A journey to an ancient land: el Chocó

Black rocks against a grey sea and blue sky in the Pacific coast

Guest blog by Irene Rincón
It was October when I entered the thick jungle of el Valle, in the Pacific region of Chocó. On the days before my arrival, my imagination led me to draw the black silhouette of the native people who live on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Images of dark and rainy days and many different shades of green invaded my mind. My fantasy was not mistaken about the predominant colors of the scene that awaited me.

For me, traveling to el Chocó is a journey to a land that seems to belong to another time, an ancient time that precedes us humans. I would call it a prehistoric place.


Jungle in the Colombian Pacific

The only way to get to the remote and almost inaccessible region of el Chocó is by aircraft or by boat, through the wavy ocean or the labyrinthine rivers. There are no roads to this place from the big cities or what we call civilization. The lack of means of transport adds a feeling of ancientness to the zone. I got there by taking a flight from Medellín to the airport at Bahía Solano. From above you get a sense of the excessive isolation that characterizes the Pacific coast of Colombia.

I saw kilometers and kilometers of what seemed like lots of green cotton figures standing together: it was the wilderness seen from above. Suddenly, the airplane began to fly very low: I felt like we were going to land on the crown of a tree. Instead we landed on a minuscule patch of land: the only one free of the jungle´s vast vegetation. Even that short runway was riddled with holes made by the growing grass.

A white orchid pushes its way out of black rock in the Pacific

After landing at the minute airport – a house made of wood and a short runway – I traveled in a truck to the nearest town, el Valle. From this point onward, the sensation of entering a prehistoric land intensified. Everything in the Pacific is huge, impressive and unexpected: the black rocks on the coast with white orchids growing from their surface, and the green bushes covering every part of the land, curving along the shape of the seashore and falling into the water in an imposing variety of shapes.

La Ensenada de Utría – a magnificent round geological formation on the coast with a small mouth were the marine water flows inside before heading back out to the deep sea – is a chamber for the ocean and its biodiversity.

The water is green due to the intense emerald color of the jungle reflected in the natural pool. It is so clear that you can see many kinds of fish and coral of different colors when you look down from above. It is like witnessing a natural spectacle inside an enormous fishbowl, without waves, full of colossal, minuscule and diverse animals swimming in front of your eyes. Now, just think about the whales.

The spectacular Ensenada de Utría in Chocó

The humpback whales come every year between August and October to give birth to their broods. These gigantic and ancient mammals make a big journey from the Antarctic, searching for the warm water of the tropics to bear their young.

The turtle, another old species, is one of the most characteristic and commonly seen creatures of this place. Their origin goes back to the Mesozoic Era, more than 200 million years ago, and they survived the climatologic changes that made many other living beings extinct. These longstanding reptiles are seen swimming in the green water of the Ensenada or walking through the grayish sand of Chocó’s coastline.

Rocky sea in the Colombian Pacific coast

To get there we had to walk for eight hours, starting from el Valle. This was a hard walk, through the jungle without a path: we had only our native guide breaking the vegetation with a large, sharp knife to make our way.

Then we got to a swampy land: it was the mangrove on the border of the Ensenada. To increase that feeling of hugeness, there was an animal swaying not very far away from the mangrove: a gigantic stingray. The image of that big, cartilaginous fish among other natural beauties is what keeps me going back over and over again to this place that really seems to be stopped in time.

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    Nice!! :)

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    NIce post. i like to read it. Thank you very much for shaing this.

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    I love the fact that its ecosystem is unexploited and I hope that doesn’t change. This truly is a gem of a destination in Colombia.