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Boat

There are two main ways of getting to Capurganá by boat.

Coming from Necocli (COP$70,000, 1½ hours) is by far the best method. The trip is relatively brief, the boats are fast and efficient, and Necocli is a pleasant beach town with plenty of decent accommodations. A daily boat leaves Necocli year-round at 8am, returning from Capurganá at 10am. Several more daily departures are offered in high season. It's best to reserve a day ahead at the Caribe SAS office. Crossings can be rough in January and February. Local vendors sell bin bags (COP$1000) to keep your bag dry.

Coming from Turbo (COP$70,000, 2½ hours) is less advisable, especially if you're starting in Cartagena. The boat takes an hour longer than the Necocli crossing and the town of Turbo is a shady, far less desirable place to spend the night. It's also further by bus from Montería and Cartagena (but closer to Medellín). Daily boats leave Turbo at 7am and Capurganá at 8am, with more departures in high season.

You'll have to overnight in Necocli or Turbo on the outward journey, as the boats leave early in the morning. It's possible to reach Cartagena or Medellín in one day on the return trip. Boat-and-bus combo tickets can be booked through Capurganá Tours.

As well as your boat fare, you'll need to pay a COP$2600 port tax and COP$1000 per kilogram for excess luggage.

Air

ADA operates daily flights from Medellín to the town of Acandí (COP$140,000 to COP$320,000 one way), from where it's easy to take a boat to Capurganá (COP$30,000 per person, 20 minutes), though you'll want to hire a donkey (COP$5000) to take you to the docks from the airport if you have luggage. For help booking flights or transfers, contact Capurganá Tours.

Otherwise, the nearest airports are in Montería (followed by a bus-boat combo via Necocli) and Apartado (bus-boat combo via Turbo).

Border Crossings

Getting to Panama

It's not possible to drive from Colombia to Panama – the Pan-American Hwy does not extend through the swamps of the Darién Gap. Various foolhardy maniacs have ignored the dangers and attempted to cross the 87km distance in all-terrain vehicles and even on foot, risking encounters with guerrillas, paramilitaries or drug traffickers – don't attempt this.

It is possible and fairly safe, however, to reach Panama (mostly) overland, with just a few sea trips and a short flight. At research time the following route was secure and calm, but always check ahead for security updates before setting out, and stick to the coast.

First, make your way to Turbo or (far better) Necocli. The Medellín–Turbo bus route (COP$70,000, eight hours) is now safe, but daytime travel is still advised. From Cartagena, you'll have to go to Montería (COP$50,000, five hours) and change there for Necocli (COP$35,000, 2½ hours). Buses run regularly from 7am to 5pm. Ensure you leave Cartagena before 11am to avoid getting stuck overnight in Montería. You'll have to spend the night in either Turbo or Necocli, as boats only depart for Capurganá in the mornings. Necocli is the more pleasant town by far.

Next, catch a boat from Turbo or Necocli to Capurganá. The cost for each is COP$70,000, although the Necocli crossing is an hour shorter (taking 1½ hours total). Arrive at the dock at least an hour early to secure a ticket. Hang onto your hat: this can be a bumpy ride. There's a 10kg baggage limit – a COP$1000-per-kilogram excess charge applies – and a COP$2600 port tax.

Then, take a boat from Capurganá to Puerto Olbaldía in Panama (COP$35,000, 30 minutes). The day before you depart, get your Colombian exit stamp at Migración Colombia, near Carpuganá's harbor (the office will not be open in time on the day you leave). Boats depart Capurganá daily at 7:30am; be at the docks for 7am. This is another bumpy journey, depending on sea conditions. Note: the boat journey costs a minimum of COP$100,000, so you'll have to pay the full amount if you're the only passenger.

Obtain your Panama entry stamp at Panamanian immigration in Puerto Olbaldía, though you might be asked for two copies of your passport. (There's a copy place here if you need it.) Then fly to Panama City's domestic Albrook terminal. There are flights on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday (US$115, one hour). Puerto Olbaldía has very little to offer tourists: avoid spending any more time here than necessary, and head straight to Panama City.