Gorgona National Natural Park a small island, 50 kilometers out of the Colombian pacific coast. There are 2 main islands (Gorgona and Gorgonilla) and 2 tiny rocky keys.
Gorgona National Natural Park is an island, and its name derives from a historical event related with the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. When Pizarro’s men arrived on the island in 1527 many died of snake bites. The Spaniard had no hesitation in comparing this tragedy with the ‘Gorgon’ of Greek mythology, who had snakes for hair. He also described the place as ‘hell’ Pizarro could not have imagined that the island would eventually become a hell on earth for thousands of convicts when it was made into a maximum security prison some hundreds of years later. However, the natural reserve, which still preserves the ruins of the prison, is historically important not only for these events but also as a pirate base and the seat of a XIII-century pre-Colombian Tumaco-La Tolita culture (a key point for our understanding of the region’s history). Nowadays, of course, it provides an ideal setting for ecotourism.
Three other factors make this Park a special place. Firstly, it is not only strategically located but also has enormous potential for scientific research, a fact that earned it the sobriquet of the Isla Ciencia or ‘Science Island’ Secondly, the waters separating Gorgona from the mainland coast are unusually deep, reaching as much as 85 metres in places. Finally there is the peculiar appearance of the two islands, La Gorgona and La Gorgonilla, from a distance, giving the appearance of a humpback whale with its calf at its side. The hump ends in three hills. The island itself is 85% covered in dense rain forest, rich in young trees and fungus ferns.
This small archipelago is enormously important biologically and ecologically. It is home to both land and coastal life, and it is visited by oceanics creatures.
Visitors to the Park will have the chance to enjoy two of the most bio-diverse ecosystems of the tropics: the coral reefs and the tropical rain forest. The islands also provide a wide variety of marine and land habitats (rocky areas, coral, sands and different depths in the former case, and forest, cliffs, beaches and tidal rocks in the latter), allowing a confluence of biological diversity in a relatively small island and marine environment.
Many rivulets run into the sea from Gorgona, mainly on the island’s east side. Visitors will find more than 25 streams and creeks in the drier part of the year and as many as 75 in the rainier months. Lakes Tunapurf and Ayantuna, both of which provide a habitat for white caimans, lie at a height of 80 metres in the south-east of the island.
The differentiation of arboreal strata determines the ‘jungle’ vegetation of Gorgona, where some 161 species from 104 genera have been reported. Seventeen of these species are new to science. Key species include oak and the ‘Colombian pine’ which are found on the mainland, most typically in cloud forest at higher altitudes than Gorgona.
The Gorgona Park is important in the region as a nesting site for migratory seabirds and for its relationship with a number of species including the humpback whale.
The biodiversity of Gorgona’s ecosystems means the Park has a rich and varied fauna. Some 381 species of marine fish have been identified in the waters of the Park. The protected area also shelters 11 species of whales and dolphins and 4 species of sea lions. The humpback whale is one of the island’s greatest tourist attractions. This is a very large creature which requires a wide range of habitats stretching over enormous distances to complete its life cycle. Each year around 800 whales arrive at Gorgona. The Park is an important habitat for them during the breeding season between June and November.
The island guarantees the reproduction of various species of fish like hake and sea bream which are important both commercially and for tourism, but have come under pressure as a result of illegal fishing.
Another of the island’s attractions is provided by the Park’s coral reefs, which are the largest on Colombia’s Pacific coast and the most developed and diverse in the Tropical East Pacific, as well as being the best preserved.
Only a small community of people live in the Gorgona Park, comprising National Park officials, volunteer park agents, researchers and residents working for the Concession which provides eco-tourism services in the area. Most of the population in the Park’s hinterland are of African descent, and they are principally engaged in fishing. The inhabitants of Guapi have a rich folklore and delicious local cuisine, which visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy.
- Established: 1984
- Area: 61,687 hectares (Gorgona, Gorgonilla and marine area)
- Altitude: Between 0 and 330 metres above sea level
- Climate: Warm and wet
- Average temperature: 27°C
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: The Gorgona National Natural Park belongs to the district of Isla Gorgona y Gorgonilla in the municipality of Guapi, Department of Cauca, The nearest point on the mainland is the village of Bazan at Punta Reyes, 35 kilometres away in the municipality of El Charco (Nariño).
- HOW TO GET THERE: There are two basic ways to reach the island:
- 1.- Via Guapi: By prior reservation It Is possible to request transfer by sea to the Park.
- 2.- Via Buenaventura: By prior reservation, launches can be hired at the harbour for the approximately four-hour voyage. There is only the express service for the return trip. Passage can also be obtained on the local ferry, which takes around twelve hours.
- WHERE TO STAY: The Park has two accommodation blocks joined by a covered corridor. Each block has nine rooms and capacity to sleep a total of 40 people. Each room has its own private bathroom, There are also ten four-room houses, each with its own separate bathroom, The complex also has a swimming pool for diving training, a Jacuzzi and basketball and volleyball courts.
- WHERE TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: The nearest hospitals are in Guapi and Buenaventura.
- WHERE TO EAT: The restaurant offers a varied menu including typical local as well as international cuisine, Visitors may opt for a variety of fish dishes and desserts made from local products. The restaurant seats 54 diners.
- HOW LONG TO STAY: The idea stay is four days and three nights.
- WHEN TO GO: If you wish to enjoy a chance encounter with humpback whales or observe them from the beach, you may visit the protected area from June to November which is when these marine mammals reach the waters of the Colombian Pacific. Bear in mind that September and October are the rainy months.
WHAT TO VISIT IN THE SANCTUARY:
The most important natural sites are as follows: El Planchon, a sunken old boat, where numerous different marine species can be observed by snorkelers. The Playa Blanca, Pizarro, La Azufrada, Palmeras and Yundigua beaches are also very popular, Snorkel off Yundigua beach in the area known as El Acuario (the ‘Aquarium’) provides a chance to observe fish as they approach the shore. One of the main attractions is unquestionably La Camaronera beach, which is washed by the abundant clear waters of 25 permanent streams. At least ten creeks run out across the sand in the space of less than half a kilometre.
If visitors plan a long walk, they can follow the Playa Palmeras path which passes through five kilometres of rich vegetation, crossing bridges and up wooden steps, from where the island of Gorgonilla be viewed, The best recommendation for those who prefer a shorter walk is to follow the La Chonta path, which is around 800 metres long and is ideal for the observation of secondary forest and medicinal plants.
Visitors should not leave without visiting the meteorological station and interpretation centre, an interactive facility where they will discover the harmony that can and should exist between man and the natural environment.
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK:
Options abound for visitors looking for more specific leisure activities in addition to visiting the main spots on the island. The most important of these are:
- Diving: Water temperature, salinity and transparency are ideal for a pleasant diving experience Each dive provides an opportunity to swim with manta rays, sharks, whale sharks and schools of fish, The main spots for diving are El Remanso, La Tiburonera, La Plaza de Toros, Las Montañitas I and II, and La Cazuela.
- Observation of the fauna, principally marine mammals: Whales swim approximately eight
thousand kilometres each year from the South Pole to the tropical Pacific. Humpback whales make their first appearances off Isla Gorgona in June, There they mate and give birth in the warm waters of the tropical sea. In November they leave, heading back to the cold.
- Guided walks: Hiking on interpretation trails and in areas open to the public. These activities are led by the Park’s environmental and cultural heritage guides. Rubber boots must be worn. The internal circuits available for walkers are the Playa Palmeras and La Chonta trails mentioned above.
- Other aquatic activities like snorkeling.
- Other activities: Monitoring, photography and video.
- Pay close attention to young children below the age of 5 on stairs and platforms, and in close contact with nature and fauna.
- Walk only on authorised trails accompanied by a Park agent or guide, and follow their instructions. If instructions are not followed, the Gorgona Concession and/or the National Parks Unit will not be liable for accidents during your stay in the area or for the loss of valuables. Qualified Spanish-speaking guides are available for optional activities inside and outside the Park.
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