Boca de Camarones is a tiny hamlet on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is so small that most maps do not even mention it. Yet, it is so close to Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos (Flamingo Sanctuary) that we planned to drive there, park the car and look around for flamingos. However, as often in Colombia, the reality altered our itinerary.
Getting from Palomino to Camarones, a small town just off the Troncal del Caribe, took less than an hour. That’s where we left the highway following the signs to the Flamingo Sanctuary. The road was steadily getting dustier and less maintained. A number of times, we noticed local folks looking for something between scarcely growing weathered trees and bushes. A little further the mystery was solved when we passed a group of people carrying heaps of dry wood.
Suddenly the asphalt ended next to the sign announcing that the Sanctuary was just a mere 50 meters ahead. We left our car under the solitary tree growing along the road, and walked toward a nearby lagoon.
Amazingly, there was nobody around. It was absolutely quiet: a nice change of scenery from over-visited Tyrona Park. The lagoon with a few abandoned boats looked picture-perfect. A little bit further we noticed some activity: a small group of people, clearly tourists judging by their clothes, were getting into a boat with the colorful sail. Once they all got in, a local looking individual started pushing the boat from the beach. The water was so shallow that it took him a long time getting to the point where he jumped into the boat.
It was quite an entertaining sight, which kept us occupied while walking toward the seacoast.
Soon, sand morphed into drying mud still too wet in some places. Couple times we had to walk around when the surface became too squishy.
The village was not pretty. The smell of rotting garbage was overpowering and litter was everywhere. Nearby, there were a dodgy-looking restaurant and a hostel. Ok, maybe not truly dodgy just rundown, but it was surrounded by mounds of rotting shrimp remnants coupled with squashed empty beer cans, old papers, and other less identifiable stuff. The loud music was blaring from the hostel even though it looked deserted from afar.
The whole village was the stark reminder of the plight of indigenous tribes in Colombia.
Our arrival woke up a couple dogs and a shady individual who slept in a hammock near the water. He offered us a boat ride to see flamingos.
On a previous night during dinner I mentioned that we were planning to visit the sanctuary to the owner of the cabins where we stayed. She prepared us for what to expect. According to local knowledge, once in the village, you would be approached by several people who run the boats to spot the flamingos. If you are lucky and there is already a large group of people waiting to go in the same boat, you would be charged about 20,000 pesos, otherwise if you decide to do it on your own the price would skyrocket and it would be up to you either to agree or to haggle. The local guides might cheat and show birds that closely resemble flamingos, but, in fact, are not flamingos at all. They do it mainly because it is necessary to cross the entire lagoon and go very deep into the swamp to find the places where flamingos might (or might not on that particular day and time) be found. It requires to spend more gas for the boat engine, so to keep profits higher the guides prefer to stay closer and show some random birds to clueless visitors.
Armed with this knowledge, the perspective of touring the swamp in a dingy boat chasing elusive birds which may or may not be flamingos was not exciting. I guess the guy sensed our apprehension and went back to his siesta.
We carefully navigated between dogs and kids, and witnessed a fascinating spectacle of shrimp catching by villagers casting nets over and over again in a knee-to-waste deep lagoon.
Finally, the sea! Suddenly, everything around looked like a completely different world. The deep blue skies, white fluffy clouds, twenty or so fishing boats jumping up and down between waves – it was an idyllic seascape from the bygone era.
The fairly strong wind cooled the afternoon heat. Soon, all signs of human existence disappeared, and it was just sand, sun, and gleaming water.
Boca de Camarones on Google Maps:
Boca de Camarones is a part of the larger administrative entity called the Camarones township. Here are some interesting facts about the township:
Camarones is the plural Spanish form of camarón, meaning “shrimp”
The history of Camarones:
In pre-colonial times, the Camarones township area was inhabited by indigenous Guanebucanes people. They were known for farming, hunting and fishing, mining and making jewelry. With the arrival of Europeans, Guanebucanes left the area and migrated to Sierra Nevada joining the Kogi and Wayúus.
During colonial times, the town of Camarones was situated along the beach, a few miles away from its current location. However, attacks and looting by pirates and storm surges that flooded the coastal area forced the town to relocate away from the sea.
By the mid-twentieth century, the township saw a decline in population with locals leaving in search of better jobs and living conditions in bigger cities.
Currently, the area’s population predominantly consists of indigenous Wayúus and Afro-Colombians.
Fishing is one of the main economic activities of the township. Farms are scattered here and there raising cattle and goats. Tourism is becoming a more prominent part of the local economy. Visitors mostly coming in search of flamingos and turtles, and relaxing on white sand beaches.
The seacoast consists largely of low clay cliffs. The white sand beaches are located at the mouths of rivers.
The climate is dry. The temperature varies between 28°C to 45°C. The intense heat can become dangerous during a daytime. The most frequent rains occur from September to November.
- Camarones (Colombia) from Wikipedia (in Spanish)
- Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos (in Spanish)
Camarones on Google maps: