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Crossing the Darien Gap

posted Jan 14, 2013, 6:09 PM by Paul Gareau
Karina & Jan from shared the following information with the panam-riders email group in January 2013.

As we understand it, there are 4 possibilities to reach Colombia (December 2012)

1) Sail boat (Caribean Sea)

-- from Portobelo/Carti to the Border (Puerto Obaldia)  ~350$ (plus the extra costs to go on)
-- from Portobelo/Carti to Cartagena ~550$
 For example the sail boat operator Stahlratte is sailing from Carti to other places after 14th of January (check website:, we don’t know if there are other sail boats leaving for Colombia, but we guess so

> In general: prices are normally more expensive when captains offer the trip officially. As we understand you have to pay a lot for the permit to anchor in Colombia. So some boats arrive without permit…

> Either way you may get a cheaper possibility when you are more people, especially with private boat owners - ask around

> Another possible port may be Puerto Lindo, but we haven’t been there

+ you see the San Blas islands

+ sailing experience (but possibly the use the engine if there is no wind)

+ possibly space for bicycles under deck

+- long journey (~5 days)

- expensive and probably extra costs for bicycles


2) Speed boats (Caribean Sea)

-- from Carti to Carpurganá/Sapzuro to Turbo ~200$

-- from Portobelo to Carti to Carpurganá/Sapzuro to Turbo ~300$

> Carti is a small town in San Blas, you reach the town by bicycle over a very small and bad road (German cyclists that we met told us it was the worst road they cycled so far because of surface and inclination…but its possible ;) )

+ a little cheaper

+- fast (1-2 days)

- no stops on the islands

- exhausting journey over rough see, jumping equipment and salt water over your stuff


3) Trading/Commercial boats (Caribean Sea)

-- Carti-San Blas-Sapzuro-Turbo, you may visit one San Blas Island and wait until a trading boat is leaving for the right destination…

+ you see the San Blas Islands

+ as we understand the cheapest possibility to reach Colombia, they may charge only for the equipment and not per person

+- slow traveling

+ good for the equipment

- finding the right ship may cost some time and is unpredictable, no schedule

4) Speed boats and freighters (Pacific Ocean) -- Panama City to La Palma to Jaque (to Jurado) to Buenaventura ~200$/person

+ little cheaper

+- long journey

- exhausting journey over rough see, jumping equipment and salt water over your stuff, a lot of boat changing, probably waiting several days for the right boat

For more details look at Tauru and Christi’s website:


We cycled to Portobelo and checked the prices on-site. We found a private sail boat that we made a special deal with - so yes that´s possible but very hard to find! All in all we paid 350$ per person from Portobelo to Turbo. Here the details:

Sail boat Portobelo to Puerto Obaldia

- 550$ sail boat for 2 people, with the deal that we cook our own meals (this was a special deal that they made for us! First we planned to travel as a group of 3 people and it would have been even cheaper. They asked us not to publish their names, as other boat owners would get angry about their low price…). We traveled 5 days, made 2 stops in San Blas Islands and 2 night passages, using most of the time the sails and not the engine… Our bikes were covered on deck but never touched the saltwater.

- 10$ transfer to the boat from the port (if you bargain, they normally want 20$!!)

Puerto Obaldía

- immigration office, no costs to exit Panama

- you need 2 copies of your passport (copy shops in town sell expensive copies) and have to tell the officer on which boat (Name of boat, captain, etc) you leave Panama

Puerto Obaldía - Carpurganá

- 15$/Person for a ½ hour journey on a small motor boat in an unfriendly rough sea

- no extra charge for the bikes, but make sure they are very well accomodated, as the boat and your things will jump around… Rough sea!!!


- immigration office, no costs to enter Colombia

- any accomodation is very expensive here, we had the luck to find somebody that rented us a prívate room, you may find cheap or free places to camp

Carpurganá – Turbo

- 55.000 Columbian Pesos/CP (33$)/Person for the speed boat, 2-3 hours

- 35.000 CP (21$)/bike and equipment on a cargo boat, that leaves once a week, 7 am on Thursdays

> we shipped our bikes and luggage on a extra cargo boat as it was cheaper and safer that way. We don´t like jumping gear... On the speed boat we would have paid 30.000 CP (18$) per bicycle and 500 Columbian Pesos (0,30$) per extra Kilo (10kg are allowed per passenger).


Have fun finding your own way ;-)