In the first of a two-part series, I describe the journey from Medellín to Capurgana, a Caribbean beach destination in the Choco region near the Colombia-Panama border.
One of the advantages of living and working Colombia is the many public holidays.
Each year, Colombians get 18 of them, which is second only to India (21) for the most in the world.
As such, you have many a long weekend (known locally as “puentes”) with which to explore the diverse and exciting country.
After being here for just over a year and a half, and having been to all the main tourist destinations, it was time to go a bit more off the beaten track and visit the Caribbean beach destinations of Capurgana and Sapzurro, near Colombia’s border with Panama.
When I say, I mean we, as I was traveling with 10 friends, a mixture of Colombians and expats who also had yet to visit these Caribbean beaches of the Choco region.
The majority of us decided to take the overnight bus from Medellín, while our friend and his brother who was visiting from the UK, decided to fly the 50 minutes from the local airport in Medellín with Aerolinea de Antioquia (ADA).
A note of caution – you should make sure that you take the flight to Acandi and not Apartado so you avoid the long boat from Turbo. The flight one way costs upwards of 95,000 pesos ($40) to Apartado and starts from around 175,000 pesos ($75) for Acandi.
Those of us not endowed with the same budget met at the bus station in Medellín to begin our adventure, armed with various neck pillows, crisps and rum (it helps you sleep better).
A couple of bus companies, Transportes Gomez Hernandez and Sotrauraba S.A, depart from Terminal Norte (metro stop Caribe) and the journey should take around nine hours to Turbo and then you need to take a boat to Capurgana.
The bus journey costs between 55,000 pesos ($24) to 60,000 pesos ($26).
As we were traveling the night before Semana Santa it was pretty busy and our chief organizer had organized well and pre-booked.
So we set off in good spirits with good spirits. Unfortunately, neither lasted long. The bus was freezing. Like stupidly cold. Luckily most of us had experience overnight buses in Colombia and came prepared, but still, it was cold.
Added to the arctic conditions was a bus driver keen to make good time and practice his rally driving. Fortunately for him he had the perfect winding roads with which to practice. Unfortunately for us we weren’t in the position to stop the madness.
Suffice to say we didn’t have the best nights sleep but arrived at our destination, in one piece, if slightly sleep deprived, around 7 a.m.
Turbo is the kind of place you arrive and don’t stay long. Grubby and not exactly your typical holiday destination. Thankfully, the bus station was only a five-minute walk to the “port.”
Port is a generous term. It is more of a ramshackle wooden jetty with LOTS of people.
After our chief organizer went and did her thing in sussing out which “port” we departed from, we were ushered/cajoled/shepherded to the departure point.
The army and navy were a significant presence checking IDs. They also had a sniffer dog, sniffing probably some quite unpleasant smells after everyone’s long bus journey. The poor thing.
In days gone by Turbo was a pretty dangerous area, as one of the last Colombian ports before the Panamanian border; security is as tight here as I have seen anywhere in the country.
A friend had warned me to bring some plastic bags to put luggage in to protect our stuff from the water and that the boat ride might be quite bumpy. We set off in a lancha (a glorified dinghy) hosting 40 brave seafaring souls for the price of a mere 50,000 pesos ($21).
Somebody forgot to bring his new Cedula de Extranjeria so we had a wait at the Navy stop, before setting off. And how we set off.
“Bumpy” is an understatement. More like being jolted around in a washing machine on turbo mode.
Not for the advertised one hour and thirty minutes, but rather two hours and thirty minutes. The first hour and a half, we tried to make the most of it while bouncing up and down like we were on a trampoline only not getting much bounce back from the steel boat.
The last hour was particularly punishing and it felt pretty dangerous. The sea was very choppy. It seemed as if we were continuously in a whirlpool or flying salmon-like over the waves. It was better to be at the back than the front of the boat (we learnt the hard way) but the back was not too pleasant either.
I would not recommend anyone with a young family, of a delicate disposition, back problems, pregnant, or feeling not 100 percent to do it. Seriously. It’s not fun and apparently worse from January to May.
We eventually arrived at our destination, Aguacate, just shy of 11 a.m. Broken and literally a bit bruised.
But was it worth it?