Traveling From Panama to Colombia Via Sailboat

A panga boat like this one took us from land out to our sailboat.

There is no road between Panama and Colombia, only thick jungle and unsavory characters (so I’m told). So the options are to go by boat or plane between the countries. Plane is faster and cheaper but we decided to splurge and take a catamaran (type of sailboat) and enjoy a few of the over 300 San Blas Islands.

The trip to the sailboat started early, we were picked up by the shuttle close to 5 A.M. After a number of stops, we drove through jungle area and finally reached an area where we paid a small tax to the indigenous people to be taken by panga (small covered boat with outboard motor) to the catamaran.

Locals use various boats to transport people and goods in this area.

That trip was about 40 minutes  or so to reach the sailboat which was anchored near one of the over 300 islands in the area called “San Blas”. The islands range in size from something you can walk around the outer perimeter in 5 minutes to something large enough for a number of houses. The ones we went to were all either uninhabited or inhabited by the Kuna natives.

The water around the islands is beautiful and some had nice fish that were visible when snorkeling. Unfortunately there was no water treatment so the coral in the area had been damaged a fair amount from waste and anchors.

On the inhabited islands, the locals sold beer and sodas and some crafts. We bought a beautiful mola for $20 from the woman who made it. It took her about 2 weeks of working off and on to cut out and sew the design on by hand. We paid $20 for ours and will frame it when we eventually return to Durango. They sell for much more in the stores.

Some islands had a lot of coconut trees, others didn’t. I was walking between two trees one afternoon and a coconut fell about 3 feet from me as I passed. Whew, that was too close for comfort!

There were 13 passengers and 3 crew on the boat. The oldest person other than us…including the captain, was 31. While we didn’t care for the smoking that several of them did, everyone was extremely nice and there were no problems between any of the passengers. The people were from England, Scotland, Australia, and Germany. We were the only Americans on the ship. There was one crew member with good English but Dan and I had an hour long conversation with the captain, entirely in Spanish, one night. While we didn’t understand 100% of it, we did get much of it…about Colombian life, drugs, safety, etc. Our Spanish improves every day.

Life on the boat was wake up, eat breakfast, swim or take the dingy to the island where you could snorkel, walk around, or just relax. Lunch was served about 1 or so while we went to the next island. The food was delicious, plentiful, and they did an amazing job of working with various allergies or food limitations among the passengers. We had delicious lfresh lobster one night. We had octopus another night (my least favorite meal) and the other meals were more basic. One passenger couldn’t eat shellfish so he got a nice steak that night! All this from a tiny, tiny, tiny galley.

Some islands were very close, others far apart. Notice how low to the water this one in the foreground is. This was common and these will quickly disappear as the ocean rises due to climate change.

I had been concerned about feeling claustrophobic on the boat but our room was fine and they were able to provide power for my CPAP at night. We each brought a backpack with clothes, etc. (everything else was stowed for the trip) but we didn’t really change clothes since we were in bathing suites the entire time.

We arrived in Cartagena Columbia after 3 days of island hopping and then 36 hours of open seas. I was worried about the open seas but the weather was good so it wasn’t choppy and a little Dramamine worked great.

Our sailboat in the port of Cartagena.

Here are a few other pictures from the trip.

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