The answer is simple! If you like nature and also like to support community-based tourism activities, Uramba Bahía Málaga is a destination for you: It is a worldwide recognized biodiversity hotspot, you can see humpback whales there, and you will be helping an Afro-descendant community that bet on ecotourism as a new way for the development of its territory.
Uramba Bahía Málaga is the 56th National Natural Park declared in Colombia and is located in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet: the Biogeographic Choco, in the Pacific Region.
This wonderful and highly pristine place is considered a hot spot for nature conservation worldwide. The calm waters of Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park are the preferred place for the birth and breeding of humpback whales, making this place even more special.
You can’t miss the chance to visit Bahia Malaga in Colombia. This 100% marine area contributes to increasing the representativeness of marine ecosystems in the National System of Protected Areas – SINAP- and also strengthens the socio-cultural dynamics of the afro communities living in the area through community-based ecotourism.
Discovering Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park
This protected area is located in the Pacific Coastal Region in the southwest of Colombia. The park has an extension of approximately 479.94 km² of the marine surface.
The marine waters near Bahia Malaga are considered the migratory route of humpback whales, or yubartas, (Megaptera novaeangliae). This place of calm and deep waters is annually visited by more than 500 yubarta whales from Antarctica, that come to mate and raise their calves between the months of July to October.
The Socio-Cultural Importance in the Uramba Bahía Málaga Territory
Uramba Bahia Malaga is a name of African origin, which means Minga, or group. This name arose due to the particular way in which this protected area was created.
This National Natural Park born as a joint effort between the local communities that live there and the government, the latter through the National Park System. Additionally, the park is under the surveillance of the Colombian Navy.
The afro-community councils present in Bahia Malaga are:
- La Barra,
- La Plata – Bahía Málaga, and
- Puerto España – Miramar.
This important conservation unit seeks to conserve the marine and coastal ecosystems of Bahia Malaga and to strengthen the cultural dynamics and social organization for the management of the territory based on the knowledge and ancestral wisdom of the black communities that live there.
Commercial Port or Natural Park?
But, despite the enormous natural and cultural wealth of the region, there was also the intention to turn this bay into a huge multifunctional commercial port.
Fortunately, the local community was convinced to apply alternative economic development options such as nature and cultural tourism; as well as their own conscious and responsible relationship with the territory, as their cultural practices have contributed substantially to the conservation of the area.
Thus, this reserve is the first in Colombia where community-based tourism plays a central role, and it is administered by the Afro-descendant community councils that exist in the region and the national park system. It is the first joint administration proposal in Colombia.
Thus, after much debate and argumentation from both sides, in August 2010, this area was officially declared as protected.
According to WWF:
The communities settled in Bahía Málaga affirm that the area is not only important for its biodiversity but also for its cultural richness. Black communities and indigenous peoples present in the area have achieved an important degree of social organization in their ancestral relationship with the territory, and their cultural practices have contributed substantially to the conservation of their ecosystems. In this sense, declaring Malaga a protected area serves a dual environmental and sociocultural purpose.
Uramba Bahía Málaga Biodiversity
The Uramba Bahia Malaga Park is home to an immense diversity of continental and marine flora and fauna species and has been identified as one of the priority conservation sites in the Colombian Pacific.
The marine and coastal ecosystems of Bahía Málaga represent the Colombian Pacific and are a fundamental scenario for the reproduction and breeding of the Humpback Whale and the perpetuation of wild species of seabirds and shorebirds, sea turtles, estuarine and marine fish, and crustaceans.
The annual arrival of humpback whales is its main attraction. However, the beauty and diversity of the landscapes of Bahía Málaga and its area of influence are also ideal to enjoy nature.
The park has diverse ecosystems such as very humid tropical forests, beaches, cliffs, islands, estuaries, and bodies of water with soft and rocky seabeds.
How to get to Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park
Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park is in the middle portion of the Colombian Pacific coast, in the District of Buenaventura, in the department of Valle del Cauca. There are two options to access the Park from Bogota:
Bogota – Buenaventura
First you make a Bogota-Buenaventura trip by air, with 1h 15m duration. There are 2 flights per week with Satena airlines. Then you must make the transfer Buenaventura-Juanchaco by sea, which takes 1 hour and is done in a speedboat.
Bogota – Cali
Travel from Bogota to Cali by air or land. Once in Cali, you have to travel to Buenaventura by land. Finally, take the maritime route from Buenaventura to Juanchaco, which takes 1 hour and is done by speedboat.
What to do in Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park
We recommend you plan your visit to stay for at least 3 days and 4 nights. Especially because of the long trip by road and then by boat. This is not a one-day stay destination.
Unfortunately, the visit to the Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park has been suspended due to the health emergency that the country is facing because of covid-19.
Hiking, Canoeing, and Kayaking
Enjoying the beautiful Pacific landscape by doing hiking is a great experience. In the park’s area of influence, there are hiking and canoeing activities through the mangroves.
Although there are no defined aquatic trails in the bay area, it is suggested to follow the internal circuits to visit the route of the piangua, ostional, the waterfall of La Sierpe and Tres Marías in the sector of La Plata, Playa Chucheros, Juán de Dios, the beaches of La Barra sector, Juanchaco and Ladrilleros cliffs and their natural pools.
Kayaking through mangroves is highly recommended, also canoeing to Isla Plata, which is not the most exciting but still worth the try.
Bird watching is a potential ecotourism activity in the park, but it is not well-developed. The park has a record of 107 species of birds, being an important point in the reproduction of marine birds.
Despite the huge marine and terrestrial diversity in the park, the main attraction is humpback whale watching. Thus, activities such as diving or snorkeling are not offered.
Humpback whale watching is an activity addressed by young natives from the local communities, who act as environmental interpreters.
During the whale season, the highest density of whales is between the months of September and October.
If you visit the Uramba Bahia Malaga park for a whale watching tour you should keep in mind that:
- You will receive a 10-minute induction on the importance of the area and the significance of the role it plays in ecological processes such as reproduction, calving, breeding, nursing, socialization.
- You must take a boat that carries a flag or a sighting authorization badge. The first trips leave at 8 am.
- All boats must be accompanied by a community environmental interpreter.
- The defined whale watching period is between July 15 and October 15.
- Whale watching time for each group should be in the range of 15 to 30 minutes.
- The approach to the whales should be slow, parallel, and always from behind.
- The boat should maintain 200 meters from the individuals, so do not ask to get too close.
- Avoid following the females with their calves.
- You must be patient as only up to 5 small boats are allowed per group of whales. Also, you cannot be in a hurry, as the motors will always be neutral.
Where to stay in Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park
The park does not offer accommodation, therefore our recommended options for you to stay are:
Lodging at La Barra Beach
Coco House Hotel; Casa Majagua and Vista al Mar Hotel.
Lodging at Ladrilleros Beach
Hotel Zully, Hotel Villa Cindy, and Hotel Reserva Agua Marina.
Best time to visit Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park
The park can be visited all year round. The dry season starts at the beginning of June until late September and from the beginning of December until late February. In addition, whale season starts from July to October.
Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park Entrance fees
Currently, no fees apply.
What to consider before visiting Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park
- To take any of the tours inside the park you must hire an authorized and certified guide.
- Consider wearing personal protective items (sunscreen, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
- We recommend the use of binoculars to admire animals’ behavior and beauty in their natural habitat.
- Carry valid identity documents and health insurance.
- Be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
- If you take specific medications, take them with you in a personal first aid kit.
Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, littering, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.
- National Parks Systems
About the authors
Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.
The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.