Exploring Nuquí, Guachalito and the Colombian Pacific

Back in March, while living in, working remotely from and exploring Colombia with Unsettled, I spent a weekend along the Pacific with two friends. Travel, even a quick weekend getaway, can be quite the adventure at times, and this memorable trip to Guachalito, near Nuquí, was a great reminder of that.

There was a delayed flight; a missed flight; walks on long stretches of remote, deserted beach; fresh fish and seafood; fresh plantains, fruit and fruit juices; coconuts falling from trees; a seemingly strange man with a machete asking if he could have said coconuts; lazy mornings and afternoons in hammocks; morning, evening and afternoon swims in the warm Pacific Ocean; sunsets with our feet in the sand and cold beers, or sometimes warm rum, in our hands; a jungle excursion to some waterfalls; SUPing along the coast; a small surf session; a last-minute scramble to get vaccinated for yellow fever / proof of a yellow fever vaccination that was apparently mandatory, as of early March, to board the flight to Nuquí — but then ended up not being asked for at all; a shortage of pesos due to an unexpected extra day and night in paradise — see above: a missed flight; nights spent looking at the stars when the clouds cooperated; and, most importantly, time spent with good friends without cell service or wifi, completely disconnected from the rest of the world.

There’s more to that weekend than this summary. I did a bit — actually, a lot — of writing along the way. So here’s the full story of one of my favorite weekends in Colombia, one of my favorite weekends in a while.

Friday, March 24
I’ve been at the local airport in Medellín with Carl and Jonathan for 4-5 hours now. Our plane to Nuquí, a small town on the Pacific, was supposed to take off at 6:15 a.m. It’s now 10:15 a.m., and the airport is becoming more packed with tired, anxious people by the minute. Due to smog in Medellín, this place is temporarily shut down, so no flights are coming or going.

It’s actually been a productive morning for me. That is usually not the case when I’m in transit, especially as I’m headed off on a beach getaway. But today? Today I’m having a productive delay.

I snoozed a little, finished Unbound by Steph Jagger, uploaded a blog post to my website, posted a new photo on Instagram, wrote a story for Mom for Community Cats of Benzie County and now I continue to wait. I will also note: I did all of the above via my phone. For someone who doesn’t like to work from her phone, that’s a big deal. *Pat on the back for productivity on a small device*

Even though it’s been a productive morning, I am ready to get to the beach now and get some surfing in. Carl and Jonathan are off buying hot dogs at the moment. That’s what happens at 10 a.m. when you’ve already been up for 5-6 hours.

It’s been an interesting morning, to say the least. I’m reminded that travel is always a bit of an adventure. I’m glad there are two other people here to pass the time with. But man, we’re all itching to go at this point. I really, really want to get out of the city and spend some time on the water this weekend.

•••••

Shortly after I wrote that, the gate agent from Satena, our airline, made an announcement. I heard “Nuquí,” saw a flurry — really just a handful — of people approach the ticket counter and then walk out to the plane, so I quickly texted Carl and Jonathan, who were still off buying / eating hot dogs, to come back.

This was it. We were leaving. We seemed to be the only plane of many leaving. We couldn’t miss it.

After what felt like a few minutes, although I’m sure it was only one, I saw Jonathan come running around the corner into our end of the terminal and then Carl. They grabbed their bags, we approached the ticket counter, the agent checked our tickets and we walked out to board the puddle-jumper to Nuquí. At long last, we were on our way!

•••••

We landed in Nuquí around 11:30 a.m. The warm, tropical weather — and knowing water wasn’t far — felt oh-so good. We flew in over the Pacific, then over some pretty thick jungle and, with a few bounces, landed on the teensy-tiny airport runway.

Within minutes, we departed the plane and exited the small airport. Honestly, this thing — a one-room airport — rivals the airports in Manistee, Michigan, and Caye Ambergris, Belize. It is smaller than small. We then sat around outside the airport waiting for Benjamin, the owner of our hotel who’d take us by boat to the hotel. I’m quite sure we were all happier to be waiting on this end of the plane ride than the other.

•••••

Between noon and 12:30, we met Benjamin. He walked us down a dirt road to a boat launch situated on a small canal. We boarded his boat and took off down the canal among mangroves, houses and a group of children swimming on a floating tree branch.

As we exited the canal, following a brief military checkpoint, and swung into the Pacific, I watched as the world opened up around me. The water was soft and smooth, like glass. No swell, no surf. I felt a bit bummed about that, but honestly, how can I be bummed to be where I am and to be doing what I’m doing? This part of Colombia is simply stunning.

As we rode across the water — past thick coastal jungle and layers upon layers of mountains — I was struck by a strong sense of freedom. By a sense of living my life without bounds. I am living a life that is location-independent. It is freeing and adventurous in so many of the “right” ways right now, and it feels oh-so good. Oh. So. Good.

On the boat, I noticed myself exhaling deeply as I took it all in: the views, the air, the feeling, at knowing where I was and what I was doing, at being someplace away from the hustle and bustle of city life, of being out in a remote location right on the water.

I noticed myself exhaling deeply as I let go, let go of whatever was weighing me down and surrendered myself to the moment, to being removed from the seemingly rapid pace of life, if only for a few days. Water — and wide-open, natural spaces — have that effect on me. It’s one of the many reasons I love water so much.

•••••

We cruised for about 30 minutes. I sat in front of Carl and Jonathan. My hair flying behind me as the boat sped along. Honestly, the Pacific has never looked so beautiful. Colombia is stunning. The coast is lined with jungle and mountains and very, very few houses. It is remote. One of the more remote places I’ve been. We hadn’t even arrived at our destination yet, and already I could feel how special this part of the world is.

•••••

We arrived at our hotel, La Joviseña, “checked into” our rooms and had lunch. Lots of fish this weekend. We’re on the coast, after all. We then went for a swim in the Pacific. It is so warm. We floated around and just enjoyed our time. We walked down the empty beach — seriously, there were no other people on this 20-30-minute walk — to a point where we could check the surf in another cove. Sadly, there weren’t surfable waves. So we headed back, climbed out on some rocks, I swam back to shore and then we continued our walk back to the hotel.

This afternoon, we read on the porch outside our rooms in hammocks. I snoozed for a bit.

After an afternoon of relaxing and another beach walk, we all went swimming again. Jonathan bought some rum. We sat around drinking, talking and soaking in the sunset and then headed to dinner when the dinner bell rang. More fish.

Tonight, we were joined by a German woman who said this is by far the best place along the Pacific in Colombia.

After dinner, Jonathan went to bed. Carl and I walked down to the beach to look at the stars. But there were no stars tonight. Not one. Too many clouds had moved in and were covering the sky.

In all, it was a really, really great day. It feels so good to be away from city madness and out near the water. So, so good.

And this place. This place is so special. I want to do my best to capture certain pieces of it while also soaking up my time here and enjoying this freeing, adventurous, soothing, relaxing, nourishing and enriching moment for what it is. Because in this moment, I am so happy I have fought pressure from various people, including myself, and challenged myself to live a more nomadic lifestyle. It’s not always easy, but moments like this make it 100% worth it. In every way.

I love that I am leading a life and pursuing adventures that make me feel alive, healthy and real. That make me feel good. That make me feel like me. The me I am, and the me I want to be. It is not lost on me that I am leading a life that would seemingly be a lot tougher to pursue were I still based in the U.S. And while it’s hard to be so far from home — and the people who make home what it is — at times, now that I’m in the thick of this, I can’t imagine my life any other way. Here and now, it feels right and fitting and good for me.

Saturday, March 25
I woke up this morning somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00, I think. Pretty much right after I woke up, the breakfast bell rang. I kind of love that they ring a bell for our meals here. So I brushed my teeth, pulled my hair into a messy bun and walked 50 feet to the general / eating area of our hotel. Still in my PJs. Sans bra. No shoes. It felt good.

Correction: it felt great.

Carl, Jonathan and I had breakfast together. Eggs and arepa. There was also a hot dog-looking thing — more of a hot dog than a sausage — but being pescetarian and all, I chose not to eat it. Which I realize is still a waste, but I just didn’t want it.

Anyway.

We had breakfast. I changed into my suit. We all walked down the beach. Still no surf today. So we walked to the end of the beach — again, this place is pretty deserted and we all love it — and rented standup paddleboards from El Cantil, another hotel on this stretch of beach. We took the boards out for an hour to an hour-and-a-half and paddled beyond where we could walk the beach.

We made it to somewhat of a jungle-covered island just off shore and sat floating on our boards for a short while. That particular spot — looking past the island to what appeared to be the end of the large cove we were in — reminded me an awful lot of Sleeping Bear Cove in Lake Michigan. The beach was barren. Picturesque. Lined with green, green trees. Mostly palm trees. The day was perfect as was the water. But I think it was the barren beach combined with the shape of the cove that reminded me so much of Sleeping Bear Cove. A small slice of home here in Guachalito, Colombia. Who knew?

•••••

After SUPing, we returned the boards and walked the length of the beach back to our hotel. I got my Kindle, found a hammock right on the beach and spent the next hour or so reading and relaxing. What more could you want in life? Honestly. The shade of the palm trees. A warm breeze. Swinging in a hammock. Listening to the waves. Reading a book. Perfection.

The lunch bell rang, and Carl, who had joined me in a neighboring hammock, and I walked to get lunch. We joined Jonathan and two of his friends, who’d just arrived, at a table. Fish soup for lunch, and I can’t remember what else. I do love the simplicity of the days here and the meals. Simple days. Simple meals.

After lunch, we all went for a swim in the ocean. Followed by some time on the beach and then a walk down the beach nearly all the way to El Cantil to walk back into the jungle to check out some waterfalls.

Following that jungle hike, we went back to the hotel, had beers on the beach and watched the sunset. Just after sunset, we were summoned to dinner; we ate dinner; and then we sat on the beach, talking and looking at the stars before the clouds moved in. It was so lovely to see the stars, and I saw the Big Dipper for the first time in a long time — since I was last in Michigan at least. An old, familiar friend in yet another new place.

I capped the day with a cold shower to wash all the sand off me. Now I’m lying in bed, the lights just went out — the electricity is only on from 6 to 10 p.m. here — listening to the sounds of the waves.

When you’re somewhere like this, it’s tough to imagine life any other way, especially city life. I’ve found myself getting lost in so many moments, really living in the moment, throughout this Colombia trip. It’s nice to realize that and take it in, to really feel it, as it’s happening.

Sunday, March 26
Our flight out of Medellín was delayed by four hours on Friday. Today, Carl and I arrived five minutes late to the Nuquí airport — the boat ride was a little longer than anticipated — and completely missed our flight back to Medellín.

It was also the only flight out today.

•••••

The airport was a ghost town. No employees in sight, save for two security guards who were on the other side of a glass window looking out at the runway. As we ran down the dirt road from the boat launch to the airport and saw how empty it was, I’m pretty sure both Carl and I knew what was coming.

Still, we looked around the one-room airport — not that there was much to look at. We peered through the window out to the runway. No activity. No planes in sight. We looked at each other, mostly in disbelief, and laughed a little. We knocked on the glass window that separated us from the security guards, and they came into the main area.

“El vuelo a Medellín?” I asked.

“El vuelo a Medellín ya se fue,” the one guard said. The flight to Medellín had already left.

Attempting to put our best Spanish into play, we asked a few more questions.

“11:15, no?”

“No, fue a las 10 o 10:30.”

“Nosotros supuesto vamos a Medellín a las 11:15. No vuelo? No otros vuelos van hoy?”

“No.”

It was slightly puzzling. Carl and I knew we’d cut it close, but this was a small airport. Our flight back to Medellín was a small flight. This wasn’t like normal airports or flights. What’s more, Benjamin, the hotel owner and our boat driver, had told us we’d leave the hotel at 10:30 to make our 11:15 flight. We trusted he knew not only the time it took to get from Guachalito to Nuquí but also the airport and how much time we’d need overall to catch our flight.

Carl and I had kept an eye on his watch and also the sky during the boat ride into town. We hadn’t seen any planes. That struck us as odd. We also wondered how, if the flight had only left five minutes prior, there were no Satena employees around. Surely they couldn’t get a flight off the ground and close up shop within five minutes. Then again, this is Nuquí; it’s quite a magical place.

Regardless of what had happened or how it had happened, it was clear the flight to Medellín had already left and that there were no other flights to Medellín, or anywhere else, today.

We thanked the security guards and walked out of the airport, discussing — or rather, figuring out — our options. I walked down the street to the Satena office; it was closed. In speaking with a local next door, I gathered the office opens again tomorrow morning at 8:00.

While I was checking the office, Carl went back to the boat launch to see if Benjamin was still there. If he was, Carl would hold him until we figured out what we were doing. We needed to come up with a plan, but as we were doing so, if we decided to go back to Guachalito, we didn’t want to miss the only boat headed that way. Today is Sunday, which means all of Nuquí is basically shut down.

Carl and I reconvened outside the airport.

With nothing else to do until tomorrow, we counted our pesos, decided to try our chances and have found ourselves back at La Joviseña.

•••••

We had lunch, and now I’m sitting in a hammock on the beach writing.

Sounds lovely, right?

It is. It really is. But if I’m being honest, I’m not 100% calm, cool and collected right now.

I am concerned about missing work meetings tomorrow, especially the meeting we have with a new partner. My boss specifically wanted me at that meeting, and while I know she will understand my situation and can catch me up after, I still feel out of sorts knowing that I’m missing it, especially since I’m not able to give my boss or our marketing team a heads up.

What will be will be, and what is is. I’m reminded of Megan Keely’s song “Que Sera Sera” that recites this phrase in English and Spanish.

And admittedly, it’s not bad to have an extra day at the beach. At the end of the day, I am safe. I am fine. I am more than fine. I’m at the most amazing beach on the Pacific Ocean in Colombia, and I will manage my work stuff when I return to Medellín tomorrow, assuming we get on a flight out — er, the flight out — tomorrow. We’re also still trying to figure out where we’re staying tonight and how much that’s going to cost us, seeing as we don’t quite have enough pesos for another night here.

•••••

But enough with the flight drama. Let’s take a step back. The day started off great. I woke up at 6:00 and walked down the beach with my camera. I wanted to take photos, which I did, and also check out the surf, which looked slightly better than it had Friday and Saturday. A welcome sight.

As I was walking, I realized my footprints were the only ones in the sand. I was the first one to be walking the beach this morning. Kind of amazing.

I went back to the hotel, got dressed properly and read in a hammock on our porch. It was a peaceful morning. When the breakfast bell rang, I got up and went over to breakfast — scrambled eggs, arepa, cheese and the most delicious white pineapple. And coffee.

I followed breakfast with a quick surf down past the point — about a 20-minute walk from the hotel. I surfed for a little under an hour; we had a flight to catch — or so I thought.

I was the only one out there, and I was in nothing but a t-shirt and my bikini. That’s notable to me because, with the exception of a surf in Lake Michigan last summer, I’ve only ever surfed in a wetsuit.

I caught a few waves for short, shallow rides and took a tumble many times. Definitely not my best or most peaceful surf to date — the water and I weren’t working together today — but it was still nice to be out there. And I was absolutely, positively the only one out there. I’ve never had a solo surf like that, not even in Lake Michigan.

Trying not to lose track of time, I returned my board and walked back along the beach to the hotel, rinsed off in the shower, got dressed and packed up. Carl and I settled up with Benjamin for our lodging and transportation and hopped on the boat with him back to Nuquí.

•••••

The boat ride was beautiful — a little choppier than Friday — and we saw dolphins along the way. Beautiful spotted dolphins. We circled back to see them and then continued on.

The coastline here is incredible. Did I mention that yet? On a day like today and on the day we arrived, there are so many hues of blue. Not even shades. Hues. The layers of mountains mixed with the water is stunning. Just stunning. And when you’re out at sea cruising along the coastline for 30-40 minutes, you realize just how remote and spectacular this place really is.

We cruised off the ocean and then up the canal, passing by the wooden houses in Nuquí that line the water. Carl and I knew we were cutting it close, so we quickly thanked Benjamin for everything, said goodbye and ran down the dusty road to the airport.

You know what happens next. The airport is empty. We realize we’ve missed our flight. With no way back to Medellín today, we end up back at La Joviseña for another night.

This whole ordeal? This whole adventure? I like to think this is “embracing the unknown,” Unsettled’s motto, at its finest.

•••••

Fast forward to this afternoon and one of the hammocks on the beach. I just returned here after a talk with Benjamin and the older Colombian woman who’s staying here with her husband — she is an angel. We sat on a couch on Benjamin’s porch and talked through what’d happened at the airport this morning. (I like to think of that meeting as the Spanish lesson I’ll be missing tomorrow.)

Carl and I will be staying here at La Joviseña tonight for 60,000 COP each — roughly $20 USD. That includes lunch, dinner and breakfast tomorrow. To give some perspective, on Friday and Saturday, we paid 202,000 COP per person per night with three meals included. So this didn’t turn out too bad for us.

We leave here at 7 a.m. tomorrow and, when we arrive in Nuquí, hope the airline can get us on the plane that heads back to Medellín early tomorrow afternoon at little to no extra cost.

All said, life is pretty good. To be stuck for an extra day in this hammock at the beach with a tropical rain lightly falling — but I’m under a palm tree, so what gives — and waves crashing to my right isn’t half-bad. With the exception of that whole missing-an-important-work-meeting thing, I can do this. And if that’s my biggest problem, I’d say I’m doing pretty well. I need to let go of that. Because really, there’s not much I can do about it at this point. The world isn’t going to end if I miss one meeting. So I’m letting go and appreciating this moment for what it is — an extra day on one of the most amazing, most remote beaches I’ve ever been to.

There’s a time and a place for planning and figuring sh*t out. There’s also a time and a place for living in the moment and not getting caught up in what’s to come. Life is a balance of both.

•••••

We capped off the day with a long sunset swim in the Pacific, followed by beers on the beach in our bathing suits and then dinner. The five of us — me, Carl, Jonathan and Jonathan’s friends — then sat on the beach, talking, drinking and looking at the stars.

As I was brushing my teeth this evening, I walked out of the room and off the porch to stand on the sandy path, just to take in the stars one more time. When I woke up this morning, this certainly wasn’t how I was planning to end today, but I have to say it didn’t turn out half-bad.

Monday, March 27
This morning, Carl and I woke up around 6:00 to have breakfast before hopping on the boat to Nuquí with Benjamin.

I should note that Jonathan was always supposed to leave today; he planned to be here Friday to Monday. So he was not part of the whole missed flight fiasco yesterday and is scheduled to leave this afternoon around 1:00.

All five other people staying at the hotel joined us in varying stages for breakfast. It wasn’t meant to happen that way, since Carl and I were eating breakfast and leaving so early, but it just did. Beyond the five of us — me, Carl, Jonathan and Jonathan’s two friends — there was also an older Colombian couple staying at the hotel. For the past nine years, they’ve been spending three months of every year there. Guachalito is an annual tradition for them.

They’re characters in the best, most lovable way. Every morning, the man would show up to breakfast in his PJs with slightly-messy hair. He has a sun-kissed face, a bit of a belly and wears a beaded necklace. The woman is so motherly and really looked out for us. I’ll remember her for her simple, beautiful, beachy dresses.

As we spoke with the woman this morning before leaving, mostly about missing our flight the day before, she said, “There’s a solution to everything.” I feel it was a great reminder not only for that moment but for so many things in life.

•••••

The boat ride back to Nuquí was smooth. In the canal, we hit low tide, which made for a slightly-longer boat ride. It’s incredible how much the water level can fluctuate.

We unloaded at the boat launch and walked to the airport.

We spoke with a man at the Satena desk in broken Spanish. Since our question about seats on the 1 p.m. flight to Medellín was quite specific and our story from yesterday was slightly confusing — because we didn’t fully understand what had happened ourselves — I’m pretty sure he had no clue what we were asking.

He did tell us we could get on the 1 p.m. flight but didn’t check anything — and Carl noticed there was no computer behind the desk. Which likely explains what happened yesterday: the flight was full, there was no way of knowing who was supposed to be on it and they left.

Benjamin had also made his way to the airport and was talking to a man with another airline and discovered there was a flight to Medellín leaving at 10 a.m. that could take us.

It was nearing 9 a.m. So as Carl and I weighed that option, we also decided to walk down the street to the Satena office to see what could be done there.

At the office, I told the Satena employee what had happened yesterday. She explained to me that the Satena folks had tried to communicate with us that the plane would be leaving earlier on Sunday. But since Carl and I were at the beach with no cell service or wifi, we never got the memo. There was no way we could’ve gotten the memo. I explained this to her; she understood.

I explained the situation to Carl. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the whole scenario. Only in Nuquí. This explained so much. Also, what flight leaves 45 minutes early? Honestly.

The woman was looking into seats on the flight today, but it was taking a while. (She was doing it all from her cell phone.) So then she said we could go to Satena in Medellín and ask for a reimbursement if we wanted to get on an earlier flight out of Nuquí with another airline today.

We decided to do that.

So I explained to Benjamin, who’d been waiting outside, what was happening; Carl and I thanked the woman a lot; and we walked back to the airport with Benjamin.

We bought tickets from the airline Benjamin had spoken with, and our tickets were actually cheaper than what we’d paid with Satena. So in “missing” our Sunday flight and rescheduling with another airline, we actually saved on airfare.

But here’s another hurdle. Since we weren’t planning on spending a third day and night in Guachalito, we no longer had enough cash and the airport in Nuquí is not equipped to handle credit cards. So the man with the airline told us we could pay at the ticket counter in Medellín for the same price for the flight we were about to take. Who lets you get on a plane without paying for the ticket first? Not that we were about to argue that plan.

Tickets in hand, we thanked Benjamin for everything, gave him a hug and said goodbye. He made sure we knew to wait at the airport and that they’d be calling for our flight soon. Funny guy. The folks at La Joviseña are great. If you ever find yourself in Guachalito, I definitely recommend it.

Carl and I waited a few minutes, and then, when they called our flight, we passed through “security.” There was really no security at the airport. The guy looked at me — no scanners for myself or my bag — and simply nodded me through.

We waited a few minutes, and then everyone was motioned out to the runway to board the puddle-jumper back to Medellín. We were given a juice box and cookies and ear plugs — major airlines don’t even do that for 4-5-hour flights across the U.S. — and we were off.

Our 10 a.m. flight took off at 9:49 a.m. Oh, Nuquí.

•••••

Nuquí and Guachalito will forever have a special place in my heart. Hammock time. Fish, plantains and wonderful fruits and juices at every meal. Warm ocean water. Barren beaches. No cell service. No wifi.

It’s good to know that places like that exist. Places that are remote and untouched by crowds of people, hotel chains and massive resorts. I hope that stretch of the Colombian Pacific remains that way.

So to sum it all up: Nuquí and Guachalito are awful. Really. You wouldn’t want to visit at all 😉

3 thoughts on “Exploring Nuquí, Guachalito and the Colombian Pacific

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