Between July and November each year the stretch of ocean along Colombia’s pacific coast plays host to large numbers of humpback whales migrating to the region. The huge mammals, measuring up to 30m in length and weighing as much as 40 tonnes, travel some 8,000km from the Antarctic and southern Chile to reach the warmer and calmer waters off Colombia to mate and to give birth. Watching the spectacle of these majestic animals showing off their enormous back fins, and even jumping out of the water, is an experience not to be missed.
Where to Go Whale Watching in Colombia
During the whale watching season, humpbacks appear all along the pacific coast, right from the province of Choco in the north, all the way down to Nariño along the Ecuadorian border. However, there are three main spots which constitute the principal areas for engaging in this activity: Nuqui, Bahia Solano and, further south, Bahia Malaga by Buenaventura.
Humpbacks appear all along Colombia’s pacific coast, right from Choco to Nariño
If you're trying to decide which to use as your base for spotting these giant mammals, there is not a great deal between them, in truth. All three are pleasant destinations in their own right, offering as they do, the rustic, adventure-style travel and rugged, wind-swept beaches typical of Colombia’s pacific coast. One thing to note is that the season runs till slightly later in the year in Bahia Malaga than in the other two destinations as it is located further south. It also probably sees more humpbacks pass by (estimates are of between 600 and 1,000 each year).
Transport is a factor to consider. There are no road connections between Nuqui or Bahia Solano and the interior of the country so you'll have to fly via Medellin or Quibdo. Buenaventura can be reached overland, via a three-hour bus trip from Cali, and is also served by an airplane route from Bogota. From Buenaventura it is possible to then take a boat up to Nuqui, but the journey can take as long as 24 hours. While this makes Buenaventura somewhat more accessible, not everybody is keen to travel through it, due to its reputation for problems with crime.
How to Go Whale Watching
In all three destinations there are a number of hotels and operators offering whale watching trips. This is the most popular method of humpback spotting as it allows you to get close to the whales and follow their route as they swim past. If you don't have any luck spotting one on your first outing, there's some good news: a number of tour operators give free repeat journeys in such circumstances. Given that whale activity can be a little unpredictable, it's sensible to check whether your tour company offers this before booking.
Whale watching boat trips allow you to get close to the whales as they swim past
If opting for the boat trip you should ensure the vessel always maintains a minimum distance of 200m from the whales. This is important not only for the security of the boat and its passengers, but also because of the possible implications for the whale populations. Getting closer than the recommended distance means you run the risk of upsetting the delicate courtship rituals, or of separating new mothers from their young. This may, in turn, have an adverse effect on whale population size.
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If you want to make sure that you do not cause any disruption to the whales, or if you're less than keen about the prospect of a several-hour boat trip, you can also watch the whales from high points on the land at any of the three sites above. At times, the whales may even get as close as 50m from the shore and, provided they are not disturbed, have been known to stay in the same small area for several days on end.
Whales may get as close as 50m from the shore and stay in the same small area for several days on end
That said, whale watching from the land does, for the most part, require more patience than from a boat as visitors are less able to manoeuvre themselves into areas where whales are known to be. Sightings are therefore a little more sporadic.
To help increase your chances of seeing whales it is best to undertake the activity when the sea is comparatively calm or when the sun is less intense i.e. very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. An essential piece of kit for this is a decent pair of binoculars. You needn't spend too much on these though: you can pick up a quality set of compact binoculars, such as these Bushnell Falcon's for USD 20 or so.