Next, we traveled up to the furthest North-Western point of Colombia, the Darien Gap, where the country goes bumper to bumper with Panama, and the land falls away to reveal beautiful Caribbean bays and dirt-road simplicity. It’s an area previously occupied by the rebel FARC group, and remains one of the lesser visited spots in Colombia even now (the British Foreign Office still advises tourists not to visit, which filled us with a little trepidation!)
It’s also super difficult to reach, and after a freezing air-con-happy night bus, we were spat out at Turbo, a tiny Caribbean port town where we waited from 6am for a few hours for the first boat across to our destination, Sapzurro. Whilst we waited we chatted to a Bulgarian couple who’d been travelling 2 years only hitch-hiking and wild camping (an inspiring story!) and watched local Caribbean dudes rock up to the cafe and down multiple shots of strong spirits, music blaring from their 4x4s, then drive off to merrily start their day (this was about 7am.)
We finally boarded the terror boat, which was like a big canoe with three huge engines tied illegally to the back, and a tarpaulin over the roof. We knew the best seats were at the back from the choppy Galapagos water taxis, but we only managed a middle row – so we knew what spine-crunching horror awaited us. After being charged a made-up amount for the additional weight of our rucksacks (you’re only allowed 9kg!) by the entrepreneurial guys working the dock, we hunkered down for a solid 2 hours of bumping through the waves like an oversized jetski.
But it was all worth it when we arrived in Sapzurro – a clear turquoise bay, fringed by jungle, resembling paradise. There was a tiny little beach, a load of drunken beer-swilling locals, teeny ‘shops’ selling the basics like oil, eggs and rice, a cute little church the size of a waiting room, and not much else.
THEN. Disaster struck. We awoke in the middle of the night to MAD thunderstorms, sheet lightning, and an ever-growing puddle in the corner of our tent! We knew it was rainy season in Colombia, but this was our first taste of it, and after a shady night’s sleep in a half-damp tent, this continued to be the case for the first three days – averaging about 8-hour rain stints at a time. We hammocked, we read books, we ate our food supplies from the mainland (food options were limited to say the least!) and we waited for it to pass.
On Day 4, the war of attrition was finally over, the skies cleared, and we adventured out for a walk around the bay, and over the hill to Panama! There’s a beach there called La Miel which is touted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, so we enthusiastically hiked there, excitable at the fact we crossed the border and were now in another country (!)
… only to find, heartbreakingly, that La Miel, the ‘beautiful’ coastline, had become little more than landfill. A few Colombians were braving it by stepping over the rubbish-strewn beach and swimming in the water, but a walk along the bay, seeing the true devastation of human disregard, was enough to send us back over the hill to Colombia. Really, truly saddening, I was stifling tears at the sight of cast-aside nappies, bottles, and packaging. What the hell happened?!
Back in Colombia, things improved as we took our first dip in the bay at Sapzurro, finding warm clear waters, friendly holidaying families, and frolics. It felt so good to be in the water after days of being constrained to shelter and hammocks, and we spent the day swimming at various points up the bay, chatting to local kids who called the place home. The snorkeling there was also crystal-clear and we saw plenty of bright and unusual fishies. And most importantly of all, there was now SUN!
After another day blissing out in the bay, we hopped over to nearby Capurgana – similar to Sapzurro, but with more tourism infrastructure (i.e. restaurants that don’t just sell the catch of the day!) So we celebrated with some ice-cold brewskies watching the sunset and a slap-up meal on the beach, and then thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in a BED with a mattress and NO RAIN.
On our last day in the Darien Gap, we attempted a jungle trek, which we quickly dismissed due to the choking heat and the trail being waterlogged post-rainfall, and instead had a thoroughly chilled day on the beach snorkeling and sunbathing. On our short trek towards jungle we did however see the hilarious/cute ‘airport’ of the island – which was just a plane landing crazily on a strip of grass right next to the ‘waiting room’ (collection of chairs). And a 14 year old tried to sell us some weed, which was pretty lol.