I just arrived in Panama city after about a fortnight of Darien gap crossing coming from Colombia...
Basically, I phoned that guy Rafa from Ste IRL's post about 10 days before I wanted to go and he told me he was going to leave from Turbo in 10-15 days, so I started making my way for Medellin.
About five days later I phoned him back and he was like, yeah well it'll take another 10-15 days before I head out but there's some guys leaving in three days. Perfect!
So off I went to Turbo (which really isn't that dangerous or anything, it's just noisy and dusty) to look for that ship... Which turned out to be a barge in pretty lousy shape... Anyhow, the guy was like yeah I can take your bike to Panama (Carti, last island of the San Blas archipelago) for $400. No way! We agreed on $250 (which was, considering what you get and the fact that it is absolutely no extra effort for them at all to take you there, still too much but WAY cheaper than any of the other options).
The negative part is that they take a LONG time (9-12 days) and after the first five days it gets pretty tedious. Also, despite the fact that most of these marinero guys have really good spirits they can be a bunch of idiots sometimes (namely when they get drunk). The trip is not without risk, albeit mainly damage to the bike. In my case, though, there was no damage done to the bike at all as it stayed on the boat all the time and just had to be hauled into one other boat which was a dinghy to get to the dock of the Carti airport (where the road starts).
MAN, was I happy to be there.
Anyhow, some details on the process of this whole thing:
- Go to the Turbo docks and discuss price and conditions, odds are there ought to be a barge leaving within the time span of one week. If you want to know in advance, aforementioned Rafa is a good enough guy to talk to I had the impression. Do take into account that sea voyages are always delayed and long so if you don't have a fortnight to spare don't consider it...
- Take a room at Residencias Florida, owner John's a nice guy. Price 20000 pesos but you can get it down to 15000. Parking space at 2000/24hrs.
- Bare in mind that you will not be able to go on the same boat as the bike up until the first town in Panama, Puerto Obaldia. This was freaking me out a little so I asked to get a copy of the responsible's ID but he avoided me and pretty much refused to do that, so I called Rafa and asked him if that guy's OK. He told me yes. Bike arrived so I guess he's OK. Boat was called Compañerita, the guy was Mauricio.
- You'll have to do customs process in Turbo at DIAN which is situated on the outskirts of town in the military base. Wear your helmet when going.
- Take plenty of cash
- You then take a lancha to Capurgana when the boat with your bike left (the lancha only leaves at 9 am and costs 55000 pesos), where you have your passport stamped for exit.
- Take a lancha to Puerto Obaldia, 25000 pesos, do customs and immigration, join your beloved motorcycle on barge and enjoy the ride. Take a hammock if you can... And lots of books and stuff to pass time.
- After about 10 days you'll arrive in Carti, where you then go by lancha to the dock of the ariport. I paid $15.
- Once on tierra firme they'll charge you $20 to use the dock at the barrier. Ridiculous. I had only $10 left so reluctantly they agreed to let me through. After about 20kms of riding on the very slopey but paved road there's a Yala Guna border post, they'll charge you $6 pp and $3 for the bike for the use of their territory. Idiots. I had no cash anyway so they let me through.
Luckily my card worked when I got to the first ATM in Panama
Now starting to make my way up to Costa rica.
It was a great adventure, for sure.
By the way, coming down the other way I suppose your best bet would be to go to the Colon docks, there were plenty of Panamanian boats doing deliveries all the way down to Puerto Obaldia. That would mean waiting there until someone can take your bike to Turbo from there.
Lots of luck to all you low budget rides out there and hope this helps!