How to be a Tourist in Capurgana and Sapzurro

Accessible only by boat and plane, Capurgana and Sapzurro lie along Colombia’s Carribean coast, fenced by the dense jungle of the guerilla-ridden Darien Gap. Until a guerilla attack on the town in 1999, a tiny airstrip in Cartagena kept both tourists and illicit substances coming and going during the last two decades of the 20th century. Although the government established a permanent military presence in 2001, the isolated little towns didn’t fall back on the tourist map until recently, making Capurgana and Sapzurro ‘newly safe’ destinations.

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The long absence of tourism was a nice break for the surrounding natural environment. Despite Capurgana’s greater size and development than that of Sapzurro, the beaches, corals, and jungle remain relatively pristine. The perils of the Darien Gap prevent any roads from reaching either town, but a footpath – used mostly by visitors – lies between the two. It takes 1.5 hours to walk one way in good conditions, and in spite of the trail’s daily use, undergrowth still swallows it up at certain points.

Unfortunately, the sudden influx of visitors is a lot for the limited electrical grid to handle and power cuts must be made every night. The local economy is shifting towards a reliance on tourism, but the tourist infrastructure is still trying to find a balance. The numerous hostels almost always have empty rooms despite the steady flow of tourists. The restaurants geared towards visitors almost all have the same menu of eggs and arepas for breakfast and fried fish, rice, and plantain for lunch and dinner.

DSC06926Other than scuba diving, most activities are free- honestly because activities are limited to lying on the beach and day hikes (for which you can hire a guide), and no local entrepreneurs have yet exploited these to make an easy dollar. In this respect, Capurgana and Sapzurro are unique in that you are not constantly bombarded by advertisements for overpriced, all-inclusive day trips.

Capurgana and Sapzurro are the destinations. There isn’t really anywhere else to go, and there isn’t much to see. There are no sites to visit, no museums, and no tours. You don’t have to do anything. The food is the same at all restaurants. The hostels are all generally the same price. There are few choices to make. Capurgana and Sapzurro have to be two of the most relaxing towns in the world. Find you favorite ocean view, watch the boats roll in, and soak up the quiet charm of a motor-free town.

But as tourists, we perpetrate the destruction and overuse of the area’s resources. This benefits nobody. So while visiting, turn off the fan when there’s a breeze. Turn of the lights in empty rooms. Don’t touch the coral. Help the local effort to keep garbage in the bins. Capurgana and Sapzurro were forgotten by time, but will quickly grow back into the busy holiday retreats that they once were. Hopefully, in this re-discovery, the locals, the tourists, and the natural surroundings will be able to accommodate each other.

 

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