If you are looking to get from Panama to Colombia by boat, you are in the right place!
Back in 2019 during my backpacking trip, I found myself with some concerns on how I could cross the Panama-Colombia border.
The Darien Gap was and still is nowadays a no-go, and everyone was telling me I should cross it by boat.
And I would later find out it is indeed an excellent way to disconnect and get away from reality on the magical white sands of the San Blas Islands and the crystal clear water.
It was definitely the best option to Get From Panama to Colombia or the other way around.
Not to mention the nights by a campfire under millions of stars!
My doubts were that the plane tickets could cost the same as the boat tour but it would have been a faster transfer.
So, was it really worth spending that much for a four-five days boat crossing via the San Blas (Guna Yala) islands? Absolutely yes!
Now that I did it, I can confirm that! And if you find yourself in the same shoes and not too sure whether to get from Panama to Colombia by boat or flight, you are in the right place.
Indeed, I’ve put together the ultimate guide to cross Panama to Colombia (or vice-versa) by boat where I will give you all the information you need in order for your to decide which one is the best option for you.
How to get from Panama to Colombia by boat
I want to outline one of the best lifetime solutions of border crossing by an amazing boat journey through the white sand and crystal clear water of the San Blas islands.
I personally did it and I couldn’t be happier about it. There are solutions for any kind of traveler for the one who wants to be adventurous and share this trip with strangers on a small speed boat.
Also for people who want to sail with a small group or just be by themselves in this piece of paradise.
Whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed with getting from Panama to Colombia by boat, be it a speed or a sailing boat!
Either way, the adventure begins in Puerto Lindo/Puerto de Carti in Panama or Cartagena depending on which part of the border you are crossing from.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a speedboat
This is an adventure you might consider taking if you are an open-minded conscious traveler, with an interest in the local indigenous culture, while crossing the Panama-Colombia border.
Over the course of these days, you will be passing through all 365 islands, and you will likely visit 3 to 5 deserted beaches and islands, just a tiny part of the whole archipelago.
From the northern side to the southern side passing alongside one of the biggest untouched rainforests in the world: the Darien Gap.
Once on the islands, you have the chance to wander and explore it at your own leisure; playing beach volley, making new friends, snorkeling the third biggest coral reef in the world, having a bonfire every night, and… on your last day you are going to discover a magical indigenous culture: the Kuna.
Whatever you decide to do, you are going to overall have a beautiful and deep adventure! Feet covered in white sand and salt on your skin, you are going to be disconnected from the world and connected with the nature that surrounds you instead!
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a speedboat: DURATION
It’s a 4 days tour, always keep in mind the weather conditions which might lengthen your journey. You are likely to spend a total of 8 hours on the boat within the span of 4 days/3 nights time which is giving you more time to explore the islands and live at the fullest the San Blas dream!
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a speedboat: COST
The cost of any tour starts from 465 dollars per Person!
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a speedboat: DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL
The departure would be from Cart, San Blas (Pick-up at your hotel in Panama City with a shared SUV/4×4 for 25 dollars per Person).
The arrival in Capurgana, Colombia in the afternoon of the last day of your trip, from here on you can travel onwards to Cartagena or any other major city in Colombia with the first ferry the following day departing at 7 am.
Important note: Follow the final steps listed in combining a flight to Puerto Obaldia and a boat to Capurgana to get the information on how to travel further from Capurgana on.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a speedboat: ACCOMMODATION
In San Blas, you are going to sleep in traditional cabins on tropical islands which can be rough for some but a very unique experience!
If you haven’t slept in the hammock before, be prepared to sleep in it right in the middle of the Caribbean sea on a remote island while watching the stars!
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a speedboat: FOOD
During this trip, you are going to taste delicious meals cooked by the boat crew, who usually tries to accommodate any special requests.
The icing on the cake: all the food is bought from the local Kuna people rafting up in their dug-out canoes with lobster they caught free diving on the reef!
The Kuna Culture: The Kuna are the indigenous people who populate the 365 islands in the San Blas – named Kuna Yala or Guna Yala from the Kuna. A Kuna guide will show you around the community and explain all through their history. It’s indeed an incredible and unique experience.
From Panama to Colombia by sailing boat
If you choose to get from Panama to Colombia (or vice-versa) by sailboat, it’s going to be a similar experience but with a few differences which I am going to list here below.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a sailboat: DURATION
On a sailboat, the length of the trip depends on the weather but you will likely spend a total of 5 nights visiting 3-5 groups of islands and reaching the port of Cartagena through the awe-inspiring sights of the wide open Caribbean Sea.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a sailboat: COST
The cost of a sailboat trip will be from 450-950 dollars per person depending on the kind of boat you choose!
Indeed you have the chance to choose from over 25 boats depending on your needs and luxury standards.
Be sure to get in touch with the tour company before booking and ask about whatever you consider priorities for the best experience so that you won’t be disappointed.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a sailboat: DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL
If you are going on a sailboat, you will be leaving from Puerto Lindo, San Blas (Pick-up at your hotel in Panama City with a shared SUV/4×4 for 25 dollars per person or take a local bus which takes 3-5 hours and costs around 8 dollars).
You will arrive in Cartagena, Colombia in the morning or afternoon depending on the weather conditions.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a sailboat: ACCOMMODATIONS
On the islands, you are going to sleep in private bungalows (for 2 or 4-6 people) or mixed dormitories. Both of them are provided with western-style beds and bedrooms (mattresses, pillows, and sheets but no hot water).
In the last few days, since you are going to be on the open sea you are going to sleep on the boat.
Getting from Panama to Colombia on a sailboat: FOOD
You are going to taste delicious local food prepared by the boat crew and bought from the Kuna and they will do their best to accommodate any special requests.
Important note: Keep your eyes open as you will have more opportunities to see dolphins since they love swimming alongside the boat on open seas!
What is included in any kind of boat tour from Panama to Cartagena?
✅ boat Transfer From Carti, Panama to Sapzurro, Colombia through the San Blas Islands
✅ 3 or 5 nights of accommodation on the Island/ and on board (depending on which tour you choose)
✅ safety vests, which must be worn while sailing
✅ visit different islands and Kuna villages (Some tours do not include it and you have to pay the Guna Yala Tourist Tax of 20.- dollars per Person);
✅ All meals, tea, coffee, and water;
✅ Standard immigration agent and port fees;
✅ Kuna Guide explaining their culture and history and showing around the village.
What is NOT included in any kind of boat tour from Panama to Colombia?
❌ Visas, if required – Check the following iVisa website to be sure you get the right information for entering Panama or Colombia;
❌ Yellow Fever certificate showing vaccine administration at least 10 days prior to entry into Colombia; It’s supposed to be mandatory but I wasn’t asked for it.
❌ Soft drinks, snacks, and alcoholic drinks: you can purchase them on the islands or take them along with you;
❌ Guan Yala Tourist Tax of 20.- dollars per Person depending on the tour you choose;
❌ Transport To Departure Location: you can reach Puerto Lindo by ground shuttle transport available from Panama City early on the morning of your departure for 25 dollars per Person or by public transport for 12 dollars per Person.
Use the last option only if the departure is the next day and you are willing to overnight in Puerto Lindo.
❌ Governmental entrance fee to San Bals and dock fee: 22.- dollars for foreigners, 7 dollars for nationals/residents, and free entrance for children up to 8 years.
Which Tour Should You Book to get from Panama to Colombia by boat?
What should you book now? Good question, therefore I have a few options for you.
If you are on a budget and not willing to spend more than 400 dollars per Person, I recommend you have a look at how to visit this piece of paradise on your own (see details below).
I highly suggest booking a speed boat tour through the San Blas with San Blas Adventures. I did it myself and I had one of the best experiences in my life!
In case you are looking to sail instead and live the thrill of the open sea, I highly recommend you to have a look at the San Blas dreams which also has a huge range of different boats to choose from!
You can book these tours on VIATOR as well. Here below some of the most highly rated options.
Top-rated tours to San Blas from Panama
Please note that these tours DO NOT include transfers to Colombia
Alternative ways to get from Panama to Colombia: by plane, bus, ferry, or car.
Whatever reason you might have not to take into consideration a sailing trip through San Blas, I want to give you all the information you might want for other alternatives to the Panama-Colombia border crossing.
► Combining a flight to Puerto Obaldia and a Boat to Capurganá
This might be the most recommended option if you don’t want to spend a couple of days on a sailing trip on different islands. Start this adventure with a one-hour flight from Panama City to Puerto Obaldia.
The cost is around 60-100 dollars per person, and you might think of packing light because usually you are allowed to take a maximum of 30 lbs of checked-in luggage.
Calculate 2% of your flight ticket per extra lbs you might have which is still reasonable compared to other oversized baggage experiences.
☝️Important note: all the national flights depart from the small Albrook Airport and not Tocumen International.
Once in Obaldia’s airport, head to immigration where they require 2 photocopies of your passport. Don’t worry, if you don’t have it.
In fact, there is copy shop right next door as most people travel here just to make the border crossing.
After migration, purchase your ticket from the little restaurant near the immigration office for the boat ready to leave within an hour or a maximum of two hours from your arrival.
Make sure that you are heading to Capurgana and not a town named La Miel.
Depending on weather conditions you are going to reach Capurgana, Colombia, in a 30-minute ride.
Important note: The cost of this trip is 15 USD per person, they might charge you extra dollars if you are carrying way too much stuff!
Remember to go through Colombian immigration once you get to Capurgana which is a couple of minutes walk from the pier.
The only way to arrive in Turbo from Capurgana is by catching the daily boat leaving at 7 am for the cost of 25 dollars and 3 hours time. Therefore you might spend overnight in Capurgana and purchase the ticket for the boat directly with the hostel/hotel’s reception.
If you get seasick or easily throw up when someone else does, be sure to have some pills against seasickness.
From Turbo to Cartagena is around a 7 hours ride for 30 dollars per person. Keep in mind that you necessarily need to get from Capurgaa to Turbo from which you can reach any kind of destination in Colombia.
Check out the following link to get more information about it.
Flight to Puerto Obaldia + a Boat to Capurganá: PRACTICAL
👉 Total trip duration: 2 days
👉 Total costs: 130 USD – price might vary depending on how early you book your flight and how light you are traveling.
► Flying from Panama City to Medellin or any other city from/to Colombia/Panama
If you don’t have much time and are not in an adventurous mood, you can always consider flying from Panama to Colombia which remains the most convenient way to get you to the heart of Colombia.
Flights cost between 150-200 dollars, baggage included, and it is just one-hour flight.
Important note: the earlier you book it the better, otherwise you could find yourself spending over 400 dollars for a one-way ticket!
► Ferry from Colon (Panama) to Cartagena (Colombia)
***Because of another failure in 2016, the ferry will no longer operate!***
There used to be in service a Ferry Panama Cartagena, a twice-weekly ferry service, according to weather conditions, that takes between 11 – 18 hours. You were able to transport vehicles as well.
Cost: budget options started at 99 dollars for a seat or 115 dollars for a bed in a 4-person cabin and in addition add 20-40 dollars more because all food and drinks had to be purchased on board.
Their website doesn’t have any information but depending on when you are reading this post, it may be worth checking it out, just in case they come later on back in service.
How to visit the San Blas on your own
I haven’t done it myself, but I heard a lot of people visiting San Blas on their own without paying for a tour. In this section, I would love to share this information easily accessible for anyone hoping to avoid a tour!
Visiting the San Blas islands on your own is the cheapest way to do it. The cost can get down to 190 dollars, which might vary depending on how many days you spend on the San Blas (25 dollars per night) and whether they charge you extra for your baggage. Overnight in Capurgana is not calculated!
Here is how to plan your trip to the San Blas on a budget.
► Book your 4×4 jeep ride with your hostel in Panama City to Carti.
Pick up at 5 am, costs 30 dollars, and lasts between 2-3 hours.
► Negotiate a water taxi to your preferred island on the San Blas.
It might take some time to negotiate your passage at the cost of a 20 dollars return trip.
Important note: if you are a large group or you find a travel buddy in the hostel, make sure to arrange the accommodations for the islands via a hostel in Panama City
► All you have to do now is sit back and relax while heading to paradise!
Accommodation and food cost around 25 dollars per night in San Blas
► When your adventure ends, make your way back to Carti with the water taxi. From there you can take a boat departing from Puerto Obaldia.
Try to get to the port early in the morning since it’s going to be a long (6-8 hours), rough and expensive ride (100 dollars per person).
► Head to immigration once in Obaldia
If you don’t have copies of your passport, go next door to the copy shop.
► Purchase your 30-minute boat ride (make sure to check you are heading to Capurgana)
Head to the little restaurant near the immigration office for the boat, it usually leaves within an hour or maximal two from the last airplane arrival. It costs 15 dollars per person, they might charge you extra dollars if you are carrying too much stuff.
► Head to immigration once you get to Capurgana, Colombia
It’s a couple of minutes walk from the pier, do not forget about it! If you don’t know, ask locals and they are going to help you with it!
Once in Capurgana, Colombia, you can leave for Turbo, Capurgana, every day by catching a boat at 7 am for the cost of 25 dollars and 3 hours time. Therefore you might spend overnight in Capurgana and purchase the ticket for the boat directly with the hostel/hotel’s reception.
Keep in mind that Turbo is an optimal travel hub for reaching any kind of destination in Colombia. Check out the following links to get more information about it.
Thinking of crossing the Darien gap? Here is why you shouldn’t do it
If you are fancying something more adventurous than a touristy boat trip, you may want to consider visiting the Darien gap with an experienced guide who knows where to take you without danger while still getting to Colombia in a safer way. (see above)
Let me clarify why you might consider crossing Panama to Colombia by boat instead of walking through this dangerous section of the Pan-American Highway.
Because of swamps, marshes, and rivers, construction in the Darien Gap would be very expensive. Therefore humans have not found a way to cross this inhospitable jungle barrier that separates Central America from South America.
Not only is there a lack of roads to travel through, but this place is the most impenetrable piece of the jungle on the planet teeming with venomous snakes, plants and not to forget drug traffickers, guerrillas, hostile indigenous tribes, and illegal migrants. That’s why it’s an inhospitable and very dangerous place to be!
Insider tip: You might still want to visit this place, according to Lonely Planet there is a way you could visit it with a Guide after being granted permission from the Panama Government.
If you don’t want a bad experience and want to be trouble-free, I recommend bridging the gap with a boat trip from Panama to Colombia instead!
Useful Tips When You Visit The San Blas
✅ Finding other travelers in hostels in the capital might be easier to make a more affordable price and negotiate it with captains!
✅ If you opt to get on a tour, book it in advance because you might not find a place if you wait too long.
✅ For your own safety, avoid going to Colon city. It is considered to be the most dangerous city in Panama.
✅ Make sure that you take enough money with you to Capurgana, there won’t be a way to withdraw money on your arrival in Colombia. Exchange rates are terrible, so make sure you are able to change enough pesos in Panama City before taking off.
✅ Use a huge plastic bag to store your luggage or backpack with items you are not going to use during your trip saving them from arriving at their destination soaked.
✅ Have a dry bag to store items you are going to use during your stay on the islands.
✅ Get some pills against seasickness.
Best time to visit San Blas
If you are wondering when is the best time to visit San Blas I am breaking down this information for you so you can organize your trip accordingly.
San Blas has two stations since it has a humid tropical climate; it doesn’t fall into the category of 4 seasons in countries such as spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
In this case, there is the dry and the rainy season and a phenomenon called San Juan’s little summer.
San Juan’s Little Summer
Have you ever heard of San Juan’s little summer?
This is a phenomenon of the San Juan Veranito which is when the best time to visit San Blas occurs because rains and winds stop, and the sky clears up offering sunny days!
It is an atypical phenomenon that happens in the rainy season, for a duration of 2 weeks starting from June 24th, along with the celebration of St. John the Baptist.
From the beginning of May until November you are going to approach the rainy season. It might be also called the hurricane season since it occurs between the beginning of June and the end of November.
Although May is considered to be the wettest month of the year with aggressive rains, it is when winds practically disappear and increase the humidity up to 90 – 100%!
If you consider going during the rainy season take with you waterproof items whether you are camping or not.
A very important rule from this season is when it is sunny during the morning, in the afternoon it rains and vice versa. Keep in mind that higher rainfall occurs early in the morning.
The dry season which is commonly called summer starts around the end of December and lasts until April.
Not only during the day do you encounter nice temperatures, but it is also when during this period the winds begin to blow stronger reaching between 10-17 feet waves! This is also why the dry season is called the windy season.
Not only do winds from the Northeast approach the San Blas, sporadic rains and dampness down to 70% come along too.
How to get from Panama to Colombia by boat: final thoughts
Whether you want to just relax, be by yourself, have a fancy holiday, sharing this experience with strangers, there is something for everyone in San Blas!
Now that you have all the information on how to get from Panama to Colombia by boat, it’s time to plan your San Blas trip and enjoy your vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world!
About the Author – Giorgy, aka the Goofball, is the owner and author of G-Extreme Travel, a travel blog tailored for every adventure who’s sharing the same Chemical Goofiness. She hopes to inspire and encourage more travelers to head to Latin America and experience the gorgeous beauty it has to offer such as the San Blas islands! You can follow her adventures on the gextremetravel blog or instagram.”
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