full journal here: Paddling The Darien Gap
video here: soon
Getting from North America to South America is not easy. There are no roads traversing the Darien Gap. Aside from sailboat, lanchas or airplane this leaves few options. This post covers information about paddling the Darien Gap through the Guna Yala autonomous region and the San Blas, from Panama to Colombia.
- Bring your bike? : recommended that you send your bike via sailboat to Colombia. The salt water and the salt in the air will cause serious damage. (one option is sending it via the Stahl Ratte, info here)
- Boat: Kayak, Canoe, Dingi or Packraft. Sea Kayak would be ideal but the logistics of bringing in a large boat would be difficult. A dingi (Guna dugout boat) would cost ~1-300 $USD and you can sell it at the end. Another option is to bring a packraft which is good but you will have a little harder time with the rough seas.
- Start: Puerto Carti, Panama
- End: Capurgana, Colombia (or if weather is good and you are brave enough do to a super long day or overnight at sea - Necocli)
- Distance: ~260km
- Time: 12 days (not including days off)
- Maps: Panama Sailing guide (from amazon). That covers pretty much everything you need to know. GPS is handy but not required.
- GPX track: 2016 The Darien Gap
- Weather: Rain and storms possible, weather forecasts are not very accurate (and internet is difficult to find too).
- Route conditions: first 5-7 days have excellent protection from the sea by the islands, the last stretch can be tough depending on the weather
- When to go: As far as I know, anytime other than November-January. Storms can happen any time. A friend did it in May and I did it in late September.
- Camping: Lots of uninhabited islands, also hotels on the way (very expensive), camping should not be a problem in any of the towns.
- Services: you will be passing by a town at least once a day. The stores don't have a big variety (e.x. stock on oatmeal for the whole trip). There are good bakeries in most towns.
- Getting there: Biking - 2 days ride from Panama city, ride to Chepo turn off to Carti/San Blas is 14km after, hard to miss. If taking transport you can get a car transport direct to the puerto from Panama for about 15-20$. (you can book this ride at most hotels/hostels in town)
- Getting back: 60 000col (~20$usd) for a boat ride to Necocli, from there you can take bus to wherever your heart desires
- $$$: $20 to enter Guna Yala (keep your receipt), 5-10$ to enter some islands (I was never charged), if camping on an uninhabited island close to town the owner may drive up and charge you for camping, hotels are ridiculously expensive (I was asked to pay 45$ for camping on hotel island), stores and food on the way are reasonably priced, water is free; bring money - there are no ATM's anywhere along the route.
Warnings/Need to know
- immigration: stamp out of Panama at Puerto Obaldia (no fees), stamp in Colombia at Capurgana (no fees)
- the google map above includes some waypoints, in particular mentions larger stretches of open seas with little opportunity to land
- longest stretch of no places to land is about 18-20km, otherwise you can find a place to stop if a storm hits
- get the Panama sailing guide
- Nick's journal can be found here (he has a lot more detail), follow links to part 2, 3 and 4, he also has good videos alongside the journal
- always check if photography is allowed on some of the islands, you can get in trouble!
- if you are in a pinch you can buy boat transport from every town. People will stop to check on you in the sea too. You can fly from Ustupu and few other towns (cheaper option if you need to go directly to Panama). Flight from Ustupu is $80, boat+car would be around $60-70
- there is cell service around most larger towns. You can find internet in some of the schools but don't count on it.
- security: no worries at all throughout the trip. If not ending in Capurgana and continuing south you should do more research on it.