I wrote this on my web page (http://www.newfrontiersadventures.com/MC/Centra
) 2 years ago, still valid today except for prices. (edit: and yes there is another way on the pacific side, from panama city to buenaventura, the one you mention)
Crossing the Darien Gap
The main concern, or challenge, to everybody doing this trip. The Darien gap is this area, the border between Panama and Colombia
, where there is no roads. The Pan-American highway stops in Yavitza (Panama) and starts again in Turbo (Colombia), a few hundred kilometers away. This is a jungle-covered, mountainous area, one of the wettest on the planet, filled with leftist guerillas on vacation, right-wing paramilitaries looking for guerillas, smugglers of all types, and also indigenous people. You need a special permit to enter the area if you come from Panama. Work on that missing part of the Pan-American highway started a number of years ago but was stopped for ecological reasons but especially because of the opposition of the US government who wanted to prevent the introduction of the Foot-and-Mouth disease into the Northern hemisphere. Argument not valid anymore because in actuality there is no FAMD in the contiguous department of Colombia. Also communications would allow a better control of all the illegal activities in the area, from illegal lumbering to smuggling of all sorts.
There are 3 ways to cross the Darien, from North to South, possibly a fourth one from South to North.
The first one and from what I heard, the most common, is to fly the bike from Panama City to Bogotá (Colombia) or Quito (Ecuador). About $375 for the bike plus your own airfare.
The second is to put the bike on one of the numerous sailboats doing a 5 days tour from Portobello (Panama) to Cartagena (Colombia). You will spend 3 days doing snorkeling in the San Blas archipelago and then ending the cruise in Cartagena. Price is $275 p.p. including food. For the bike they ask the same price, so add another $275.
The third way is to board a Kuna cargo ship
in Colón ( I boarded on the island of Carti, but that was because I didn’t know, the ship actually leaves from the wharf in Colón). Going to Carti can be complicated during the wet season because you have to followi a clay dirt road in order to get to the shore in front of the isalnd. They have spread all kind of gravel and rocks to give more traction but this is regularly washed away by the rains. Arriving to the coast you then have to cross a river
, which can be high if it's raining, the bridge has been washed away a few years ago and not been replaced yet. Then you have to load the bike on a small boat to bring it ti Carti... I am happy I did it but I think I would go to Colon if I had to do it a second time!!
Once on the cargo ship
, you will then spend 5 to 7 days sailing along the coast, stopping at various of the inhabited islands
of Kuna Yala. You disembark in Puerto Obaldia, still in Panama. This trip costs about $50 p.p. for the the whole trip, including 3 delicious meals per day. Bring your hammock for the night. Add $30 for the bike. In Puerto Obaldia, you have to do the immigration paperwork and then put the bike in a small boat to Capurgana (Colombia). The whole boat should cost between $50-70, that is for the whole boat, so if there are more passengers, you divide the cost. Still no roads in Capurgana, you have to cross the Gulf of Uraba to Turbo. Colombian Coast Guard doesn’t allow passengers on the cargo ships, so you have to ship the bike separately
, about $80-100, and you cross in a fast passenger boat, about $18. This alternative is much longer, but cheaper, and you have the opportunity to see a lot more. Also more possibilities of putting dings and dents on the bike for the way they manipulate the motorcycle on and off the boats
The same ways are available from Colombia to Panama, but there maybe a fourth way, because a trail actually exists, which goes from Acandi (Colombia) to Yavitza (Panama), the end of the Pan-American highway. This is a tough 4-days walk through mountains, jungle and rivers. No idea, for now, if it is possible to ride it on a motorcycle. I will investigate one of these days, so keep in touch. Problem here is the danger, real this time. As already mentioned this border area is where all the arms are smuggled in Colombia and as such is coveted by both the guerillas and the paramilitaries, fighting each others to control the area. Moreover, supposedly, various tourists who have disappeared in the area would have been victims of the same guides they have hired from Acandi to rob them, and then these blame the guerillas. So you are warned!! You cannot do that trip from Yavitza to Acandi because you will be stopped by the military in Panama. This area is closed to the public, for the dangerous situation.
That’s it for the Darien Gap. One last detail if you go to Turbo, I will recommend profusely the Residencias Florida, it is really a basic hotel in terms of amenities, but it is close to the port and the owner, Jhon Botero, is so helpful it is incredible. Phone is 827 35 31 and cel 311 327 25 69.
Following numerous questions, I have expanded the details for that part of the trip on AdvRider
site Shipping bike from Panama to Colombia - Page 4 - ADVrider
with more pictures, starting post No.52.