Update September 2018
If you're shunning the San Blas tours, there's a strong possibility that you'll end up in this delightful Colombian village! Here's the very best things to do in Capurganá, where to stay and some great restaurant recommendations.
With the Darien rainforest to the north, and Colombia's Caribbean coast to the east, Capurganá is probably the most isolated place we visited in all of Colombia. Initially on our itinerary purely as a way of avoiding the extortionately priced San Blas sailing tours, we knew very little of what to expect from this dusty road of a town.
However, we were delighted to discover a wonderfully laid-back spot, where motor vehicles are eschewed for horse and cart, ladies sell best fish empanadas in the world, beautiful white sand beaches lie at the end of rainforest hikes and there's an all together different way of life.
If this is your first taste of Colombia, we think you're going to like it!
Things to do in Capurganá
Take a hike to Sapzurro
Although many people choose to spend a few days in both Sapzurro and Capurganá, it's easy enough to hike between the two on a day trip which affords you fantastic views over the the two villages, lush green rainforest and beautifully blue ocean.
Be sure to set off nice and early as Sapzurro warrants a good day of your time once you've arrive. There are delightful little seafood restaurants, a surprisingly large number of artisanal goods and a beach definitely worthy of a cold beer or two.
How to get there | The hike should take no longer than an hour and a half, and goes up and over the hill separating the two villages. Obvious once you're on it, it can be a little difficult to find to begin with, but any local will be able to point you in the right direction.
Useful information | Although this isn't a technically difficult hike, if you're out of shape then completing it during high humidity may prove a little challenging. If it's recently rained, consider wearing hiking boots as it can get extremely muddy.
Step over the border to La Miel
By far the prettiest beach in the area, a visit to La Miel is a must-do for anybody heading to Capuraganá. Imagine crystal clear waters, white-powder sand and just the right number of palm trees! The only catch? It's not actually in Colombia, it's in Panama! Thankfully, it's super easy to get there and you won't even need a stamp in your passport!
How to get there | First you'll need to make your way to Sapzurro from which it's just an easy 15 minute walk (beginning on the same street as Cabañas Uvali and the Reserva Natural Tacarcuná). The border crossing is at the top of a steep hill with embedded steps. You can also take a small boat from Capurganá to La Miel, costing around $4.
Useful information | You are entering a different country, so you'll need to take your passport. You won't be given new entry/exit stamps, the guards will simply write your name down.
Visit El Cielo Waterfall
An easy-going hike that lead you through natural jungle, past howler monkeys, toucans and parrots and ends with a collection of cool, free-flowing waterfalls and deep natural pools - perfect for cooling off in!
How to get there | Follow the right hand side of the airstrip and take the path heading inland - ask a local to point you in the right direction or hire a guide (these will cost around 10,000 COP). The trail is 3 km long, and should take no more than an hour to reach the falls.
Useful information | You'll have to make a number of ankle-deep river crossings, so be sure to have appropriate footwear.
go slow in the town itself
For those days when you don't quite fancy a hike, consider exploring one of the several small beaches within a few minutes of the town, or simply do as we did and wander the dusty roads of the town itself for a great insight into a slower, more simplistic pace of life.
Watch the men and boys load up their carts and trolleys at the dock, see fishermen bring back the day's catch in their colourful boats, barefooted kids playing games or riding their bicycles, women preparing their carts to sell street food to hungry locals and visitors or old men playing dominoes and trading stories over beer at plastic tables.
It's pretty special.
Where to stay in Capurganá
Acuali Eco Hostel: Two bamboo bungalows set in beautiful grounds, this hostel is a short walk out of town and a popular choice with backpackers. There's an-site restaurant (where all meals can be included in your daily cost) as well as an outdoor kitchen for more budget-conscious travellers.
Kachikine Hostel: For those looking for a more 'off the grid' experience, consider Kachikine Hostel. Located a couple of kilometres away from the town, this tree-house like hostel has an epic ocean-side location. Also has a kitchen and wifi.
Hostal Capurgana: If a central location is important to you, Hostal Capurgana, being on the main street, is an excellent choice! Clean and comfortable rooms, on-site wifi and a good restaurant.
Los Robles: A little pricier than other places in town (with a double starting from £60 a night), this is a great option for those that appreciate a bit more luxury. Charming hosts, beautiful grounds and excellent food.
A quick word of warning: There is a hostel in the area named 'Hilltop Hostel (there's actually one in Capurganá and in Sapzurro) that pops up on Hostelworld with relatively good reviews, however on further assessment there are a number of people that have had a horrendous experience there. Before you consider booking this hostel, please be sure to do a little research.
Where to eat in Capurganá
This is entirely dependent upon your budget. When we visited we didn't know there was no ATM, we had very limited funds, and spent one evening emptying every bag, pocket and zipped compartment in search of spare change. This meant eating exclusively from street stalls and small ma and pa cantinas.
Thankfully, the street food in Capurganá happens to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!! Particularly the fish empanadas, which we were devestated to disocver were unique to the area and never found again. There are a few people selling them, but the best in town are from a woman in the main square (see the picture above). Top tip: if you're there during a holiday season, be sure to go early, she sold out by 8 p.m. once.
For breakfasts, expect to pay around 6,000 COP, and 10,000 COP for a set meal (chicken/fish, rice and beans).
If you've got a little more cash, take a look at the following:
The Dock - excellent pizzas.
Capurgarepa - excellent arepas with all sorts of healthy, homemade toppings as well as fresh juices galore.
Josefina's Restaurante - Definitely not cheap (prices range from 20K to 40K COP, but apparently some of the best seafood in town.
How to get to and from Capurgana
Like many places worth visiting, Capurganá is neither easy to get into or out of - but sometimes that half of the fun!
By Boat | There are daily boats from Capurganá to Necocli and Turbo, with onward bus connections to Cartagena and Medellin. For a full breakdown of your options, see this post. For further information on onward transport to/from Panama, see this post.
If you happen to be in town during high season, or would just prefer peace of mind, we recommend you your boat tickets at least the day before. These are available from a few different people by the port - ask around to make sure you're paying a fair price.
By Air | In high season, it is possible to book a charter flight between Medellin and Capurgana (contact ADA airline), however the most common route by air is Medellin to Acandi (one hour, 225,000 COP) and then a boat from Acandi to Capurgana (one hour).
Important Information about Capurganá
High Season | During the Christmas period, Capurganá changes from a small fishing village into Colombian holiday central! Hostels and hotels are fully booked, prices double, restaurants are heaving and the streets are awash with national holidaymakers up for a good time. If at all possible, we'd strongly recommend avoiding this time - and if you are visiting then, book something in advance or you may have to walk around for hours and accept something that's definitely not ideal.
The Money Situation | There are no ATMs in town and the exchange rate for dollars is not, understandably, very good. If you're coming from outside Colombia, then you'll simply have to suck it up and enter with a good supply of USD to exchange at one of the many hostels or businesses offering this service, but for those arriving from elsewhere in Colombia, make sure you arrive prepared with enough pesos to last (and to cover your boat ticket out of town).
The internet situation | Given that Capurganá's tourist infrastructure is still very much in the development phase, it's not surprising that wifi is a fairly new concept. And whilst it's definitely come some ways since we visited, if you opt for a super-cheap accommodation, internet will unlikely be provided. If this is the case, there are a number of internet cafes dotted around - just don't expect any sort of speed!