Those that know the Pan American Highway or have been to Panama will already know that it is necessary to take alternative means of transport from Panama to Colombia. For those that don’t know this then here is the reason why:
The Darien Gap is a stretch of dense jungle that separates Panama from Colombia, with no infrastructure linking the two- therefore, no way through overland. A failed commercial ferry service once carried passengers between the two continents but this was deemed to be unviable so ceased to operate.
So what are now the options for over-landers keen to get to South America and continue their adventure?
- Fly from Panama City to Cartagena and ship your motorbike separately in a container
- Travel with your motorbike on a sail boat from Panama to Colombia
Option 2 is likely to be the obvious and most satisfying way to travel into a new continent and is therefore also the most expensive. We deliberated the options for less than 5 minutes and decided that sailing across the Caribbean Sea with our beloved motorbike strapped to the deck was the way to go. On with the research and it was obvious that one company seemed to have the market share in motorcycle transportation to Colombia and offered a trip from Panama with up to 17 motorbikes on board.
Keen to thoroughly research what else may be out there I asked the question on a Facebook forum and a guy told me to look at the Wild Card- so we did and here is how it went.
Wildcard is a 60ft sail boat that can carry up to 4 bikes and 15 passengers. The trip offered was 5 days which would allow time to sail around some of the beautiful San Blas Islands. At $500 per passenger and $600 for the motorbike transportation it matched the competition on price but we were sold by the prospect of a smaller boat with less motorbikes. (Unbelievable I know but sometimes it is nice not to talk about motorbikes all of the time!) A month prior to departure we emailed copies of our documents to Steve and Charlie and paid $150 as a holding deposit. With a slot confirmed we could continue our adventure overland through Central America with a date set for November 9th 2016.
Steve provided a step by step guide for our preparation prior to boarding with regards to documentation for the motorbike and the inspection that would be necessary in Panama City. This was a frustrating day in the heat in Panama City and then Colon. Inspections of the bike, export paperwork and then the bill of landing documentation in Colon on the following day. Another lengthy process that is lacking in efficiency, but hey this is Central America!
We arrived at 8am in Portobello to load the bike before we met the rest of the passengers at 11am. We were sailing with Lise and Linus who were also on bikes. It was their honeymoon too and they were riding two cool KLRs. Lise had passed her test just 12 months prior to taking their own trip of a lifetime!
The bikes were lifted by hand onto a smaller boat with the help of a couple of local chaps. Out into the bay and then hoisted onto the boat and strapped down for the duration of the trip. Easy Peasy! (It was actually a lot less stressful than I had imagined!)
We met the crew and our fellow shipmates and set sail in the evening of the 9th November. We were treated to a fantastic sunset and we slept outside on deck through the night. Everyone on board was like minded and it made for a great atmosphere as we played games, swam and relaxed with boat drinks. (Mainly Rum based!)
We explored the San Blas Islands for 3 days and played tag with the rain clouds at times, but this did not take anything away from the trip. Charlie our captain was the perfect host, with his wife Nathalie, son Keenan and chef Sophie making sure our trip was one to remember. The food was some of the best we have tasted on the trip. Fresh lobster and fish caught off the boat was cooked up for us all to enjoy. We snorkelled and played volleyball on the islands and relaxed in the hammocks provided by Charlie.
One of the real highlights for me was the actual sailing part. It would have been far to easy for Charlie to motor us around the islands and to Colombia but instead he put up the sails and we enjoyed the experience in its purest sense, a wonderful feeling.
The conditions were perfect and we sailed into Cartagena in nearly record time after leaving the San Blas Islands. Our celebrations on arriving were delayed by a Colombian Coast Guard visit on board and a thorough check of everyone. All was ship shape and they left happy and we enjoyed our final night on board in the harbour of Cartagena.
Following day we braved the storm to lift the bikes back off the boat and clear immigration. We met for drinks and thanked Charlie and his crew.
Once we were in Cartagena we met other travellers who had sailed from Panama but unfortunately they had not been lucky enough to experience the service and professionalism of the Wild Card. We were shocked to hear about some of the conditions in which groups had crossed the ocean in. With this in mind, and after our truly magical experience in which we have made new friends, we can both whole-heartedly recommend the Wild Card and Captain Charlie, and his team as the perfect way to cross from Panama to Colombia. Thanks guys!