Pacifico Hostel was a huge highlight for me when I was in Colombia, but it is not very well known outside of the South American travelling circle. Pacifico Hostel is located in one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, the Bahia Malaga National park, which borders the Pacific coast of Colombia. This Bahia Malaga National park is full of vibrant green tropical jungles, turquoise rivers, waterfalls, mangroves and hidden treasures. The jungle is bursting with wildlife, and if you visit during the months of July and October, you will see giant Yubarta whales as they migrate down the Colombian Pacific Coast to reproduce.
Whilst Pacifico Hostel only opened its doors to backpackers in 2017, it has been a project in the making for over 3 years. Here, Andres Conde explains the bumpy road from the corporate ladder to owning the first hostel in the Bahia Malaga National Park.
“I was just another corporate employee who seem to have the "perfect job" and the "perfect career," but I felt life could be way more than that. I finish my BS in Engineering and I got an internship in Finance and Marketing for one of the biggest companies in Colombia and the whole of Latin America. I worked there for 4.5 years until I became something like a product manager for one of the biggest brands in Colombia. Whilst working, I started traveling but I decided to travel my own country first before going to other places, which end up being the best decision ever, because that was the thing that allow me to see what was happening with tourism in Colombia and how everything was changing.
In that period of me going up the corporate ladder, I realised money doesn't bring you happiness. I could afford to go traveling for months at a time, but I couldn't actually go because of my job; I had the money, but I couldn’t find the time to spend it. I wasn't happy, I wanted experiences, to try and make a difference and I knew what I could be capable of. So, over time you get frustrated at work, you start hating Sundays, your job, your routine. The same things that all the travelers I've met say to me when I ask them why they quit their job to travel ( I haven't met anyone who regrets that decision).
Long story short, I decided to start my own business so I could have more time and really make the most out of my life without selling all my energy to a 9-5 corporate job. I don't really remember the day I decided that my perfect business was to own a hostel, but what I remember is that when I thought of it, I was sure that a hostel would be perfect for me and that was what I really wanted to do. After that making that decision, I dedicated all of my time and money to chasing that dream, travelling around Colombia for almost 2 years, looking for the perfect location. When I finally found it, I quit my job, got a huge loan from the bank and was ready to do it! BUT! in my last week of working, the owner of the land that I had negotiated pulled off the deal, so I ended up without a job, without land, and with a huge debt from the bank. It took me one more year to find another place and to pull together the money I needed to open the hostel. Now I can tell you it was the BEST DECISION of my life. I live my dream everyday and after all that journey, I just feel I (and everybody) can achieve anything they want”.
When you arrive at the Pacifico Hostel in Bahia Malaga National park, it feels like you have found a heaven on earth.
The surrounding water is bright green, the vibe is super chilled and you will wake to the sound of the waves of the ocean lapping against the cliff, and when the tide goes out, you have a private beach all to yourself. But one of the most appealing things about Pacifico Hostel, is that they are committed to giving back to the local communities of the Bahia Malaga National Park.
All of their tours are ran by local guides, they buy all of their fish from the neighbouring village and with the money they make, a percentage of it goes towards financing beach clean ups and supporting cultural activities for the local children. Pacifico Hostel has an extensive recycling system, and they really try to minimise the amount of waste they produce, being responsible through tourism.
To get to Pacifico Hostel from the city of Cali, you will need to take a 3 hour bus from Cali’s Terminal de Transportes (the main bus station). Just ask around when you get in to the station, plenty of touts will direct you towards to bus for Buenaventura. Tickets costs around COL$25,000 (€7 / $8).
The bus drops you off close to the centre of Buenaventura where you will need to walk down to the Tourist Harbor (use Map.me) which is around a 15 minute walk.
From here, you will need to catch a 2 hour boat directly to Pacifico Hostel. They leave every day at 8am, 10.30am, 1pm and 4pm. You need to buy your ticket at the Bahia Mar Boat Office and ask for Pacifico Hostel. The cost for a return ticket is COL$74,000 (€21 / $24), which includes COL$7000 (€2 / $2) for dock taxes, which are being used to fund the local beach clean-up programme.
Whilst Pacifico hostel is encased by the Pacific ocean, when the tide is out, you can easily walk to a neighbouring village. This takes around 20 minutes, walking through rivers, jungle and eventually out on to the beach, with a short walk up to town.
If you wanted to go further a field and into the jungle for a tour of the mangroves (see below), transport can be arranged from this village. Ask the volunteers when you get to Pacifico Hostel for more information.
Otherwise, it is a case of staying put in a hammock, sunbathing on the beach or cuddling up to Cosmos the dog, Pacifico hostel's official mascot!
Even though you are marooned on a cliff in the middle of the Pacific ocean, there are a few things to do whilst enjoying this little slice of paradise and digital detox! All the information is provided for you upon arrival to Pacifico Hostel by volunteers or Andres but here are a few suggestions from me:
- Get up early and do some sunrise yoga and meditation
- Take a canoe and paddle through the mangrove’s, keeping an eye out for caiman
- Swim in the moonlight and watch your whole body light up with bioluminescent plankton
- Watch the sunset from the hostel or take the boat out to watch it in the middle of the ocean!
- Take Surf lessons. Two brothers who provide free surfing lessons for the local children of Juanchaco and are deeply involved in beach clean-ups and raising awareness about plastic waste, will also help you with your surf!
- Explore Juanchaco village! Make sure you know the times of the tide, otherwise you’ll be stranded!
- Chill in a hammock and read your book or simply watch the world go by.
- Swim in the ocean with Pacifico hostel’s dog, Cosmos.
- Check out the hostels cocktail selection! I recommend the Mojitos!
- If you are there between July and October, book a whale watching tour!
Pacifico Hostel has 'jungle dorms' each with 8 beds. These stunning wooden cabins really offer the chance to be submerged in nature, with sliding doors offering a view right out onto the the surrounding ocean and jungle.
Cost per night for a bed in on of their jungle dorms is COL$30,000 (€9 / $10). There are showers nearby ran by rainwater, a huge kitchen (although they also have amazing on-site chefs), a fully stocked bar, plenty of hammocks and chillout areas and a bonfire to bring in the evenings with panoramic views of the Pacific ocean.
Pacifico hostel is completely isolated and your movements to the nearby village are dictated by the tide. There is also no Wifi - a pure digital detox. The beauty of simplicity.
There is also the option to pitch your tent for a fraction of the cost.
The pitch area at Pacifico Hostel is stunning, right on the ocean front and with some of the best views you will ever wake up to. You are close to the shower block and far enough away from the social areas to get some peace and quiet.
If you have a tent, I would strongly recommend doing this.
There are 2 options:
At Pacifico hostel: You can sign up for breakfast / lunch / dinner at the hostel. The ladies at Pacifico Hostel make incredible and authentic Colombian dishes for COL$15,000 (€4 / $5) per meal with veggie options available, but you must tell them in advance.
In Juanchaco village: Or you can head to the nearby village and stock up on some local produce and delicious fruit and veg. Outside of meal times, you can use the kitchen at the hostel and it has everything you need to cook up a storm.
I would suggest doing a bit of both. You can eat in the village, but options are limited as all of their supplies (apart from seafood) are imported from the mainland by boat. I would also suggest bringing snacks with you if you are anything like me!
- Bug repellent - you are in the middle of the jungle
- Warmer clothes for the evening
- Biodegradable soap
- A good book / journal / pack of cards
- Battery pack (there are limited plug sockets at the hostel)
- Plenty of cash - there are no ATMs nearby.
- Snacks to help between meals ;)
Like with many other hostels, Pacifico Hostel is reliant on the help of volunteers. And as a way to spend more time on this little slice of paradise FOR FREE, why not?
Volunteers are permitted to stay at Pacifico hostel free of charge with all food included. In exchange, you will be responsible for making the beds, washing, helping with the bar, keeping the common spaces clean and tidy and washing the dishes after breakfast/lunch/dinner. Pacifico hostel asks for a minimum commitment of 3 weeks ~ I mean, there are worse places to spend 3 weeks ~ sign me up! If you are interested, send the team an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can get involved in other areas as well such as beach clean ups or you could help with the local communities and really get an idea of what life is like in this remote area of Colombia. Ask at Pacifico Hostel for more details.