The description of the boat across Golfo de Urabá from Turbo to Capurgana in our Lonely Planet guide book (“It can be a horrifically bumpy journey… You’ll laugh about this journey one day – if you don’t bite your tongue off and smash all your teeth en route”) was pretty close to accurate. The experience, however, was all too real.
We arrived in Turbo too late in the day to buy tickets in advance which meant we needed to be at the dock as early as possible in the morning. Our alarm went off at 4:40am so that we could hit snooze a couple of times then find our way to the dock more than an hour before the boat was scheduled to leave. Surprisingly we were in pretty good spirits and ended up one of the first people to get tickets (which meant we were able to get seats closer to the back of the boat – a very good thing).
The first bit wasn’t too bad. The sun was shining, the waves were bearable and we were headed for paradise. Suddenly the waves got much bigger – we must have been somewhere near the middle of Golfo de Urabá at this point – and we all got soaked from the spray of each wave. Tyler got especially drenched because he was sitting on the right side of the boat directly where the waves were breaking. This section however was only the beginning. After that we came into a small cove sheltered by mangroves and naively I thought “the worst must be over”.
Once we were through the mangrove section it was back into the big blue. This meant even bigger waves (some 10-15 feet!) and more getting wet. For me, there was a saving grace sitting behind us in the form of little girl. She couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 and was having a the time of her life! She giggled and screamed over every wave. Her childish laughter took my attention away from the man a couple of seats down holding on for dear life (and looking a little green) and also encouraged a smile on my face multiple times.
This section of waves lasted probably an hour and with the trip being forecast as approximately 2 and a half hours, I was thinking it must only be another 40 minutes or so… totally manageable. Insert “I can do this” pep talk. We had another short section in a calm cove before the grand finale.
The last part was definitely the worst. We were crashing into the waves so strongly that it wasn’t just white spray visible at the edge of the boat, but dark blue sea water started to appear. We couldn’t go straight into the waves because it would have been a massive crash down after each one (putting the nose of the boat directly into the next wave) so we were forced to go over them at an angle. While this was the best way to handle the waves it made the boat constantly sway from side to side. We went over some waves but mostly it seemed as if we were going straight through them on an awkward angle. If we didn’t have such a great captain, I’m sure we would have capsized. Every time the dark blue was visible over the edge of the boat I thought “if we lean just a few inches in that direction, that water is going to come into the boat!”
Finally, I reached a point where enough was enough. It was at that point that the man who had been green most of the ride asked the person beside him what time it was (trying to figure out how much longer we had to endure this). That person told him it was a 4 hour ride, not 2 and a half like we had thought.
Well thank goodness that awful person was wrong. A few minutes later we rounded a point and Capurgana was in sight.
As soon as we stepped off the boat, Tyler said “One day we’ll look back and laugh about this”. My immediate response was “today is not that day” and at some point I mumbled “this better be the best place on earth” – that’s a lie, I very clearly stated this at least twice with a look implying daggers were about to shoot out of my eyeballs.
We arrived safely due to the fantastic captain we had. The ocean is a wild force I don’t have enough experience with. If I was in charge, we would have all been stuck in the middle of the Golfo de Urabá, floating, waiting for rescue while watching our belongings sink to the bottom of the ocean. Dear Ocean: You have my utmost profound respect. Let’s be friends forever.
If you’re considering making this journey, you’ll want to take another route. Check out our Detour Guide to Capurgana for everything you need to know!