The Darién Gap: an undeveloped stretch of mountainous, swampy, jungle with no road that connects southern Panama to north-western Columbia. The area is sparsely inhabited by indigenous tribes, smugglers, and bandits. The reasons for there being no road seem to be either that it’s not possible given the rough nature of the region or that Panama didn’t want to have a direct conduit to the cocaine flowing north mainly to the US from Bolivia, Peru, and Columbia. Crossings have been attempted by people on foot, motorcycle, and pickup truck. Only a few sailboat do the crossing during the rough winter months (Dec-March). Many seem to get seasick on the trip. It’s not a pleasure cruise through the San Blas Islands as promoted by boat captains. Most backpackers weren’t particularly impressed with the trip – motorcyclists seemed to find it acceptable.
1) Contact a boat captain directly or book through a hostel.
2) Find out how many people will be on the boat and how many motorbikes (6 would be the limit). Try to insist you get tarps or plastic to cover the bike.
3) Try to insist the captain pre-arrange a fast or slow boat to take you from Sapzurro to Turbo – if not you may pay a lot or be stuck in Sapzurro for several days (not really recommended).
4) Reserve and drive to Carti – see GPS track on Google Map in this post or download the file Garmin GPX file here: http://tripdown.regioncoding.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Carti-Panama-to-Turbo-Columbia.gpx (or follow the 4×4 from the hostel at 5am). The drive involves 1-1.5 hours on the road to Carti from the Pan American highway. Drive past Chepo, cross three metal floored bridges, and take the first left dirt road heading uphill into the jungle – about 20kms past the Gas Station and commodore.
5) Pay the park entrance fee of $6 about 30 minutes along the road.
6) Cross the river about 10 minutes later
7) Arrange small boat passage (for you and your bike $20 is supposed to suffice, they will say it’s very heavy and ask for $30 or $35)
8) Load motorbike onto small boat from dock in a crazy manner.
9) Load onto sailboat and make sure it’s tied down properly – pay $770 in my case for bike and self to skipper.
10) Sail (motor) endlessly on an overcrowded boat for days upon interminable days.
11) Load bikes onto dock or directly onto fast or slow boat. We took the slow boat… (5 bikes, $110 each) very slow, overpriced, but bikes well secured and included two meals.
Motorcycle Insurance in Colombia
You can get transit insurance for $0.50/day. They however wouldn’t sell it to us for less than two months at the office below in Cartagena. You can’t clear aduana (customs) in Turbo so you will drive without papers to Medellin or Cartagena and do it there. We were stopped about 6 times and after explaining we came through Turbo the police didn’t mind about not having papers. This information is from the HUBB -note they seem to know motorcyclists want less than 2 months and the clerk at the office explicitly started by saying 2 months was the minimum (cash payment only).
you can get your Seguro in Colombia through the Seguros del Estado S.A.
and pay for only the days you want to use it p costs about .50 USD a day
here’s the offices in Cartagena to go to Carrera 8 no 34-62, Edeficio Banco de Bogota Piso 8, tel 664 7555, OR in Bogota to Calle 17 n0 10-16, Piso 3 tel3414646 OR in Medellin calle 53 no 45-45 oficina 1006 tel 2310799 OR in Popayan calle 4 no 8-26 tel 824 2922
Clearing your motorcycle for transit in Colombia
We went to the port in Cartagena (near the old center) and were asked explicitly for a bill of lading. We fumbled and lied about how we got the bikes there (a small boat, no papers, don’t understand etc.). We left the office and ‘picked up our bikes from the port’ which we had parked a few blocks away and drove them into the DIAN (aduana) office parking lot. Waited 1.5 hours for the paperwork, had the bikes inspected, and then were given the papers half and hour later. Not sure if the best advice is to just say a small boat brought them to turbo and you came on a sailboat and that you weren’t given any paper work for the bikes.
Hostels in Panama City facilitating Darién Gap sailboat crossings (many boats don’t take motorcycles):
Best advice is to contact ship captains directly. Try to negotiate a better rate especially if you are travelling with more than one person).
▪ Hostel Wunderbar (* uses feedback from those who’ve done the passage to recommend the best boats/captains) http://www.hostelwunderbar.com/sailing_trips.html
▪ Hostel Mamallena (* not recommended, was rude, unhelpful, and hung up on me twice). http://mamallena.com/sailboats.html
Links to others posting about the crossing or Darién Gap itself:
- http://www.motivation-tools.com/adventures/darien_gap.htm – These two did cross it on two-wheel drive Rokon motorcycles