Capurganá: Paradise earned

The tranquil bay of Capurgana in the Darien.
The tranquil bay of Capurgana in the Colombian Darien.

Nobody said it was going to be an easy place to reach. In the case of Capurganá, the journey was formidable: flying in a small prop plane, braving a treacherous boat ride, but all worth it when you arrive in a remote earthly paradise, far from everything, and where cars don’t exist.

The jewel of the Colombian Darién is an area surrounding Sapzurro, a quiet cove nestled near the border of Panama. The walk to Sapzurro from Capurganá takes an hour through dense jungle, where you are surrounded by a lush green forest, home to parrots, toucans, and monkeys. Even if you don’t catch a glimpse of all the abundant wildlife, you will hear the wail of howler monkeys patroling the treetops – usually out of view, but never out of earshot.

When hiking along the coast of the Darién, wear essential clothes and shoes, and know that a couple selling beverages awaits you halfway up the trail where you can catch your breath, wipe the sweat from your brow, and taste some of the freshest juice in Colombia – possibly from a tree or plant you’ve never heard of.

Many choose to walk rather than pay for a water taxi, as your first look of Sapzurro begins from behind a banana tree, leaves parted, and with a view that makes you forget all your hassles. Your first swim in the turquoise water is a hard earned reward. Chances are, it will only be you and a few sharing the sand.

Rent your snorkel gear in Capurganá and haul it over to Sapzurro. The water along the main beach tends to be cloudy, but if you head towards the open sea you will find a lively reef. Although it doesn’t compare with the larger reefs in Capurganá, it is only meters from the sand, and swimming with the barracudas are many tropical fishes.

After a few hours reveling in the cove’s warm water and vacant shore, take a walk to Panama. There is a staircase and uphill path that will get you to the border in 15 minutes. Bring your passport to show to the Colombian and Panamanian immigration officers. A laisse-faire approach to border security aligns perfectly with the carefree atmosphere of the region.

Down the other side of the hill is Panama’s Playa Miel, which many say tops Sapzurro. Unfortunately, I was there during the windy season (January and February) when the ocean current carries trash to the shoreline. For the other ten months of the year, however, the area seems to be unspoilt, and a Kodak moment for many who visit.

In Sapzurro, there are a few modest lodges. Sleeping in such a serene place has its charm, but head back to Capurganá – this time in a boat – for the night. The best food I’ve eaten in Colombia is at Josefina’s: a small seafood shack on the beach. In five nights in Capurganá, I ate dinner there four times. My only regret from the trip is that we didn’t complete the five meals, there.

The rest of the town has mostly typical fried fish and rice, though look for a lady selling ice pops along the beach in Sapzurro. I recommend the coconut, but she may offer mango, papaya, and maracuya.

Most of the accomodations in Capurganá, are similar in comfort and price. The rooms are small, with plastic fans and cold showers. Hostel Capurganá is a cheap choice, Hostel Katamaran has balconies with water views, and a few higher-priced hotels offer guests the possibility to sleep in a cabaña.

There are no banks or ATMs, so bring all the money you might need. If you do find yourself low on extra cash there is one hostel in town that will let you pay them with a credit card to get cash back. As for other services, there is limited Internet access and expect a short, daily power outage. If you do manage to connect, it might just be to send an email or check a Facebook message.

Getting there.

The boat from Turbo is a choppy, three-hour ride on a fast boat beaten back by the waves and rough waters of the Golfo de Urabá.

Another option is to fly from Medellín to the border town of Acandi, with its rustic airstrip and hangar which saw plenty of military movement a decade ago, when the Armed Forces and paramilitaries were engaged in an all out assault against guerrilla fronts patrolling the Darién’s interior.

A horse cart and small boat will get you to Capurganá in just under an hour.

There are flights connecting Medellín directly with Capurgana on Mondays and Fridays, during off season. Check with the regional airline Searca and ADA for travel times and fares. But here, my words of advice: instead of looking for that easy option, take the tougher journey to ease into a few day in paradise which can only be earned, not bought.


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