Our last stop in Colombia was a small village called Capurganá only a few kilometers away from the border of Panama. Capurganá is an off-the-beaten-path destination on the Caribbean coast and is accessible only by boat. Due to the village's remote nature, horses and small golf-cart-like machines rule the streets instead of cars. Dense jungles span as far as the human eye can see. We quickly realized that the people of Capurganá live a much simpler life than the rest of Colombia.
If you're looking to relax a bit, we recommend spending a couple of nights in Capurganá to take it slow, hike a few simple trails, and beach hop. In between adventures, Daniel and I loved observing the fisherman bring back their daily catch. We enjoyed laughing at the kids zooming around on their bicycles barefoot and wandering the dirt streets. When we first arrived off the boat from Necoclí, we were unprepared and didn't realize that our hotel was a ways out of town. Daniel's backpack zipper broke nearly six months ago in New Zealand, so he is now hauling around a $50 piece of sh*t suitcase. The cobblestone streets of Peru absolutely destroyed the wheels, so he's now missing a couple of wheels and is forced to carry the suitcase. We were drenched head to toe in sweat walking down a never-ending dirt road towards our hotel. We actually considered ditching the suitcase on the side of the road and coming back for it later. After walking for about 30 minutes, a boy no older than 10 controlling a horse-led cart pulled over and offered us a ride. We hopped on the back as he tried his hardest to hide his smirk. A minute later, we gratefully handed him a few coins as he dropped us at Cabaña Pura Vida.
where to stay
Cabaña Pura Vida - Run by the sweetest family, this homestay is ideal for a relaxing vacation. As I mentioned, Cabaña Pura Vida is a bit out of town, so we were away from the loud music, the kids playing outside, and the party crowd. We were lucky enough to eat breakfast and dinner each day with the family in the downstairs restaurant overlooking the ocean. Their chef, who is more like a family member than an employee, is a wonderful cook who accommodated our vegetarian diet. The rooms are simple, clean, and offer a nice ocean breeze at night. Most of our time was spent playing with their dogs and kitten and relaxing in the hammock. Cabaña Pura Vida has multiple locations in Capurganá, so feel free to contact the host for more information.
The owners are more than willing to help organize tours or events. They organized a trip to El Cielo waterfall and La Miel beach for us, and we definitely recommend both!
things to do
Hop the border to La Miel beach - This palm tree-lined beach is, by far, the most beautiful in the area. With crystal clear water, the whitest sand, and fresh seafood shacks on the beach, this is a day trip not to be missed. The weirdest part? La Miel is actually nestled into the first cove in Panama. However, the beach is simple to access and doesn't even require a passport stamp. Whether hiking or boating from Capurganá/Sapzurro, you likely won't even realize you crossed the border. The only indication would be the border patrol that comes to greet you at the La Miel dock upon arrival. It's pretty cool to say that we hopped from one continent to the other in a matter of minutes! Tip: bring your passport (especially if hiking) just in case you're asked.
Hike to El Cielo Waterfall - An easy hike through the jungle will lead you to the nature reserve of El Cielo. The reserve has a swimmable waterfall, a viewpoint above the treetops, a rope swing, and drinks available for purchase. During the hike, be on the lookout for monkeys and toucans.
Visit Sapzurro - Sapzurro is the last village in Colombia before entering Panama. The town is accessible either by boat from Capurganá or by hiking through the jungle. We combined our trip to Sapzurro with a day trip to La Miel, so we accessed the village by boat. However, we met many travelers who opted to hike and loved it. The hike is only slightly uphill and takes roughly two hours. Sapzurro is even smaller than Capurganá, so there isn't a lot to do. We sipped a couple of beers on the beach as we watched the sun set. A few days later, we returned with San Blas Adventures to sleep for a night before boarding the boat for San Blas Islands. If you're looking for a white-sand beach with many restaurants and bars, this is not the town for you. If you're searching for a small, local village with a decent beach, look no further.
some words of advice
▴ Capurganá is a cash-only community. Although this is fairly common in South America, it's important to know that there are no ATM's in the village. Make sure that you have enough Colombian pesos to make it through the length of your stay. If you run out of money, the only option is to take a boat back to Necoclí to visit the ATM. Also, if you're heading directly to San Blas Islands like we did, you must have US dollars with you. For us, this meant spending an entire day in Cartagena pulling Colombian pesos out of the ATM (3-4 times) and then exchanging some of our pesos for US dollars. It's a pain in the ass and you will lose a lot of money from the fees and exchange rates, but it's absolutely vital.
▴ After talking to many locals, we were strongly advised to avoid Capurganá during the Christmas holiday season. The sleepy village turns into a Colombian holiday hotspot filled with locals drinking and blaring music. During this time, the hostels and hotels are fully booked, restaurants triple their prices, and it's nearly impossible to find a spot to lay on the beach. We recommend skipping this time of year if at all possible.
If you're short on time in Colombia, do we recommend Capurganá? Probably not. While La Miel was one of our favorite beaches we've visited, the town is rather small with not a lot to do. If you're visiting San Blas islands afterwards, this is the perfect town to slow down in and adapt to island time.
For love and adventure,