Utría National Natural Park with Bahía Solano. 

Nuquí, Chocó

How to get there 

  • By air: You can fly from Bogotá, Medellín, Pereira and Quibdó to the Reyes Murillo Airport in Nuquí. Check Aexpa and Satena airlines, or Aeronuqui and Grupo San German travel agencies for charter flights. 
  • By boat: You can access Nuquí from Buenaventura or El Valle district in Bahía Solano. 

Accommodation 

These are some hotels where you can stay in Nuquí: 

  • Acuali is in front of the airport, with good,  airconditioned rooms. There are a restaurant and a cafe. They also include flights directly from Bogotá. 
  • La Joviseña is an ecolodge in Playa Guachalito, 45 minutes by boat from Nuquí. There is no electricity during the day, but the wooden cabins are well-equipped. They have a private boat. 
  • El Cantil is about 35 minutes by boat south from Nuquí, in front of the ocean with the jungle around. This eco-lodge offers 7 cabins, a hammock zone, a restaurant, and 2 terraces. 
  • EcoHotel Vientos de Yubarta is located on the beach of Nuquí and offers private transportation to the hotel as well as different nature tourism activities. 

Other Attractions 

There are scuba diving spots such as Piedra de Fidel, Parguera, Piedra Bonita and El Chuzudo. Surfers can visit beaches such as Playa Terquito, Pico de Loro, Pela Pela, El Chorro, Playa Brava, among others. Hot springs are also worth visiting, as the Joví and Coquí rivers. 

Gorgona Island 

Gorgona is a mysterious island on the Pacific ocean, within the department of Cauca, with dense tropical rainforest and rich coral reefs. Actually, it has been a national natural park since 1984 that includes the neighbor small island of Gorgonilla. 

It is a top nature tourism destination in Colombia because of its biological richness, to the point that it has gained the name of “Science Island” for all the information it has given researchers to understand the ecosystems and effectively manage the protected area.

This is a great spot for whale watching in ColombiaNot only you can see whales, but Gorgona also has 381 fish species, 11 whale and dolphin species, and 4 sea lion species. 

How to get there 

  • By plane: 4-hour connection flight from Bogota to Guapi. TAC and SATENA operators offer a daily round trip from Cali and Tumaco respectively. 
  • By boat: You can book a boat service from Guapi that will take you to the island in an hour and a half up to 2 hours. Otherwise, from the Buenaventura port, there are speedboat services that offer round trips for groups of over 10 people. 

Accommodation 

The licensed operator in the park offers accommodation for 2 to 7 people in cabins and an oceanfront house for groups up to 4 members. 

Other Attractions 

Explore the island through its 4 hiking trails that allow you to see the ruins of a maximum-security prison built in the 1960s, the ocean, and the species that inhabit the rainforest. During birdwatching tours, you can see frigate birds, pelicans and booby birds (Sula). There are several sites to practice snorkeling and scuba diving to see whale sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and coral reefs.  

Uramba Bahía Malaga 

 Uramba Bahía Málaga is a National Natural Park of 47,000 hectares located in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. This park belongs to a regional conservation corridor,  along with the Farallones de Cali NNP and Munchique NNP.

Because of its biodiversity, it is considered a world conservation hotspot. Rocky coasts, gray-ish beaches, blue sky, lush, pristine jungles surrounding emerald waters, mangroves and islets make up the landscape of the bay. 

This is another paradise for humpback whales in Colombia to breed their calves. Local tours for whale watching are offered here, guided by young locals. 

How to get there 

You can fly from Bogota to Buenaventura, or get to Cali –whether by plane or by road, and then drive about 2.5 hours to Buenaventura. There you have to take a boat for 1.5 hours to the Juanchaco pier,  where the tour boats await tourists. 

Accommodation 

You can look for hostels along the coast in nearby villages. 

Other Attractions 

Jump off the Sierpe waterfall and take a dip in the natural pools of Las Tres Marías, which flow into the sea. You can practice adventure sports such as kayaking, and more relaxed activities including hiking and birdwatching. 

Recommendations for Whale Watching in Colombia 

  1. Whales prefer to go out when the sea is calm and the sun, less intense, so it is more likely to spot whales during the first hours of the day or in the late evening. 
  2. These whale-watching destinations have warm, humid weather, with high level of rain. Dress accordingly for your tour: wear light clothes — preferably long sleeves, good shoes, and cap. Also, use coral-friendly sunscreen and insect repellent.
  3. Take binoculars with you, apart from a charged camera or cellphone to record the experience. 
  4. Beware that the boat you ride does not come too close to the whales since this can scare them or even set apart mothers from their calves. The minimum average distance is 200 meters. 
  5. Consider booking your tours with agencies working directly with local communities and respecting the environment.

We at Sula promote sustainable tourism, so we seek to contribute to the local economy and to raise awareness about caring for the megadiverse country that is Colombia. 

 Find more wildlife tours in the Colombia wildlife tours blog 

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.