Nuquí, Colombia

Photo: El Cantil

Placencia. Roatán. San Juan del Sur. Tamarindo. Bocas del Toro. You’ve been slowly working your way down the coasts of Central America. When your favorite bohemian beach town is discovered, you move onto the next one. The only problem is that most stretches of sand from Belize to Panama are now crowded. It’s time to continue into South America.

Upon first glance, Colombia doesn’t seem like uncharted territory. Capurganá, Cartagena, and Tayrona National Park have well-trodden beaches. But they’re all on the north coast along the Caribbean Sea. The Pacific Lowlands are an entirely different story. This is the area in between the Cordillera Occidental mountains and the Pacific Ocean on the west coast. Since it receives nearly 400 inches of rain each year, it’s one of the wettest places on the planet. The land is covered with huge swamps, thick jungles, and muddy rivers. But there are no roads. Prop planes and boats are the only ways to access the region. So Colombia’s west coast remains wild and unexplored.

At least by foreign tourists. Nuquí is a secret vacation spot for Colombians. The small town, like much of the Pacific coast, is home to Afro-Colombians. They’re the descendants of African slaves, who were brought over by Spanish colonizers after the Americas were conquered. There’s little wealth in Nuquí. Fishing and small-scale farming dominate the economy. But the people are friendly and surrounded by great beauty. There are quiet beaches and uncrowded waves, hidden hot springs and exotic wildlife. It’s an access point to remote Utría National Natural Park. While small, family-owned lodges offer an introduction to the region and its traditions.

So you hop on a small plane in Medellín. It flies into the clouds and over the rainforest en route to Nuquí. Then you board a wooden motor boat to head farther down the coast. From the water, you eventually see a small cluster of ecolodges on a hillside. One of them is El Cantil Ecolodge. The lodge isn’t fancy, but it has a string of cabanas facing the sea. Seafood meals are served in an open-air pavilion. There are two sun terraces and lots of hammocks, as well.

But the best reason to stay here is the excursions. Local guides will lead you on hikes through the jungle. Expect to see brown-throated sloths, red-capped manakins, and sulfurous water along the way. You can ride boogie boards, learn how to surf, or go snorkeling just offshore. Or you can paddle a sea kayak into the lagoon, where common bottlenose dolphins hang out all year and humpback whales travel to give birth between August and October. Just don’t forget the beaches. They’re what drew you to Nuquí in the first place.

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