Getting to Capurgana is an adventure in itself. There are no roads to this small Caribbean town nestled on the edge of the Darien Gap within walking distance to the Panamanian border. To get there, there are two options: plane or boat. We took the boat; it was pretty horrendous – and apparently ours wasn’t as bad as it gets. As we walked along the vehicle-free yet surprisingly lively streets we often found ourselves wondering if Capurgana is worth the hassle.
We shakily got off the boat and found our bags then were pleasantly greeted by a woman using an umbrella to shield herself from the tropical sun. She said she had private cabins within our price range a five minute walk from the dock. We followed her to a small oasis in the middle of town. Cabañas los Almendros offers a variety of private cabins, dorm rooms, camping, laundry, a shared kitchen, restaurant and plenty of green space to spare. We definitely lucked out finding this place right off the bat. On the low end of budgets, you can pitch a tent for next to nothing, do your own laundry and cooking. For mid-range budgets, you can have your own cabin, porch and hammock then enjoy great meals at reasonable prices. Either way, you’ll probably enjoy lovely conversations with the family that runs this garden-style hostel.
Despite our great accommodations, we weren’t huge fans of Capurgana at first. This may partly because we arrived on a Saturday (weekends are party time in Colombia and since Capurgana was originally a resort town, there is no shortage of fiestas at the end of the week). Our first couple of days were full of loud music, drunk Colombian’s and to our surprise, rain which we hadn’t seen in almost two months. The beach at Capurgana is a decent spot to roll out your towel and get some sun, but the water can be pretty wavy with a strong undertow. It wasn’t a great start, but the town grew on us.
One of the best characteristics of Capurgana is the lack of traffic (unless you count stepping aside to let a mule and cart pass by as traffic). Bicycles and mules are the main modes of transportation in town. The square that acts as the center of town is a lively place and great spot to enjoy a cold beer, fresh baked pastry or ice cream.
As soon as the rain stopped, we had a great time venturing out of town to see what else the surrounding area had to offer.
We had originally considered staying in Sapzurro, the quiet neighbour of Capurgana. When we hiked there it was with anticipation that we would like it enough to move. Sapzurro has a much nicer beach than Capurgana, but it is much much quieter. If you’re looking for the laziest of days spent laying on a beach or hanging in a hammock, this is the place for you. However, if you’re looking for a little more action, we still think Capurgana is the place to go. That being said, Sapzurro should not be missed. We didn’t appreciate Capurgana fully until visiting this smaller village. While it is more picturesque, it didn’t have the same energy as Capurgana. We spent an afternoon swimming and beaching; it was probably our favourite day… for many reasons.
The beach is a huge draw, but the hike was our real thrill. Just beyond the dusty streets of Capurgana lies thick jungle, part of the legendary Darien Gap. We saw more wildlife in an hour and half on the trail between Capurgana and Sapzurro than we did on our five day trek to the Lost City. Ants, spiders, butterflies, more butterflies, lizards, frogs, howler monkeys, and soooo many birds! The trail also has a beautiful panoramic view of both Capurgana and Sapzurro from atop a ridge. The breeze at the top is extremely rewarding after a hot climb through the jungle.
The trail to Sapzurro was so diverse that we wanted to see more of the jungle and decided to head towards the El Cielo waterfall. It’s a shorter and very flat hike with a stream that you have to wade through about a dozen times. Flip flops won’t cut it on this path; they will slide around and likely cause more danger in the stream crossings on the slippery rocks. Water shoes would be best but sneakers or hiking shoes work too. There are plenty of signs that clearly lead the way thanks to a small team of people who conserve the trail (this is why there is a 3,000 COP donation/entry fee). We didn’t see as much wildlife on this trail, but it’s a really nice walk. At the end you come to a pretty little waterfall, El Cielo, and a natural pool to cool off in.
Is it worth it?
Yes. For us, it was definitely worth it. Colombian’s are extremely welcoming and friendly folks, add the Caribbean charm and isolation and this is a great little town. There’s little to no internet which also makes it the perfect place to unplug for a while. We would recommend coming for at least 3 nights so that you have enough time to see past the dust and pesky flies. Weekends are very noisy and busy so keep that in mind while deciding when to visit. Other than that, get your toes in the sand, ocean in your hair and watch out for spider webs on the trails.