The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
On the Road! is 5.5 hours of the tips and advice you need to cross borders, break down language barriers, overcome culture shock, ship the bike and deal with breakdowns and emergencies."Just makes me want to pack up and go!" See the trailer here!
Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
"It has me all fired up to go out on my own adventure!" See the trailer here!
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There is very little up to date information on crossing the Darien Gap on a budget, so having just crossed, below is all the information I found about the options available for both travellers and bikers - this forum seemed a good place to list it.
If travelling with a bicycle, try options A, C or D.
If travelling with a motorbike, try options C or D.
If travelling with a pack, I would recommend option A - flying across the jungle in a small prop plane stopping at remote communities on the way is definately worth the extra money!
Definitions Panama City: Capital Puerto Obaldia: Panama border town on Carribean coast Tubuala: Nearest airport to Panama border town (Puerto Obaldia's airport is closed at the moment due to landslides on the runway) Carpurgana: Colombian border town on Carribean coast Turbo: Port town in mainland Colombia Cartagena/Medellin: Probable destination $: US Dollars COP: Colombian Pesos
Points to Note
Carpurgana businesses accept dollars at $1 = 2,000COP. The actual rate is around 2,100COP
You can exchange Dollars for Colombian Pesos in Panama City at the Casa de Cambio in Plaza Concordia
Bus from Panama City (Casco Viejo, Plaza cinqo de Mayo) - Albrook bus terminal cost $0.25. Ask any bus if they're heading to "Albrook"
Most of the boats used are small and have no cover. Make sure anything important is waterproofed in case of rough seas or random thunderstorms
A) Flight/Boat/Bus combo - total cost $170 travel time 2 days
Fly Panama City - Tubuala with Air Panama or Aeroperlas (TACA). Both have offices in Panama City. They both fly Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun at 6am (Air Panama) & 10am (Aeroperlas). Flight times subject to change, make sure you leave the telephone number of the place you are staying. Fly from Albrook Airport (a short walk from bus terminal) $63.50 + $0.25 (bus to terminal) + $1.00 Tubuala "arrival tax". Travel time 1 hour
Boat Tubuala - Puerto Obaldia. There should be a boat waiting at the airport island. $25 (you can try bargaining, but it's unlikely to work). Travel time 1 hour
Migracion for exiting Panama. Free
The same boat will take you to Carpurgana for $12. You could try to negotiate a deal at Tubuala for both journeys. Travel time 20 mins. It is possible to trek to Carpurgana, but there is guerilla activity in the area and during the wet season a lot of landslides. It should take 3-5 hours
Migracion for entering Colombia. They will offer 30 days, ask for 60. Free
Overnight in Carpurgana. You can find places to stay for 10,000COP - 20,000COP ($5 - $10)
Boat Carpurgana - Turbo. Leaves every day at 07:30. Cost 49,000COP ($25). Travel time 3-4 hours
Arrive Turbo. Be careful at the port - lots of "helpful people". From here you can get a bus to Medellin (8 hours, 85,000COP) or Monteria (4 hours, 35,000COP) and from there to Cartagena (4 hours, 40,000COP)
B) Direct Flight - total cost $146 travel time 4 hours
Misc costs: PTY departure tax $20, Bus to airport via bus terminal $0.50, bus to Cartagena city center 1,200COP
C) Cargo boat to Puerto Obaldia - total cost approx $180 travel time 6 days
Bus Albrook terminal - Colon. Every 30-50 mins, $2.50 (2 hours)
Colon bus terminal is on Calle 12. Head north up Ave Central to Calle 5
Go to Pier 3, Calle 5 and ask for cargo boats heading to Puerto Obaldia at the pier office. These boats take cargo and trade with the Kuna indigenous people on the coast. Ask for boats "Don Luis" and "Lya del Mar" - they regularly run the route. Departure times vary - you'll need to ask when you arrive when the next boat is leaving. After a little bargaining you can probably get the price down to $70 including meals. Travel time around 4-5 days. You'll need a hammock and be comfortable living with sailors (solo female travellers might want to think carefully)
Wait X number of days in Panama City for boat to leave. The cheapest hostel I could find was Casco Viejo in the old town (calle 8) for $9 a night
D) Sail San Blas islands - total cost approx $410 travel time 5 days
Ask at Casa Luna in Panama city or Hostel Wunderbar (Backpacker Hostel Wunderbar - Home) in Puerto Limon for boats to Cartagena. They leave pretty much every day and takes 4-5 days to get to Cartagena with 2-3 days spent on the San Blas islands. The website has an up to date list of boat departure times, number of places available and number of motorbikes it can carry. Cost $385 (not really negotiable, maybe if there are places available the day before departure)
Misc costs: Panama City - Boat pier $25 by jeep. You can make your own way by public transport for much less though
Note: You could try to negotiate directly with the boat captains, but the hostels are unlikely to give out telephone numbers as they receive $30 commission on every ticket sold (the cost is the same regardless of commission)
E) Trek through the Darien Gap - total cost approx $200 travel time 1-2 weeks
You could try and trek overland, however you would need to have previous jungle experience, and spend a lot on local guides. There is also the risk of kidnapping due to heavy guerilla activity in the Darien Gap. It is even more difficult in the wet season. Not really recommended
For option C make sure you know what you are getting yourself into when you take one of these cargo boats. In 2008 I traveled on the Lya del Mar from Colon to Puerto Obaldia. To start out with Colon is probably the most dangerous city in the Western World. Tourists are routinely held at knife/ gun point. Make sure that you pay a taxi driver to show you the way to Pier 3, Calle 5 and do not make any unnecessary stops.
The captain of Lya del Mar told me that the trip would take 4 days, and it ended up taking 9 days. The engine broke down, the sump pump stopped working, and we got stuck on a sand bar dangerously close to land. Luckily the seas were calm when there were mechanical issues but had they been rough like they were on the last day there would be a very high chance of sinking.
In Colon the dock height is about 6 ft. to high for the smallish cargo boats so your bike has to be lowered onto the deck of the ship. This is no easy task with a 400 lb bike and an unexperienced/uncaring crew. My bike was almost dropped into the ocean. All 4 turn signals were broke. The spot on the boat where your bike sits is between a couple of unbolted genertators and a metal pole. In rough seas your bike moves and rubs up against things.
At Puerto Obaldia there is no dock because it is an unportected harbor and the dock is usually wiped out by the last storm. This means unloading your bike off the side of the ship in 3-4 ft waves. The motorcycle has to be unloaded into a small boat that takes you to the border town of Capurgina, Colombia which is only 2 km away but the fare is $70. This boat ride was the hardest on my bike. I broke an oil sensor. The small boat really jumps when it hits the waves and your bike bounces up and down on the tires in the small boat. You have to force the guy in the small boat to go find tires, he will show up saying that your bike can rest the bike on 2x6 planks.
In Capurgina there is a stamp that you need to get from the DAS agent so that your bike can be legally shipped to Turbo. Make sure that you get it or there will be hell to pay when you get to Turbo. The dock in Capurgina was not very practical to unload a motorcycle so I think they took me to the neighboring resort town of Sapzurro instead. You still need that stamp from the DAS agent in Capurgina so this means that you will need pay $7 each way to go to Capurgina and back and also pay $5 each way for getting guys to help you load/unload the bike.
If you are a group of 3 or more and are really looking for an adventure then I would recommend Option C. Otherwise the $300 you save is not worth all the hassles and damage to your bike.
If using option D be very careful about picking your boat. I would strongly suggest having someone to help you that you trust and knows a bit about sailing and boats. I've recently sailed all over the Caribbean side, including passaging from Panama to Colombia and back, and some of the "backpacker" boats are simply not safe--captains with no knowledge, poor maintenance, too small, no navigation instruments, generally not seaworthy, etc. I personally helped rescue one that sailed up on a reef, lost its rudder, nearly sunk, etc. If they hadn't crash landed where they did, near to where a bunch of us cruisers were anchored, there would have been dead folks. On some of the smaller boats your MC will be strapped on deck or on the stern and will be subjected to salt spray or even green water. Some of the boats just dump passengers off in Cartagena, preferably in the middle of the night, as they are not supposed to be doing what they are doing, which could make your entry into Colombia more problematic. Other captains rip off passengers in other ways. On the other hand, sailing the San Blas Islands is amazing, and highly recommended as one of the most interesting places in the Caribbean!
Further to the post above, I will say that the Seeadler, which appears to be associated with the Hostelwunderbar, appears to be one of the better run operations, though it is not a very large boat. I believe your MC will be strapped to the stern or on the side deck. Marc on Melody knows his stuff too, though his boat is a bit more rough and ready. These are not big commercial boats--just ordinary pleasure sailboats adopted to carrying some passengers and gear.
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