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What is best way to get from Panama to Columbia?

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean What is best way to get from Panama to Columbia?

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1. Posted by suzeevee (Budding Member, 13 posts) 24 May '11 09:09

I'm a mature single woman currently doing work exchange and travelling through Mexico, all through Central America into South America and to Macchu Picchu. My budget is extremely limited but my time is not - I have no fixed agenda or time limit and plan to continue travelling after MP. I have read that it is not possible to go by road through the Darien Gap because of bandits, drug lords etc. Can anyone tell me if this is still the case and if so is it possible to get a ferry or hire a boat? Would it be better to join a group? Many thanks, Susan

2. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1343 posts) 24 May '11 09:31

Dear Susan,

There is no overland route between Panama and Colombia.

You can take a fast boat ( http://www.thedariengapster.com/ ), you can take a slow boat (Google sailing between Panama and Colombia, LOTS of captains do this) or you can fly.

This is a VERY popular route between Central and South America so it's very easy to research.

Have fun.

Cheers,
Terry

PS Please note proper spelling of Colombia... ;-)

3. Posted by suzeevee (Budding Member, 13 posts) 24 May '11 10:54

Hi Terry,

Thanks a million for the advice - I'll have fun researching it!

The slow boat story would be my first choice.

All the best,

Susan

4. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1343 posts) 24 May '11 10:59

Susan, here's a couple of places to start your research.

1.) http://www.casaviena.com/sailing-cartagena-panama-SanBlas.htm

2.) http://mamallena.com/sailboats.html

Note: Flying can be cheaper...

Cheers,
Terry

5. Posted by suzeevee (Budding Member, 13 posts) 24 May '11 14:43

Hey Terry,

Thanks for the info!

There is a ton of stuff on the internet, including the above sites.

I also found crew wanted sites, such as http://www.floatplan.com/crew.htm and http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f30/ which may be another way to go - certainly got me thinking laterally anyway!

I hear what you say about flying, but it somehow defeats the object of the exercise.

Saludos,

Susan

6. Posted by kichikacha (Respected Member, 328 posts) 24 May '11 15:50

Hi Susan,

a) Cheapest maybe by plane from Panama City to Cartagena (although connections are not the best). Aires is most commonly used.
b) Also cheap or even cheaper than "a" (depending on price of flight ticket) but still very-very beautiful journey - to fly from Panama City by Panama Air to Puerto Obaldia (app US$80), and take small boat over to Colombia ($12) to Capurgana (visit Sapzurro and beach on panama side - it's amazingly beautiful!), take speed boat from Capurgana to Turbo ($30) and from Turbo to Cartagena/Medellin by bus (one or two days). I would highly recommend this route, if you want to keep your budget tight. In total: US$130
c) as mentioned by Terry - http://www.thedariengapster.com (US$250-300)
d) like most travellers take sailing boat (4/5 days - $400) along San Blas Island to Cartagena.

We did "b" because we were on a very tight budget, and it was fantastic.
If you choose this and need more detailed info - just let me know.

Have a nice trip!

7. Posted by CheersT (Travel Guru, 1343 posts) 24 May '11 16:45

Excellent breakdown from kichikacha. I've done (b) and (d) both ways a couple of times and agree entirely.

Cheers,
Terry

8. Posted by suzeevee (Budding Member, 13 posts) 24 May '11 16:52

Hi Kichikacha,

Your trip sounds amazing - I'm definitely in favour of doing things cheaply , because it usually involves a much more interesting journey.

I'd love some more detailed info, and when did you go? I see you haven't logged any travels yet, which seems a shame as you are obviously very knowledgable.

Thanks so much for the help.

Susan

9. Posted by suzeevee (Budding Member, 13 posts) 24 May '11 16:56

Thanks for the confirmation, Terry.

It will be a few months before I get down that far, so it gives me plenty of time to plan.

There's lots to see and do in Central America first!

Take care, guys and thanks for all the amazing help!!!!

Susan

10. Posted by kichikacha (Respected Member, 328 posts) 25 May '11 17:16

Hi Susan,

To get to Puerto Obaldia:
We did a lot of research and asked for quote and it seemed to us that by plane it is cheaper than by boat.
- By plane: you can reserve (not book) the ticket on air panama's website. or you can also make reservation on the phone. However, you will have to collect the ticket from the airline's office. The office is on Av. Balboa, along the walkway at seaside. Relatively easy to walk there, but easy to miss the office, you keep your eyes open.
There is limitation on baggage, although you can normally pay small fee for extra charge, the capacity of the plane is very limited.
It leaves from the domestic airport, which is right next to the main bus terminus. You can either take public bus (but watch out for pickpockets) daytime, or take taxi (app $2-3) from center.
This flight was a true caribbean experience itself. There might be severe delays, so better to phone the office before you head to the airport.
- By boat: it costs app $15 to get to the coast by shared jeep, $5 extra to take small boat to nearby island. I can't remember how much they quoted for us to get from the nearest san blas island, but it was around the price of airticket or above. So, in total it was more expensive than flying. Plus these boats are irregular, and speed boats, so they are not for tourist comfort. You can inquire about the price/availability from Mamallena Hostel (also nice and safe place to stay, with nice and cheap food for $2 around). They can give you the best info in Panama probably. Panama city is relatively expensive, so better to book flight ticket in advance, so you won't be stuck there for too many nights. But the city is very nice otherwise.

Puerto Obaldia: this small village is still on panama side. Airstrip is at the back of the village. The boatman who takes you over to Colombia will wait for passengers at the runway and will offer you his services ($12 - fair price, no need to haggle).
The village itself is very charming. It has small restaurant and place to stay. I am not sure though if the boat runs to colombia every day. There is a small immigration office where they will stamp you out and ask some questions. Before boarding the boat, there is another checkpoint.
Should you meet the doctor also mentioned in wikitravel, tell him to say hi from the cyclist couple. He's a very nice guy, always happy to talk to travellers.

Capurgana: it is a very nice village, with lots of guest houses and food. Although, especially the food is overpriced, 3x more expensive than mainland. So, you better of brining some snacks and food to get save. The cheapest guest house we found was just right next to the peer (not mentioned in any guidebooks), it was better than the ones mentioned in guidebooks, but water pressure was weak. The village has some small local restaurants where you can have soup meal for 5000 ($2.5), a morning stall with eggballs (1000) and a nice bakery at the football pitch. They exchange $ at a bit inflated rate, but not too bad.
The village has a nice beach as well. Custom officer is very friendly.

Sapzurro: we didn't stay there, but we found it even more beautiful than Capurgana. It has a guest house, where you can rent a tent and camp. And some small shops. Beautiful village with amazing beach. You can trek there from Capurgana (it is safe), it takes about 2.5 hours. Very nice walk. Ask locals at Capurgana to find the trail. If you choose to take boat, it costs app $5 one way between Capurgana and Sapzurro.

Playa miel: this is the most beautiful beach i have seen in my life. You can walk from Sapzurro taking the stairs over the hill. It takes app 15-20 minutes. Playa miel is in Panama. Take you passport with you. Custom/military will check you passport, write down your details, but won't stamp your passport. They will let you over to panama for the day to enjoy the beach. Take goggles, because as soon as you enter the water, you can see chorals and millions of colorful fish. White is sand, water is crystal-clear blue. Amazing!

From Capurgana to Turbo: pricey ($30) speed boat leaves from the pier early morning. Try to buy ticket one day in advance from ticket office. If you decide to stay longer, they will change the date for you without any charge, problem. They charge extra for luggage above certain weight, but it will max cost you a few $ more. They accept $ or colombian peso.
Try to sit on the back of the boat, as it is very bumpy - i sat on the front, and had a very strong headache at the end.

Turbo is a dirty town. Most travellers leave the town and catch the first bus immediately. However, if you decide to stay there, try to stay not near the pier but on the main shopping street. It is just a block away from the pier. There are some nicer hotels there. The dirt cheap ones are horrible, especially the ones at the pier. The town has very nice street stall with delicious food at night. Prices will drop significantly compared to Capurgana. There is an ATM as well and limited money exchange facilities (in the bank branch). There is also a nice bakery with good cooked food.

You can also find more info on wikitravel under the above names.

If you want to head towards Medellin, I recommend stopping in the small town called Canasgordas and at touristy but pretty Santa Fe.

We cycled in Central and South America, so we stayed in some small towns that we fell in love with. If you plan to stay away from main tourist trail from time to time and want to find something different but still nice, just drop me an email.
In any case, we found all tricks to save money and cut costs, so happy to give more advice on prices or places to stay/eat cheap.

Have a very nice journey!