We might have been. While we were riding on Fritz the Cat, there was a message over the radio that the Cartagena immigration wasn’t letting anymore sailboats with backpackers on board leave port. This was reportedly because they are trying to get the government-run ferry between Colombia and Panamá restarted. We had heard many rumors that this ferry would be starting within a few weeks and cost around $100 and such but it still had no website, information, etc. The ferry would greatly decrease the price of the crossing and would undoubtedly be a blessing for all of us poor fellows searching for the cheapest way across the dreaded Darien Gap. Whether or not more tourist boats will cross is still unknown, but I would just suggest not to have too tight of a schedule if you are trying to sail.
Until the rumors of the ferry are proven true, there are still only two (recommended) ways to cross from Colombia to Panamá: either by private boat (like Fritz) or by plane.
Here is a rundown of the cost of sailing with Fritz the Cat:
$488 per person payed in USD.
$6 for a National Parks fee.
$3 for the boat from Fritz to where the road is
$25 for the 4×4 to Panamá City
Total = $522
Included on the boat are all 12 meals plus unlimited fruit, water, and lemonade until it runs out every night. Activities include the two days cruising around the San Blas Islas. Fritz also takes care of all the immigration stuff and you don’t pay anything to enter Panamá.
For this I’m going to assume that you don’t care which Colombian city you fly from and you want to see the San Blas Islands in Panamá. The cheapest flight I was able to find today was about $350 from Bogotá, Colombia to Panamá City, Panamá. Add onto that the $66 airport departure tax and probably pay for a bag so lets say $450 for the plane.
The trip to San Blas is $50 for round trip in the truck from Panamá City, plus $6 for the boat round trip, plus two nights lodging on the Islands $20 per night.
Rough total = $496
If you add food to all of this then the total will be far over the $522 of sailing. Even if you don’t want to see the San Blas Islands (well worth the money) then the $450 + 12 meals is still going to be more than the $522 for sailing. Any way you look at it, the boat is the better deal.
Sure, there are other ways to get to Panamá. One is by heading to the shady Colombian town of Turbo, taking multiple boats through different mosquito-ridden backwater villages until finally getting into the first town in Panamá, Puerto Obaldia. There is no road out of Puerto Obaldia, so from there you can take a domestic flight to Panamá City for around $100. This is possible, but no one really recommends doing it, so try at your own risk.
The price of these sailing trips has soared in the last few years, but we think it is still a great value and a great time. Maybe the new ferry will start; maybe everything will stay how it’s been, but for now we feel lucky that we were some of the last (or the last) people to experience this amazing adventure.
Read about our voyage on Fritz the Cat.