Instead, more than 3,000+ square miles of dangerous forests and swamplands prevent easy road-travel between Panama and Colombia. This area is known as the Darien Gap, and it's one of the most dangerous travel routes in the world. Unless you're willing to hire professional guides and potentially risk your life, we would definitely suggest finding another option of travel between the two countries.
So how do you get from Panama to Colombia? What are the safest and cheapest options? Is crossing the Darien Gap a good idea? Read on for more info...
The list below is organized by price. For the sake of convenience, the following hypothetical trips start in Panama and end in Colombia. If you plan on reversing your route, prices, pros and cons should stay about the same.
Commercial / Cargo Boat
Location: Colon or Portobello, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia
Time: 5-12 days. The boat will make multiple stops along the route due to the dropping off and picking up of goods.
- The cheapest option.
- Because you're on a huge boat, sea-sickness is less likely.
- Not intended as a form of passanger transport, so accommodation may be lackluster (or a bed may even be non-existent).
- You will need to bring your own food.
- It will take a long time.
- Finding a boat is not conveneient.
- You may have more unexpected problems with captains or crew.
For a couple of years now, there have been talks of a ferry operating between the two countries, but this option has yet to come to fruition due to cooperation problems with the governments. If the ferry ever does start, it is expected to take about 24 hours from Carti (Panama) to Cartagena (Colombia).
A Series of Boats
- -- Taking One Boat and seeing the San Blas Islands: ~$300-400
- -- Taking Two Boats: from Carti to Carpurganá/Sapzuro to Turbo ~$200
- -- Taking Three Boats: from Portobelo to Carti to Carpurganá/Sapzuro to Turbo ~$300
- A little cheaper
- Fast (1-2 days)
- You will not stop at the San Blas Islands (unless you choose to take The Darien Gapster, which will cost you about $300-400).
- Moving bikes and equipments between boats is not convenient
- The boats may be small, making the journey very rough and not great for your equiptement. This may also result in terrible sea-sickness.
If boating is not your thing and time is of the essence, you may want to consider just taking a plane. For us, this option was less inticing because we did not want to pack up our bikes for the plane ride.
The pros and cons for this one are fairly obvious.
Sailboat / yacht
This option is one of the most popular ones for backpackers while also being the most expensive. The most enticing aspect of this trip is that the food is included and you will make stops to see the beautiful San Blas islands. However, the route itself can be long and send even the most able-bodied throwing up over the side of the boat. This is the option that we chose.
Location: Colon, Carti, or Portobello, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia.
The road to Carti is a rough one and very difficult to traverse by bicycle. From Panama City, you can find travel options that will bring you to places like Carti ($40 truck ride), or you can just take a public bus.
- Food is included in the price and is quite enjoyable.
- You will have comfortable accomodation.
- You will spend about two and a half days at the San Blas Islands.
- You will probably get sick.
- There are some horror stories about captains. Research your boats ahead of time and make sure that they own all necessary safety equipment.
How to find it: Ask any hostel in Cartagena, Colombia or in Panama City, Panama. Also, check this website: http://www.bluesailing.net/
Make sure that you have enough CASH to pay for the trip. Many of the small towns (like Portabelo) don't have ATMs and you may find yourself having to backpack a few hours in search of cash.
If you are interested in experiencing the less-traveled and more elusive "Pacific Route", this is the guy to contact. Also, here is his map. It will require a lot more biking, but only cost about $150.
Panama Wikitravel - http://wikitravel.org/en/Panama
Puerto Obaldia - http://wikitravel.org/en/Puerto_Obaldia#Get_around