Sandwiched between the wild jungles of Panama’s Darien region and Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the laidback town of Capurganá is the perfect place to switch onto ‘island time’. Although hardly a hidden gem, this slice of paradise is well and truly removed from the Gringo Trail.
Most popularly visited by those arriving via the San Blas islands from Panama or by vacationing Colombians, this tiny town feels like it is stuck in time. There are no cars and boats provide the only way in and out – heightening the feeling of escape from Colombia’s pulsating cities.
Capurganá, Colombia – Travel Guide
Capurganá Map & Resources
MORE INFO (Opens in new tab):
- 🇨🇴 Colombia Backpacking Guide
- 🏖️ Best Beaches in Colombia
- 🏝 Nearby places: Turbo | Necocolí | San Blas Islands
- ⛵️ Must-do activity: Diving
Best Time to Visit Capurganá
Much like with many Colombian seaside destinations, the holidays bring crowds. December is a notoriously busy month, with locals looking to spend the festive season in the sun. Book accommodation in advance to ensure you don’t miss out on a good place to stay.
The climate in Capurganá is hot and humid year-round but showers can still occur so make sure to pack a rain jacket!
Good to know! Capurganá is a stone’s throw from the Panamanian border, meaning that both Colombian pesos and the US dollar (Panama’s official currency) are used here. You may lose out slightly on the exchange rate if paying with dollars but it’s a good spot to use up leftover notes if you’re coming from Panama. If you need to change money, there are a few casas de cambios in town offering decent rates but be warned, there are no ATMs.
Where to Stay in Capurganá
When it comes to the best places to stay in Capurganá, there are really only a couple of practical options. You either stay inside the very small town centre or you pitch yourself a little further out of the action.
Capurganá is very walkable so even if you are based in a more quiet area on the outskirts, it should only take 10 or 15 minutes to trek into town. If you’re carrying heavy bags or the heat is a bit much for you, you can hop in a moto-taxi.
Accommodation is also available in Sapzurro and Aguacate, however, you will be at least an hour’s walk from the town of Capurganá.
When visiting Capurganá, there are a few things to be aware of. Firstly, nearly all the showers are cold… this will be refreshing after a long day in the sun – trust us!
Secondly, the town is prone to power outages. In fact, the electricity is switched off every night between the hours of 5 am-9 am. To ensure you stay connected if you lose the internet, grab a Colombian SIM from near the dock when you arrive.
Best Accommodation in Capurganá
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Excellent value for money digs located close to Aguacate. Offering dorm rooms and private options, this is a great choice for backpackers. Nestled in a quiet jungle spot of Capurganá, there are not many eateries nearby but the food in the hostel is great. It’s a 60-90 minute walk from Capurganá proper.
The perfect choice for couples looking to escape the bustle of town, Cabañas Luna Escondida is located in a tranquil area on the edge of the jungle. These cute cabanas come with al fresco bathrooms and the most friendly and attentive host you could wish for. Keep an eye out for the hummingbirds flitting about while you eat breakfast.
Situated on the seafront and just a few steps from the main pier, the cosy Katamaran Hotel offers reliable WiFi (when the power is on) and a warm welcome. Head out on the dock to catch an iconic Caribbean sunset. The budget family room offerings make this ideal for those travelling in groups.
For a unique stay, brave the hike or boat over to Sapzurro and get settled into one of the geodesic glamping domes. These luxury tents provide all the comforts of traditional accommodation options while allowing you to get much closer to nature.
8 Things To Do in Capurganá
1. Go Diving
Many say that Capurganá is a little like Taganga was before it got swept up in the Colombian tourism boom. Idyllic, laidback and offering some of the best diving opportunities in the entire country, there are a number of plus points to jumping in the water here.
To start, the area is famed for its warm ocean year-round, making wetsuits obsolete. Secondly, the coral is generally located closer to land and is much better preserved than in other areas of the country.
As a lesser-visited spot, diving is more expensive in Capurganá than elsewhere but this comes with the advantage of smaller group sizes. Dive and Green is a popular company located left of the dock. Night dives are also available.
2. See the Leatherback Turtles
If you’re a wildlife lover who happens to be visiting Capurganá during April or May, you’re in luck. This is when the Leatherback sea turtles come to nest on the beaches. Seeing nature’s gentle giants haul themselves onto the sand is a sight you won’t forget.
3. Hike to Sapzurro
Sapzurro is the must-visit spot in the area. There are two ways to get here, you can either hop in a boat (starts at around 10,000COP and takes around 15 minutes) or hike.
The hike through the jungle is recommended but remember to bring your sunscreen and insect repellent! If you’re making your way there on foot, try to set off early. Sapzurro is far too nice not to spend some time there! The hike takes around an hour and a half and directions can be found on All Trails or by asking any local.
As with many places in Latin America, Colombians play their music really loudly. If you’re looking for a more chill, tranquil vibe, you’ll want to get to Sapzurro as early as possible before the speakers start blaring.
4. Walk Into Panama
If you’ve spent the morning sunning yourself on Sapzurro beach, don’t miss the opportunity to trek over the hill to La Miel. While there are several idyllic beaches around this area, La Miel is consistently agreed to be the nicest.
Technically in Panama, you’ll need your passport to access this corner of heaven but you won’t need to pass through immigration. Not often you can walk from one continent to another, hey?!
Return to Capurganá on foot via Sapzurro or grab a boat when you reach La Miel.
5. Spot Howler Monkeys at El Cielo
One of the most popular hikes in the area is the El Cielo nature reserve. The hike is easy enough and pretty simple to find, however, you should wear the right shoes! Leave the clunky hiking boots in your hostel and instead opt for trekking sandals or similar. There are loads of river crossings on this route so you’ll want something that will dry quickly.
On this trail, it is possible to see toucans, howler monkeys and other wildlife. At the end, you can cool off with a dip in the waterfall.
6. Head to El Aguacate
This small neighbouring village makes for a great trek. Budget around an hour and a half for the walk or hop in a boat to be there in 10 minutes.
7. Dip in the Oceanside Pools
After a short coastal hike out of town, you’ll come to some manmade rock pools, known locally as La Coquerita. Perched next to the ocean, this swimming hole is a great spot to let your troubles float away.
8. Visit the San Blas Archipelago
The San Blas archipelago is a popular stop-off point on boat trips from Panama to Colombia and vice versa. Their picture-perfect setting means they’re becoming more popular and some tour operators in Capurganá are now offering day tours to the islands.
While a day trip will only give you a taste of what these dreamy islands have to offer, they are still worth the journey. The surrounding waters are a must for snorkellers and divers alike.
Food and Drink in Capurganá
Comparative to other Colombian destinations, Capurganá is a bit more expensive, both in terms of lodgings and food. As there is no overland route in and out of the town, everything is transported by boat, hiking up prices.
Capurganá is most famous for its cheap and cheerful fish empanadas. Available from a couple of glass box vendors near the pier, these are great snacks for those on a tight budget. If you are looking for more of a restaurant experience, the following options come highly recommended.
Kukamba Bar and Grill
Next to the church, this is the place to go if you’re craving a seafood supper. While more expensive than some other options around town, the price is definitely worth it. Don’t miss the fresh Colombian ceviche, garnished with freshly picked herbs from the garden.
Posada del Gecko
Capurganá stole a pizza your heart? Then it’s only right to mark the occasion with a cheesy celebration. This hostel cum restaurant is a fantastic place to get your fill of Italian comfort food – they have a range of pizzas and pasta on sale and are open to non-residents every evening.
High-quality food at a low price point, this is one stop that cannot be missed while you’re in Capurganá. Expect a warm welcome, delicious arepas, filling salads and lots of avocado!
If you’ve had your fill of food and you’re looking to party, head to the town’s most pumping nightlife venue. The wooden dance platform juts out over the ocean, making it a wild spot when the tide is in. This is the place to come if you want to salsa with the locals all night long.
The Rooftop 180
Set on the fifth floor of an eye-catching seafront building, this spot boasts incredible ocean views. A little more swanky than Capurganá’s other watering holes, this is the perfect place for an evening cocktail.
Getting Around Capurganá
There are no cars in Capurganá and it is only in recent years that any kind of vehicle with an engine has been allowed. Prior to this point, transportation was solely by horse and cart.
While horses are still a primary mode of transportation for the locals, there are now moto-taxis which offer good-value rides to the outskirts of town. These cost in the region of around a couple of dollars (approx. 8,000COP) per ride. The price is set and you’re unlikely to get ripped off – with jungle or sea on all sides, there is only so far they can take you!
Owing to its tiny size, Capurganá is very walkable and also a pretty safe destination by Colombian standards. As always, avoid flashing anything of value and if you are walking after dark, make sure you are part of a pair or in a group. You will also need to bring a headtorch as there are very few lights and the town is prone to power outages.
How to Get to Capurganá
If you’re travelling from Panama via the San Blas islands, you will likely arrive in Cartagena or Capurganá. Check with your tour provider in advance to see whether Capurganá is a stop on your itinerary.
If you’re travelling from Medellín, you can take an eight-hour bus journey or one-hour flight to the coastal town of Necoclí before jumping on the morning boat to Capurganá. Alternatively, it is also possible to fly into Medellín direct to Capurganá, although this tends to be a more expensive option, even without the need to pay for a boat ticket.
Boats also depart for Capurganá from the port city of Turbo. This place doesn’t have much to offer in the way of attractions so you’ll likely want to pass straight through. Buses that service Turbo leaves from Medellín. If you’re travelling from Cartagena, you’ll need to change buses for Turbo in Montería.
Where To Go Next:
Cartagena de Indias: If you’re not yet had your fill of sun, sea and sand, head to the coastal Caribbean gem of Cartagena. With beaches and parties aplenty, it is an iconic destination for backpackers.
Panama City: Explore the postcard-perfect San Blas archipelago on board a boat for that true Castaway feeling. The trip is likely to take around four or five days and will drop you close to Panama’s capital.
Medellín: Head to the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for graffiti, dance, art and much more. Despite its dark past, Medellín is a city on the rise and a favourite destination with digital nomads, party animals and culture vultures alike.