Panama is at the center of a hemesphere, and is a crossing point for people both going north and going south. Unfortunately the road that takes you all the way through Central America, ends in the Panamanian jungle of the Darien province. So how do you get to Clombia you might ask? Well you can choose from flying directly to your Colombia destination, or you could be a little more adventurous and choose one of the less direct routes which might include any combination of land, air and sea.
Air: Check out Aires, a Colombian airline, not known for great service but by far the cheapest available, or COPA airlines which is a bit more expensive but your sure to get your luggage on-time. A one-way flight is about $200 to any of the major Colombia cities such as Cartagena, Medellin or Bogota. Price includes taxes but book ahead for the cheapest faires. All flights depart from Tocumen airport which is located about 45 minutes from downtown Panama City.
Land: This may seem confusing, as there is no road to travel by land on, but this is actually a combination route that will take you through all three types of travel. Basically you do a hop-skip-and a jump, departing from Albrook Airport in Panama City, you can take a flight to Puerto Olbaldia, near the border with Colombia where you can then catch a little boat across the border and proceed from there on bus to your final destination. From Panama City, Aeroperlas flies to Puerto Olbaldia only a couple times a week for around $57 for a 1hr flight. Check schedules at www.flyairpanama.com or www.aeroperlas.com. Puerto Olbaldia is town and a military base and also has the immigration office to get your exit stamp from Panama. From here you can catch a boat to a town called Carpugana for around $30 (takes about 1 hr), where you can get your entry stamp for Colombia. In Carpugana you catch another boat for Turbo, which departs around 7:30am and costs around $20. Upon arrival in Turbo, buses are available to most major destinations in Colombia with both Cartagena and Medellin being about 7 hours away.
Sea: One of the greatest adventures available from Panama, you can sail to Colombia via the Caribbean ocean. There are several boats that run routes to and from Panama City and Cartegena for around $350 for a 4-5 day sail through the beautiful San Blas Islands and on to Cartegena, Colombia or Sapzurro, Colombia which is just over the border from Panama. This trip is awesome because you get to spend your first 2 days just sailing through paradise and occassionally stopping to snorkel, meet the Kuna people, hang out on deserted islands or just to jump into the Carribean. Usually the $350 includes food and often some extras like coffee and tea. Boats typically depart from either Colon/Portobelo/Puerto Lindo on the Caribbean coast or from Carti/Porvenir in the San Blas islands.
All boats are run by private captains and very depending on who you go with, and be prepared for some eccentric characters as the captains tend to spend most of their time at sea. Most boats are around 50 ft and hold up to 6-8 people, with a few exceptions such as the famous Stahlratte which is a 50 meter sailing vessel reminiscent of the pirate ships that attacked Panama City during its’ founding years.
Check with local hostels such as Luna’s Castle Hostel in Casco Viejo or Mamallena Hostel for upcoming trips and more detailed information on boats currently in operation. Be aware it may take a couple days for an available boat, so be willing to hang around if one hasn’t docked yet.
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