Bahia Malaga, located in the Uramba National Park, is mostly known for humpback whales who grace Colombia’s Pacific waters between June and November, but also worth a visit because of its mind boggling ecological diversity.
No roads lead here, so a direct flight or a speed boat ride from Buenaventura is the common way to access Uramba Bahia Malaga. The journey over water affords the traveler their first views of the lush jungles which spill down to the water’s edge to meet isolated beaches and the occasional fisherman’s shack.
The Municipality of Buenaventura is an area well known for its violent association with the trans-Pacific drug trade, but aside from providing hideaways for smugglers ship yards, the numerous estuaries and mangroves are home to such a staggering array of species that the area is recognized as a global hotspot of biodiversity.
Established in 2010, Uramba Bahia Malaga’s boundaries (which include islands, islets, and adjacent marine sanctuaries) cover 47,000 hectares of jungle and 137 square nautical miles of ocean. Attracting an estimated 700 humpback whales that arrive in the bay each year to mate, birth and breast feed the calves before returning to Antarctica. The bay is also home to endangered sea horses, one of the natural wonders of the ocean.
A young National Park warden named Sebastien is keen to promote the new wildlife sanctuary, but does not advise straying beyond its boundaries. The Upper El Bongo river system and San Juan estuary lie beyond the Park, where the Wounan who are indigenous to the area live self sufficiently.
Visiting them may appeal to foreign visitors keen to learn how the tribe coexists with nature, but the risk of running into paramilitary and other drug traffickers is high. Some Wounan do live within the park however. This stark contrast between ancient harmony and recent conflict gives Uramba Bahia Malaga a unique location, making it a very real place to visit if one is careful. The waterways can be explored by dugout canoe, the most apt vessel for jungle travel.
There is plenty to experience staying beach side in the quaint town of Lladrilleros. Temperatures range from 18-27 degrees and rainfall is permanent year round, created by the unique geography of the insular tropical rainforest sandwiched between the upper Andean mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It is common for rain to fall all night as the sky is torn apart by thunder and lightning. The local afrocolombian names provide an insight into the wild nature of the area – Death Estuary, Gorge of the Serpent, Tiger Cove, and Silver Island. The locals seem content with what nature provides. Fishing is good and other food can be yielded from the land. They live simply in wooden homes and are for the most part detached from the rest of the country.
If you are looking for the blue seas and comforts of the Caribbean coast, you won’t find them here, but if it is a destination which is a little off the beaten track, provides beaches, rare and wild scenery, and a rustic experience, you would do well to visit Uramba Bahia Malaga.
How to get there
- The easiest and safest way to get to Bahia Malaga is by air. There are flights departing from airports around the country that take you immediately to the bay.
- If you travel over land you have to take a bus to the port city of Buenaventura from where boats can take you to Bahia Malaga.
- If you travel through Buenaventura make sure to keep your stay in the city short. The port city has high crime rates and it’s wise to travel directly from the bus station to the boat taking you to Bahia Malaga
- While venturing into the jungle may seem attractive, it is not the smartest thing to do because it’s easy to get lost and drug trafficking does still take place in the region. Make sure to check with the locals about which places are safe to visit.
Author Simon Phillips is the owner of travel blog Elusiveworld