Surrounded on three sides by dense jungle, Capurganá is the last town of any reasonable size on the Colombian Caribbean coast before the border with Panama. A sleepy little place with a laid-back atmosphere, it is popular with Colombians, but is only just starting to put in an appearance on the Gringo trail; mainly because it is the last place on the coast with a DAS office where you can get stamped out of Colombia.
If you are passing through, Capurganá is a great place to spend a few days relaxing and savouring one of the few places left with no cars (there are no roads to Capurganá, so the only form of land-based transport there are horses or bicycles). It has a couple of small beaches (although with strong currents, so take care when swimming), and is a great place for snorkelling.
There are numerous hotels and restaurants scattered throughout the place, so there are plenty of options for the budget traveller (who are likely to arrive on the perhaps bone-shaking launches from Puerto Obaldia or Turbo), as well as more up-market choices for those who can afford to fly in.
This town is more civilized than it sounds like from some Internet sources: There is cell phone connectivity (Claro and Movistar). The reports in Lonely Planet, that you can get cash using your VISA card from a tourist agency on the main street, are not strictly true, they only give you a cash allowance per day if you stay at their hotel. There is an ATM in Acandi a short boatride from Capurgana costing COP $20,000 one way, but the ATM is not always working, so you are advised to bring cash in Colombian Pesos for your stay. There are many ATMs in Turbo. There are no banks but there are several places where you can do COP-USD currency exchange, for Euros you may have problems changing them (or a bad exchange rate). If you have a Bancolombia account you can withdraw or deposit COP at an agency.
Compared with the mainland (Turbo/Medellin/etc) everything is more expensive here, as everything needs to be taken in by boat. List price is Carrots 3,000COP/kg, 1L water bottle 1,500COP.
Capurganá has an airstrip and tiny airport, from which a company provides charter flights from Medellín ADA no longer flies to Capurgana, they fly to Acandi instead:
Most people are likely to come in on one of the launches from Turbo in Colombia, or Puerto Obaldia in Panama. As of 2015 there is a bigger, more comfortable but slightly more expensive boat between Necocli and Capurgana.
There are no roads leading to Capurganá, hence the feeling of being in an island.
The town of Capurganá itself can easily be seen on foot, as can many of the nearby attractions. For visiting either Sapzurro, El Aguacate, or La Miel boats can be hired for those who do not fancy the hike. Just ask around at the main jetty and set a price.
Most of Capurgana's attractions are outside of town and involve a short-moderate hike or a boat ride.
- El Aguacate: This picturesque bay to the south of Capurganá can be reached by following the trail along the coast (approx 1.5 hrs) or by hiring a boat. The bay has good snorkeling but limited options for grabbing a bite to eat, so you may want to take food with you or arrange lunch ahead of time.
- El Terrón de Azucar: If you arrived to Capurganá from Turbo, then you would have passed this imposing sheer-sided island just before reaching town. The island, aside being a striking a land mark, is also a nesting colony for curious seabirds known as Boobies and also offers interesting snorkeling if the sea is calm.
- El Cielo: A series of cool and refreshing waterfalls and pools within the forest. The real attraction for many is the walk there, which takes you through some lush jungle and criss-crosses a number of rivers.
- Festivals: A number of festivals take place in Capurganá at different times of year. While these are mostly local affairs, they can certainly be quite a spectacle for the visitor and an insight into modern day Afro-Colombian culture.
Hiking - There are number of short hikes from Capurganá that give you a chance to take in the local scenery and forest.
Capurganá - Sapzurro - This is perhaps the most popular hike that heads up and over the hill to the north of town before dropping down into Sapzurro. It takes around an hour and a half and you should be prepared to sweat (a lot) and also for a muddy trail if it has rained recently. The trail passes through large areas of forest and is great for wildlife watching, especially between the ridge and Sapzurro. The start of the trail is not the easiest to find but if you ask around, its not difficult to get directions. There are plans to up-grade the trail to an "Ecological trail" and so it may improve substantially in time.
Capurganá - El Aguacate - This walk is fairly flat, aside the last section and normally takes between an hour and two hours. The main attraction is the bay of El Aguacate at the end - great for swimming and snorkeling - but there are some attractive beaches and isolated coves along the way. You can pick up this trail by heading south along the beach from Capurganá but it is easier to head to the airstrip and then look for a track to the left about 250 m down the left-hand side of the airstrip. From El Aguacate its sometimes possible to get a boat back to town or alternatively, you can take a boat to the bay and then walk back.
Capurganá - El Cielo - Heading inland along the right-hand side of the airstrip are a number of trails, one of which ends up at "El Cielo", which is basically a series of small pools and mini-waterfalls, where you will be expected to pay on entry. This three hour round trip is not easily navigated alone and its highly recommended that you ask around for a local guide.
Long treks - Longer treks into the forest can be organized from Capurganá and should only be attempted with a local guide, especially considering security issues around border areas. An excellent local guide is Wilberto (+57 313 7180278), who has extensive experience of guiding tourists and an intimate knowledge of local wildlife.
Birdwatching and Wildlife - Capurganá is surrounded by humid lowland rainforest that harbors hundreds of species of birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals. Finding these animals takes a trained eye and you will see a lot more with a local guide, unless you have a lot of experience of Neotropcial forests. The trails to Sapzurro and El Cielo are excellent for birdwatching and a variety of frogs, reptiles and mammals can also be seen. If you need a guide ask at the office of Jasepca on the football pitch or contact Wilberto ((+57 313 7180278). For photos of the wildlife that can seen in the area visit Fauna Darién.
El Terrón de Azucar - An excellent trip for the wildlife enthusiast is a visit by boat to this striking island to the south of Capurganá. There is a nesting colony of Brown Booby on the island, as well as Magnificent Frigatebirds and the occasional Masked Booby. These large seabirds put on an impressive show as they wheel about the island but please avoid scaring the birds by making loud noises and ask guides to refrain from doing so, if they are.
A plate at a basic cantine seems to be 10,000COP or so. There may be someone selling some fried potato meat thing for 1,000 COP in the evening.
Several places provide internet services.
There are launches to Turbo leaving every morning (55,000 COP). There is an office selling tickets on the sea front where you can reserve your ticket the day before. Launches to Puerto Obaldia depart at 7am and 1pm daily (25,000 COP) presuming there's at least three passengers (*most* days also in low seazon this is the case for the one at 7am) and private boats can be hired (100,000 COP). If the office is closed, ask around to find Marcelino, almost everyone will be able to point you to the right person. Days when the plane is coming to Puerto Obaldia, the boat leaves early enough so that you can make the connection with the plane on the same day, you don t need to travel a day before and spend a night there as it s not very tourist orientated.
There are boats to Sapzurro every day (7,000 COP).
There are also boat to Necocli (july 2016: 60000COP, the office is in front of the pier).
It is also possible to arrange launches to La Miel, further along the Colombian coast.
It is possible to walk over the mountain to the town of Sapzurro on the border with Panamá, with an almost perfect circular bay. While nice, at least around August this walk is really sweaty, so take off unnecessary tshirts already before beginning the walk. The walk takes approx 1.5 hrs, and the walk back feels slightly easier than the walk there. Don´t miss to refresh youself in "La Diana" waterfall close to the entrance of Sapzurro.
From there you can continue your hike over the border to the La Miel, Panama but make sure you take either your ID card or passport for the border control post. A small coastal town with white sandy beaches.