Overland Journey to the Beaches of Choco

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Our 'boat''
Our 'boat''

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.

The flying option from Medellin
ADA flight

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).

The start of a magical journey
The start of a magical journey

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 face says it all!
The face says it all!

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).

Our boat
Our boat

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?

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Next articleCaribbean Beaches: Capurgana, Sapzurro and Aguacate
Nick is an international development professional from the UK and is currently working for an NGO based in Medellin that supports miners and their communities. As well as covering development issues, he hopes to share his insights into life in Medellin and the daily confusion/excitement that comes with living in the city.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I really enjoyed Capurganá and Sapzurro, although I was cursing ever deciding going thanks to that lancha ride, I went in February and the waves were so rough. I also went at the end of last month as part of a visa run and the ride was better, but I also snagged a seat at the back.

    Also just to let you know, they were increasing the lancha price to $60,000 COP from the 1st May onwards (or at least that’s what the sign said, I don’t know if it has gone through).

  2. Nick, Thanks for posting this. It was an entertaining read. You guys are brave souls. I’m Colombian (living in NY) and know all too well those crazy lanchas, but 2.5 hours that’s true punishment. I hope it was worth it at the end? Can’t wait for part 2. Also, I hope you had better plans for your way home. I can’t imagine having to do that over…

  3. did this trip over 2 years ago. It can be rough if you do the bus and boat option. I can see you guys went though all the same roughness we went. But Sapzurro and Capurgana are so worth it. And the walk to Panam to get to La Miel makes want to keep going back.

  4. Nice article Nick.
    Dear Everyone, Please take the plane on ADA from Medellin to Acandi. I then recommend the lancha boats from Acandi onto Capurgana and Sapzurro. Do not miss the trek up the mountain and down at the Colombian–Panamanian border on the mountain between Sapzurro and La Miel, Panama which is by far the best beach in this area. Stay at La Miel for at least 1 or 2 days for the nicest and calmest swimming of the area and nice easy snorkel views of their reef. The water is quite pristine.

    There is indeed a foot trail from Acandi all the way to Capurgana, Sapzurro, and La Miel, Panama. This will take some days to travel and is worth the effort if you have an extra week. It is quite rigorous, make certain to have excellent high top hikers and wear them or you will no doubt twist your ankle and have a very sad experience. I do not recommend the boat from Turbo to Acandi, whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Acandi to La Miel journey is one of the best trips in all of Colombia in my opinion. Make sure to stay a good 10 days at least. On the other side of the Choco region be certain to visit Bahia Solano and Nuqui and several areas near these locations. Fly into either location from Medellin. Make certain to include the Parque Nacional Utria which is the best of its kind anywhere in my opinion, and visit some of the islands on that lancha route from Bahia Solano to Parque Utria.

    Sincerely,
    Richard “Herb” Henkle
    West Point Class of 1989
    US Army Retired
    Married and living in Medellin, Colombia