How to Get From Panama to Colombia, Or Vice Versa. Crossing The Darién Gap

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How to get from Panama to Colombia is a question some travelers in the region may end up asking themselves since travel in the area can be a little complicated. Normally getting from one country to another is a simple measure of easily crossing the border over land, and that is the case for most countries, but not so much when trying to get from Panama to Colombia or vice versa.

The reason for this is due to needing to cross the Darién Gap, a dense Jungle reminiscent of something you’ll find in Jurassic Park.

Not only are there poisonous insects, scorpions, disease ridden mosquitoes and a very limited amount of amenities to contend with, but there are also corrupt police and drug traffickers.

Crossing overland may not be the best option since it may result in being mugged, kidnapped or potentially killed. This area can be a little treacherous to say the least.

This article will explain your options for crossing the Darién Gap and guide you on how to get from Panama to Colombia or vice versa safely.


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How To Get From Panama to Colombia Overland

This is by far the least favourable option. It is riddled with danger, and that’s not putting it lightly. The Darién Gap is an area which is renowned for the corruption of police, drug traffickers, kidnapping and violence, and that’s only the human portion to deal with.

You will need to cross through a thick dense jungle which is full of poisonous frogs, scorpions, spiders, snakes and disease carrying mosquitoes. But if you are adventurous enough to try this you will need to be prepared.

You will need to organize a guide prior to setting foot in the jungle, it has been suggested that you may be able to find a guide in a town close to the jungle. When travelling overland every now and then you may need to check in with the local police to notify them of your whereabouts and safety due to the danger that lurks within the Darién Gap.

Word of warning there have been reports in the past that if you manage to successfully cross the Darien Gap that there is no certainty that you will even be able to cross the border. There is a professional security line which has been installed by the Panamanian police which is almost impossible to cross.

Additionally once you reach a certain point you may not be able to continue beyond Yaviza or El Real as it is a restricted zone by the police.


It is highly recommended not to cross using this method as it may simply be a waste of your time, money, and ultimately your life if you’re captured by kidnappers which can happen.


Travel from Panama to Colombia by Plane

Travelling by plane is by far the safest and quickest option available. Though due to the directness and ease of catching a flight this option can also be the most expensive depending on which booking agent you use.

A flight from Panama City to Bogota, or even Medellin will be $300 USD minimum, with prices having reached $500 – 600 USD in the past. This was using the traditional booking agents of Webjet or Expedia.

Fortunately for those who are struck for time, there is a cheaper option available for flying. This option uses Air Panama or Viva Colombia, which have flights leaving from Panama City to Bogota or Medellin for around $120 – 150 USD, which is only a fraction of the price. Flights are quick and inexpensive.

A link for Air Panama can be found here. While a link for Viva Colombia can be found here.


Flying From Panama City to Bogota or Medellin, or Vice Versa

Using Expedia or Webjet. Cost: Between $300 – $600 USD

Using Air Panama or Viva Colombia. Cost: Between $120 – $150USD


How To Get From Panama to Colombia by Cargo Boat

This is another option, but it’s probably more suited to the adventurous types. The journey can take 10 days and the cost of the initial ticket is relatively cheap, but that is offset due to the expectation that you will perform some sort of work on the ship.

To catch the boat will need to wander down to the port to either Carti or Puerto Lindo and walk around trying to find somebody who is going to be making the journey.

This option is a little unreliable in the sense that you can’t do too much planning around it as you may not know when the next boat is going to be leaving. It is also recommended that your Spanish level is quite reasonable.

Food can be bought on board, but it’s more expensive.


Yacht/Sailing From Panama to Colombia

This is the recommend option if you have time on your hand. The water and islands in the San Blas Panama area are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

They are truly amazing. If you’re after the true island living experience with the Kuna and Caribbean crystal clear blue water the 5 day or 3 day sail boat from Panama to Colombia is what you want.

There are 2 options:

  • 5 day sail boat – Sleep on board, or on the island. Food, drinks included, immigration help. Dropped off at Cartagena. Cost: $500 USD
  • 3 day speed boat cheaper – Sleep on the island either in a hut or hammock. Food, drinks included, immigration help. Dropped off at Sapzurro. Cost: Around $200 -280 USD.


5 Day Sail Boat to Colombia or Panama

The most expensive option of the two at around $500 USD, and even competing with catching a plane as the most expensive option available. But there is good reason for that, and that is the experience which is on offer.

The islands in this area of the world and truly amazing and will leave you speechless and in awe of their beauty.

All your food and drinks are included, while sleeping is either on-board or on the island. As an added bonus the company will help you at the immigration office to cross. From Panama to Colombia the boat will drop you off directly at Cartegena.

The 5 day sail boat is a very popular option and booking in advance is recommended.  Groups on board will consist between 5-12 persons depending on the sailboat. Word of warning this option does cross the open water which can induce sea sickness.


3 Day Speed Boat Ride to Colombia or Panama

This is the option which I chose and is roughly around $200 – 280 USD. I would have preferred to cross using the 5 day sail boat, but unfortunately all trips had been booked for at least 2 weeks onwards from when I wanted to travel.

With that said, while it was my second choice in regards to crossing, that doesn’t mean it was in any way horrible. You do spend a lot of time on the islands and enjoying the lifestyle of the locals as your taught that coconuts are a valuable currency in the San Blas, so don’t touch!

You skip through the islands on a speedboat with a group of 8 – 12 people. At night you either sleep in a hammock on an island, or in a hut. All food and drinks are included except alcohol which can be purchased if needed.

The main problem with this option is that you only spend 3 days on the San Blas islands, and are dropped off at Sapzurro, not Cartagena like the sail boat. So you need to spend an extra day, a 4th day travelling from Sapzurro to Cartagena via Turbo.

This is an 11 hour journey consisting of a boat and bus ride which you need to organize yourself. So you can either form a group of people from the trip who are wanting to travel in the same direction, or travel by yourself.

You will need to be able to speak enough Spanish to communicate with the driver where you want to go. From Sapzurro you travel to Turbo via a boat which is 1 – 2 hours, and then the remaining journey to Cartagena via bus.

I arrived in Cartagena between 11pm – 1am.  Hopefully knowing all this it’ll make getting from Panama to Colombia a little easier.


Where to Stay Before and After?

You’ll want to book your accommodation for before and after your trip so you can arrive stress free.


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Written by Lexi
Lexi Forrest is an experienced luxury traveler who has a passion for scenic destinations. She's traveled to 25+ countries over the past 10 years.