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  #1  
Old 15 Apr 2007
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Post Panama to Colombia by Boat - my experience

Hi

While doing a lot of research on this crossing I ran into a lot of dead ends so here is my attempt to tidy up what is out there about what is an option and what isn´t. Other threads for someone looking to research this are. I found a lot of discussion turns to air-shipping so this thread is exclusively about the boats:


http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/trip-transport/panama-2-weeks-any-recent-25881


http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/south-and-central-america-mexico/boat-colombia-to-panama-24270?highlight=COLOMBIA+SHIPPING+PANAMA



We have travelled by boat aboard the Stahlratte a 100ft vessel from Carti Panama to Cartagena. The captain is a German named Ludwig and he is great.

Our options approaching Panama were :
1) Fly. Decided too expensive
2) Pursue options of skippers taking backpackers from Panama City
3) Go to docks at Colon and negotiate with cargo ships.
4) Go to Portobelo and see which skippers were leaving for Colombia


Option that we were not going to do was :
- ferry from Puerto Obaldia to Turbo Colombia. This ferry does apparently exist but accessing Puerto Obaldia needs to be done by motorboat or airplane anyway. The road ends at Miramar and the distance by boat is significant. This CAN be done with determination and patience and a bent towards doing things your own way.
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hub...ghlight=darien

In looking for a boat, Lonely Planet advises you there is only one hostel in Panama City. This is incorrect. Next door to Voyager is Mamallena Hostel and on the other side of the block towards the Marriot Hotel is Zuly´s Backpackers. Both looked better options than Voyager for atmosphere. Richard at Zuly´s is German and pretty laid back and gives you details of the ships programs as the captains generally contact the hostels looking for backpackers. He´ll take a small commission of $20 or so if he lines it up but compare that to phone calls to every captain you can find. He may also be able to give advice on the seaworthiness of vessel and quality of captain.
index

Mamallena and Voyager may do a similar service. Also all hostels have noticeboards plastered with boats sailing. Choose carefully. There are several backpackers who made their captain leave them on the San Blas Islands when they realised how cramped conditions were or how poor the boats were sailed.

In our case I wrote down some email addresses and emailed everyone asking if they could carry bikes. We got lucky. Ludwig seems to be the best and he replied within 24 hours - was leaving in 3 days which was a little earlier than we hoped but a good option.
www.stahlratte.org: Logbuch
The website is in german but you can email Ludwig for english. He is currently dry docking the boat for about a month to do some maintenance and then I don´t know if he intends to keep ferrying people.
info(at)stahlratte.org
He was a good captain. We had a party first two days in the islands and then he asked if we could not get too drunk on the open sea. Smooth sailing really, just a small swell.
We paid $450 all up. Our agent Manfred Manfred.AL@gmx.net in Colombia charged $20 each bike and it took a whole day to clear customs. He is on a pretty leisurely timeframe but then I had a cold (in the Caribbean) so wasn´t quite with it either.
For us it was a good deal because we saved the money and time of looking for a cheaper option. We just turned up, got lucky and instead of spending a week at $30-40 day got to put that into a sailing experience.
It was interesting getting to the boat down a dirt road. While no problem on KLRs in the dry (or a BMW...maybe) it rained all night and would have been impassable in the morning.
Our personal experience is here
Photos


I would not recommend the option in Portobelo - this was suggested on Lonely Planet forum but the marina is generally smaller vessels good for backpackers, probably not for bikes (warning, second hand info there).

The docks at Colon were where I was headed to negotiate a passage. I was told to go to the Captain of the port and ask who was going where and that he would be able to advise which ships were reputable. Colon is by all accounts a nasty place. We could have gotten a cheaper passage but one in the hand is worth a $200 passage in the tree.

Travellers going from Cartagena to Panama could try a hostel Casa Viena by email to get an idea of who is leaving from there Cartagena - Colombia -hostel- hotel- hostal - backpacker - rooms - internetcafe
Casa Viena isn´t moto friendly but all the cheap hotels are around it and they are.



So, I hope that makes sense and helps the next guys. If anyone wants to correct anything or add their own experiences, please do so.
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Old 15 Apr 2007
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You put a lot of time into this. Very much appreciated.
This type of info from real travelers is what helps make HU a great site.
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Old 15 Apr 2007
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[QUOTE=The Big J;133182]Hi

I would not recommend the option in Portobelo - this was suggested on Lonely Planet forum but the marina is generally smaller vessels good for backpackers, probably not for bikes (warning, second hand info there).
]

Hello. Great photo's, a muddy experience indeed. I would just like to add, after looking at your photo's, loading the bikes in Portobelo is a much easier task than what you went through. It costs $10 per bike, and the guy's loading have done it many times before. You drive onto the dock and roll the bike into the boat. The bike is then winched into the sailboat with the capstan. It was all very slick! You can see some photo's here:
http://web.mac.com/adventman/iWeb/Si...%20bikes..html
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Old 16 Apr 2007
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Very, very helpful. I saved your thread and we will be following it in 2-3 weeks.

Thanks,
Ted
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Old 16 Apr 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Big J View Post
but accessing Puerto Obaldia needs to be done by motorboat or airplane anyway. The road ends at Miramar and the distance by boat is significant.
You mean the ferry docks in a port that isn't accessible by road? A car ferry? Weird.
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Old 16 Apr 2007
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I think it´s a passenger ferry not a car ferry. I was told about it by Colombians but have no hard examples apart from stories of people mentioning they used it like the dutch guys who got a boat around parts of the gap.

I don´t actually know what state the ferry is in, might just be the motorboats they use in San Blas. If you look at a map you´ll see how isolated Puerto Obaldia is. I think it´s just a customs post for sea traffic.


And as per loading the bikes, yes if you are leaving Colon or Portobelo would work easier. The Stahlratte was in Carti and they ferried backpackers out by 4WD to the site rather than coming around to Portobelo.
I forgot to add we could have driven to Miramar and caught a motorboat to Porvenir for $50 but would have missed their days in the San Blas Islands.
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Old 17 Apr 2007
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Thumbs up Good Job

This was a very accurate post. A great resource to fellow travellers.

I am headed North from Ushuaia. On my downward leg from Miami I got on a boat with the Dred Captain Leonardo. We (1150 GSA, 650 XR) knew he was shit but the timing (Christmas) and the price was right ($400). I will be looking forward to Stahl Ratte if the timing works. Ludwig seemed hopeful when I spoke to him on the phone.

I would add that the Port Captain in Colon does not care what kind of vessel he puts you on. After literally hours of negotiating a price we caught wind that the vessel we were talking to was a smuggling boat that would not take us to mainland Colombia, just to Isla Fuerte.

Anyway great post. I agree with all of it, thanks again. Now I don`t have to write it!
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Old 18 Apr 2007
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My experience of The Melody

We just shipped a GS1150 and a KLR650 with the Melody from Cartagena to Portobello, Panama at a cost of $550 each.

I`ve done a little write up of it on my blog page if anyone is interested.
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Old 19 Apr 2007
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This is such perfect timing, thank you!!!! I plan to cross mid-May, problem is I have two dogs and will probably be searching for the crossing with the least amount of days on the water. Does anyone have any rough time estimates? And no, I don't want to fly.
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Old 24 Apr 2007
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the crossing itself is about 18 hours but some time in Cartegena waiting to clear customs. Can make for a long afternoon baking in the sun!

the San Blas Islands can be missed by arrangement with the captain to meet up in Porvenir as described above.

Seas can give a good swell so make sure your dogs have their sea legs!
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Old 29 Apr 2007
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Thumbs up Shipping from Colon

I paid $250 for self and Honda 125 from Colon to Cartagena on what turned out to be a smuggler boat. A biker from Oregon (Ming) was on the same boat. Port officials at Colon tried to rip us off. Colon is seriously dangerous. Ming has a knife held to his throat. If you do go to Colon, The Harbor Inn out in what was the Canal Zone is good and safe: big room with bath a/c, for $16-$18. The voyage was interesting/unpleasent. We were dumped into a launch in the middle of the night and landed on a beach 28 Ks from the nearest police post (faced with our illegal entry, police attitude was PLEASE GO AWaY!) - followed by an eight hour ride to Cartagena where Immigration and Customs were great.
I head back from Ushuaia (where I left my bike) in early June, destination Duchess County, NY. Maybe I will try the series of launches route. A small Honda is easy to load and transport. For the southern leg of the journey from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego see the Blog at simongandolfi.com
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Old 30 Apr 2007
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Thanks for the info
It is much needed
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Old 30 Apr 2007
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Question Seadogs ahoy

Great Post everyone, much info gained.

Has anyone tried to get from Panama to Ecuador by boat? ie miss out Columbia altogether.
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Old 1 May 2007
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18 hours on water both myself and the dogs can do-no matter that after 13 months living by the ocean in Costa Rica they still can't stand the stuff. :-( Very helpful tips from all, thanks. And alas, the smuggler route seems a bit too involved with two dogs. Next time.
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Old 21 May 2007
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So I just went to Mamallena's today, the cheerful Aussie guy who runs it knows a bit about the boats and everything. Basically, he, the Voyager folks, and Zuly's work together to get boats filled up. They know the same boats and everything.

However, he implied that only a few bikes have ever gone via boat. He said the Harley shop on Brazil has information about shipping (via container), then the people taking a boat or plane.

So we went over to Zuly's, since we have been following this thread. The guy over there had more confidence in what was happening with the boats, where they were currently, and who would likely take a motorbike.

Basically, we are in a holding pattern till the next boat gets back into port. It sounds like the current boat is full. Not sure how it'll work out, but we were disappointed because we thought it was a little more straightforward.
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