It’s not possible to travel overland from South America to Central America, partly because there are no roads, and partly because the area on the border between Panama and Colombia is full of guerrillas. In order to get to Panama you have to either fly or take a boat.
There are plenty of yachts that take people directly from Cartagena to Panama via the San Blas islands, but we’ve heard a lot of horror stories of snapped masts, cramped ships, broken toilets, lack of food, drunken captains and generally people getting ripped off. Plus, it involves two days at open sea and at this time of year the weather can get pretty rough.
So we’ve decided to take a different option. A guy at Merazonia told us of a company called The Darien Gapster which still goes via the San Blas islands but instead departs from Sapzurro, right on the border with Panama, meaning far less time at sea. It costs less too, bonus. So after booking our place on the boat, we set off for Sapzurro, with the idea of spending a few days on the beach in nearby Capurgana before meeting up with the rest of the crew.
It’s a day’s bus ride to Turbo from Cartagena, from where you have to catch a boat to Capurgana. The boat only goes once a day, in the morning, so we have to spend the night in Turbo. There’s not really any other reason to come here and it’s a bit of a dump but after a restless night’s sleep on the hardest bed in history we’re up and away.
It’s a two and a half hour journey to Capurgana and a pretty bumpy one at that, but not nearly as bad as the Lonely Planet makes out. And it’s definitely worth it. Capurgana is a sleepy little Caribbean hideaway with unspoilt beaches and because it’s not that easy to reach it still feels pretty untouched by the tourist trail. As we get off the boat we spy the perfect spot, with hammocks on a balcony looking right out onto the seafront. I leave Rich to struggle with the bags as I run to grab us a room, as well as one for the English couple we met on the bus.
The town is little more than a few dusty streets and electricity is provided by a generator which runs from 8am until 2am (most days anyway). The hostel doesn’t even have internet, although we still have our trusty Kindles for that, and we spend the next couple of days enjoying the peace and quiet and making full use of our hammocks.
We venture to a nearby waterfall, a pleasant hour long stroll through the jungle, but to be honest it’s a little disappointing. Still, the walk itself is nice enough. If you’re feeling adventurous there are various beaches nearby to visit, you can rent horses or go on snorkelling or fishing trips, but we decide to just chill instead.
We hang out with the English couple and go for a nice meal with them to the famous Josephina’s, supposedly the best place in Capurgana to eat seafood. Unfortunately, the prawns don’t agree with me and I spend the rest of the night with my head stuck down the toilet. The walls in the hostel are paper thin so apologies to the couple next door who must have thoroughly enjoyed hearing me puke my guts up all night long!!
After three days of complete and utter laziness, the rest of the Darien Gapster crew arrive from Turbo and we enjoy a nice lunch with them at our hostel before getting our exit stamps at immigration and heading further down the coast to Sapzurro, the last stop before Panama. From here it’s a three day trip to Panama City via uninhabited islands and crystal clear blue waters.