A view of the sea and dock in Capurgana, Colombia

3 Ways to Get from Capurganá to Medellín

If you want the short answer, here it is: take the bus. (Half of this article is going to be about how me and my friends got scammed by the promise of a private transfer. So if you get offered one of those at the ferry terminal… don’t take it.)

But let me set the scene… if you’ve been keeping up to date with my articles you will probably have a good idea of how we felt when we arrived in Capurganá. Tired, exhausted, and desperate to see some civilization, which we’d not seen since Panama City a week earlier. Our crazy speed boat trip through the San Blas Islands was, well, unforgettable, to say the least, and we’d just had our final lunch on the beaches of La Miel, Sapzurro, the closest place you can get to the Panama border without actually going into the Darien Gap jungle. And, it was time to start thinking about where to go.

A lot of the friends I’d made on the San Blas Adventures trip were heading to Cartagena, Santa Marta, or even Barranquilla for carnival. If I was giving out advice, I’d tell you to do the same. Our tour guide told me not to bother going and spend more time in Medellín, because it’s better there, but I regret not going, now. There were six of us that decided to head straight on to Medellín, and four that decided to go the very next day.

Capurgana and Medellin were the first places I went during the 2.5 months I spent in South America. Follow along to read about what else I got up to over the next few months! Or, read my already published articles on Central America.

Getting from Capurganá to Medellín by Plane

Now, I’ve looked into this option, and although it can be done I don’t realistically see why anyone would do it. Unless perhaps they were really prone to travel sickness on the bus. You’ll read below that we took a combined ferry and bus ticket (well, kind of…) and that the bus journey took around eight hours. Now whilst eight hours might sound like a long bus ride to some (just wait until you hear about all the 24 hour buses I took in Argentina), if you were to fly, this is how you’d do it:

– Boat Capurgana to Necocli (2 hours)

– Bus Necocli to Apartadó or Montería (1 hour)

– Taxi from Apartadó or Montería to its respective airport (20 minutes)

– Wait in the airport (1-2 hours)

– Direct flight to Medellín (1 hour)

This just all sounds like a lot of faff to me and 2-3 times as expensive as taking the bus. But hey, maybe I’m biassed since the whole point of my trip was to avoid travelling by plane. There are some cheap flights, but then you have to factor in the extra cost of the boat, bus and taxi to the airport. The good thing is that these flights land in Olaya Herrera Airport rather than Medellín’s international airport, which is an hour and a half outside of the city. (And guess who found that out just 3 hours before her flight to Peru. Oops.)

Anyway, if you do want to fly, then there’s how to do it! For other, land-based options, keep reading.

Getting out of Capurganá by Boat

No matter where you’re going, if you’re staying within Colombia you will need to take the 1.5 hour boat from Capurgana to Necocli first. These boats are somewhere between speed boats and ferries: technically they are speed boats, but they are large and modern and basically feel like a passenger ferry. I did get a little bit wet, but it was nothing like the San Blas trip. Honestly, the last thing any of us wanted to do was get on another goddamned boat, but it’s the only way to get out of Capurganá unless you fancy a wander through the Darien Gap.

In Capurganá there’s just one place to buy your ticket, which is on the corner to your left if you’re looking in-land from the dock. There’s a small courtyard surrounded by chicken wire, and inside you’ll find the ticket office, which is open until around 6pm each day. There are usually tickets available to buy on the day.

When you buy your ticket for the boat from Capurgana to Necocli, you can also choose from several onward travel options. If you’re not planning to stay in Necocli, I’d recommend buying your onward travel ticket here in Capurgana. The boat terminal in Necocli was super hectic, and you run the risk of bus tickets being sold out. Another option would be to spend the night in Necocli, which gives you a little more time to go to the bus station in person and assess your options. 

Your onward options basically consist of going towards Cartagena and the other towns in that area, or Medellín. I was given two options for travelling to Medellín: you can take the bus, or for $10 more a private car will take you straight to your door. That option kind of sounded too good to be true, and I didn’t fancy the idea of being stuck in a car by myself with a driver for six hours. So I opted for the bus. 

That evening I found out that three of my friends from the boat trip had opted to take the private car together, and we’d get into Medellín three hours earlier, so I went back to the ticket office the next morning and upgraded my ticket. I asked to be in the same car as my friends, and the lady at the ticket office confirmed it.

They’ll give you two tickets when you buy your boat ticket: make sure you keep them safe, because you’ll need to show them both, and not just at the start of your journey. 

Once you are queuing up to get the boat, you’ll also be asked to pay an additional tourist tax at the port (this is 4,000COP, or around 1$), for which you’ll need cash in COP (Colombian pesos).

Taking the Bus to Medellin

TLDR; The private car was a scam and we ended up on the bus. Which is why this section is not called “taking the private car to Medellín”. 

We got off at the dock in Necocli after the two hour boat ride from Capurgana, and found the guy that was supposed to be organising our transfer. Honestly, I thought he was supposed to be our driver, but I guess not. 

He asked if one of us had a working phone number, because we’d arrive in the terminal in Medellin and then get a different car to our hostels. I asked him: “so we have to change cars in Medellin?” He started acting confused and told me that didn’t understand correctly because my Spanish was bad (which is not true and kind of insulting, actually). He repeated himself three times and I said “…which means we have to change cars in Medellin, right?” three times before he finally said, yes, we were going to change cars in Medellin.

Anyway, he led us up the road to the bus station, where he told us to wait until 12 to be picked up. This area of town is chaos, but we managed to each buy some food and use the bathroom, which was well needed after what was to come! 

When 12 rolled around, he told us to follow him and he led us to the bus.

Of course we told him: no, we booked a car, but we were all standing in the middle of a busy road, getting beeped at, and the driver was literally yanking our bags from our hands and putting them onto the bus. So, although we tried to push back, he told us to just get on and then he’d explain, so we did.

He knew that the three friends I was with didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t make any effort to communicate with them, so I translated everything. I don’t expect everyone in the world to speak English, but I do wonder what would have happened to my friends if I hadn’t been there (which, as I mentioned, I almost wasn’t: ironically I’d originally bought a ticket for this very bus). 

Anyway, he told us that “the car was broken” and we had to take the bus to Medellin, and that he’d “pre-paid” our taxis from the bus station to our accommodation. (By the way, I’ve been told that something is “pre-paid” several times whilst travelling the Americas, and, spoiler alert, it is never true (except for this one time in Argentina where it worked out surprisingly well). Unfortunately the person who sold you the trip is long gone by the time you find this out, so always always carry spare cash with you for these situations.) 

We spent about ten minutes arguing with the guy on the bus, but he was doing that annoying thing that politicians do where they talk in circles and answer a different question to the one you asked. I think he thought it would be easy to fool a bunch of foreigners and didn’t expect my sassy, Spanish-speaking ass to turn up and stand up for everyone.

Anyway, long story short, staying on the bus was our only option. We were the only people on the bus at this time, so it also didn’t seem like it would leave any time soon.

I’ve got nothing against buses. I love buses. I’ve sat on many a bus in my time. But some people in our group had specifically booked the car to arrive in Medellín in time before check-in closed at their accommodation, and now they were at risk of being stranded.

This guy told us that the bus would leave at 12.30pm and would make two 20-minute stops on the way and arrive at 8pm. None of this was remotely true. We left after 1pm and made a total of 6 stops, arriving in Medellin at 11pm. 

When it was 1pm and the bus still hadn’t left, I messaged the guy again explaining that some of us may miss our accommodation because of this “mistake”, and he sent me a rude audio message inviting me into his bed. 

I didn’t reply to him, so he blocked me. 

Of course, there were no taxis waiting for us at the bus station, and we could no longer contact him about it.

But here’s what I asked myself after stop number 4 when the bus was full: is it a coincidence there were exactly four seats left on the bus to Medellin, all sat together, available just at the last minute after this guy’s car broke down? I don’t think so. This whole scam had clearly been pre-planned.

Taking the Bus from Capurgana to Medellin

After taking the boat to Necocli (and then waiting for your bag, which can take a few minutes!) there will usually be a bunch of people heading onwards to both Cartagena and Medellin. The ferry terminal is quite hectic with people trying to sell buses and taxis, etc, but there will be someone calling out for your destination who will guide you to the bus station. If that’s not happening, go up to someone and ask: they should be able to point you in the right direction.

If all else fails, head to the bus station in Necocli, which is where your bus will leave from. It’s not easy to find on google maps (if you search for the “terminal de transporte”, it takes you to the wrong place!).

The address of where our bus left from is: Cra. 44 #51-48, Necoclí, Antioquia, Colombia. On Google maps it says “Bus Ticket Station”, which I guess isn’t wholly inaccurate. If you come out of where the ferry drops you (El Caribe SAS), cross the road and walk straight up the perpendicular street (Carrera 44), you’ll find it on the right hand side after five blocks.

The bus to Medellin leaves around 1pm, and makes four more stops on its way up into the mountains to pick up new passengers, which is why it takes so much longer than private transport. Eventually, once our bus was completely full, we started winding our way around the mountains and didn’t stop again until around 3/4 of the way through our journey, when we stopped at a service station. It was pretty cold at the service station, so we must have been pretty high up in the mountains. I don’t know how high, exactly, but it was enough to make me feel a bit nauseous and my water bottle hissed when I opened it. Over the next couple of hours we wound back down to Medellín which lies at 1,500m. 

The bus dropped us off at Terminales de Transportes Medellín – Norte around 11pm. It’s really easy to grab a taxi or Uber from this location, and it’s not expensive to get just about anywhere in the city (luckily for us!). To my hostel in Laureles I paid around 12,000CP ($3) in a taxi.

Driving from Capurgana to Medellin

It is entirely possible to rent a car in Colombia, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The mountain roads from Capurgana to Medellin were steep, winding, and definitely not something you’d want to tackle in the dark. It’s also generally safer to take buses on these routes because they’re less likely to get stopped or held up. Safety in numbers! It is annoying that the bus makes so many stops along the way and increases the journey time, but I do some in-depth research and ask some locals about the area you’re going to drive to, and that goes for most places in Latin America. There are plenty of great places and safe routes, it’s just important to do your research before you go.

If you are planning to rent a car in Colombia, use one of the well-known brands like Localiza, Avis or Europcar to avoid issues with car quality. 

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