Capurgana and Sapzurro are two settlements in the far north of Colombia, nestled in the far reaches of the Choco region on the Panamanian border. Both offer a variety of excellent beaches, great diving spots and delicious seafood, and are charming hideaways from the rest of the country.
For many years, this region had been completed separated from the rest of the country, and transport infrastructure in the area was almost entirely absent. Tourism began to boom here from the mid-1970s when the first hotels were built, but a latter influx of armed groups made the region off-limits again in the late 1990s. Following the recovery of the area by state forces a decade ago, the security situation improved dramatically, allowing the industry to flourish once more. Today the area is widely accepted to be one of the most scenic in this part of the country and remains comparatively untouched by international tourism.
What to see and do in Capurgana
Capurgana is a laid back village whose principal sources of income are artisanal fishing and tourism. There are a number of attractions in and around the settlement, mainly related to the impressive natural features and aquatic environment.
El Aguacate is a beautiful beach with natural pools, created by offshore corral formations
The main beach in Capurgana is Playa Soledad, a quiet spot tucked away within the mangroves and an excellent site for snorkelling. A short boat trip away from the village is the bay of El Aguacate, another beautiful beach with natural pools, created by offshore corral formations and which serve as excellent spots for swimming. Also in the vicinity are Cascada del Cielo, a waterfall surrounded by giant rocks, and Isla de los Pajaros, a small rocky island home to large numbers of seabirds.
Diving is also popular in Capurgana, with more than 70 established sites in the surrounding area. The variety of marine life is impressive, with many particularly attracted by the presence of leatherback sea turtles, the world’s largest living turtle, in the area. The optimum time to dive here is between April and November when the sea is calmest and visibility at its best. Dive trips (and longer courses) are offered by PADI certified schools based in the village.
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Diving is a very popular activity in Capurgana, with more than 70 established sites in the surrounding area
Several operators run boat tours from Capurgana to Sapzurro and other sites in the area. Trips to destinations slightly further afield are also available. The most notable of these is a tour to the spectacular San Blas archipelago, a group of idyllic islands administered by the indigenous Kuna group in Panama.
What to see and do in Sapzurro
A short hop down from Capurgana is Sapzurro, a smaller settlement of only around 400 inhabitants. The main body of the village is located alongside a circular bay containing a white sand beach and crystal blue water. Another two impressive beaches are located at Cabo Tiburon, hidden just round the bay through a short section of jungle. Few get as far as Cabo Tiburon so you are likely to have the place completely to yourself.
Few people get as far as Cabo Tiburon so you are likely to have the beach completely to yourself
The best beach in the area however is undoubtedly La Miel. The beach here is larger than the ones on the main part of Sapzurro, and its brilliant white sand and clear waters are framed by a number of large palm and coconut trees. The beach is technically located in Panama, but can be reached by a 20 minute walk over a hill behind the main village. You will need to pass a small police control point when going between the two so make sure to bring your ID. It is not possible to move further into Panama from La Miel (beyond the beach is dense jungle with no marked paths or trails) so your passport will not be stamped on entry/exit.
Another attraction of Sapzurro is its delicious food. The remoteness of the location, and its proximity to the sea, means that meals generally consist of fresh seafood with arroz de coco, a tasty local preparation of rice and coconut, and patacones (plantains which are flattened and fried or grilled). Most visitors eat in the hostel / hotel in which they are staying, and these often ask that you order your evening meal before leaving in the morning.
Meals generally consist of fresh seafood with arroz de coco, a tasty local preparation of rice and coconut
Getting to, from and around Capurgana and Sapzurro
Located between the Darien jungle and the Caribbean sea, neither village is accessible by road. Capurgana has a tiny airstrip which is served by flights from Medellin. The two airlines running such flights are ADA and Searca, and the cost is quite high at around 300,000 COP - 500,000 COP.
The majority of visitors however, arrive by boat from the ports of Turbo or Puerto Obaldia. The ride takes approximately two hours from Turbo and is, at times, painfully bumpy. You may wish to break up the journey by staying overnight at one of the other stops on the way. The most scenic of these is Triganá, a quiet and supremely relaxed bay about 30 minutes from Capurgana.
To reach Sapzurro you must first travel to Capurgana using one of the above-listed options. From here, you can either travel onwards in one of the regular small boats travelling to Sapzurro, or walk for an hour or so over the hill to reach the site. Moving around between the destinations within both villages is very easy as distances are small and everywhere can be reached on foot. If you have heavy luggage with you, it is also possible to catch a ride with one of the horse-drawn taxis from the pier to your accommodation.
One final point to bear in mind is that there are no ATMs in either village, so make sure to arrive with enough cash to cover the cost of your stay. It is sometimes possible to get cash advances on your credit card from Capurgana Tours, a travel agency on the main street, but it is best not to rely on this.