The Art of Sailing From Colombia to Panama

After spending one awesome month in Colombia last January, it was eventually time for me to leave this enchanting country and move on. To switch continent and venture off to Panama.

There are two ways to do this, unless you’re willing to swim or take a suicidal trek through the deep and guerilla infested jungles conjoining the two countries, that is. Because no, there are no roads connecting Colombia and Panama. Most non-suicidal travelers thus chose to either fly, or sail. The first option tends to be cheaper and of course faster, but as I figured, also way more lame.

The missing road has turned the seabound alternative into good business and plenty of sailboats take off in both directions every week offering food, accommodation and a sweet little detour through the amazing San Blas archipelago before arriving on mainland. My goal for my whole trip from Peru to Canada was to avoid airplanes as much as possible, preferably entirely, and only travel over land and water. So well, even though my budget for that month pretty much got slaughtered because of this decision, it was a simple one to make.

The quality of the boats and the food served vary a whole lot, as well as the skills among all different captains and crews, so doing a bit of research before you take off can really make a difference. I ended up sailing with Eduardo, this older Italian guy who’d been sailing around the globe several times in his life so far. He had a beautiful new 44-foot catamaran and I got a good vibe when I went down to the harbor in Cartagena one afternoon to see him and his precious (the boat).

Le Boat

However, there were also these three Swizz guys coming along on the trip, who’d been off sailing the same direction five days earlier, but had ended up in a storm that their previous captain and boat clearly couldn’t handle. It resulted in near disaster, a couple of days stranded on some random island and then transport back to Cartagena and basically no refund for the misery. I admired them for the courage to give it another try. Again, research is the key.

Ship wreck

How you do not want to end up……

Cartagena skyline

We left Colombia and South America the next afternoon. I was sitting in the back of the boat watching the Cartagena skyline slowly shrink on the horizon, until we were embraced by nothing but an endlessly blue ocean. The tropical day turned into evening, and as the sun set and we opened our first cold beer, we got accompanied by dozens of dolphins. A pretty magic moment. They danced in the waves as the catamaran moved forward for a long time, seemingly out of pure joy.

After 30+ hours on open sea we finally entered Panamanian territory and started to spot the first out of hundreds of little paradise islands in the turquoise Caribbean water. We spent about two days snorkeling around, eating lovely Italian-inspired food, interacting with the indigenous Kuna people, and exploring a few islands. 

On one of them I stumbled upon Filipe, the one and only resident who had lived a simple but happy life here for the last 70 years. He’s a living example of the fact that happiness isn’t necessarily related to modern notions such as having a good job, a nice house and a family. We’re all so different, and this little man clearly found quality of life in this peaceful environment, far away from much of society’s madness. Encounters like these add to the list of factors that make me wanna keep wandering the globe for as long as I’m physically capable to.

Over all, an awesome experiece and if you’re ever about to travel the same way (or the opposite) I’d definitely recommend looking into doing it Jack Sparrow style, by letting the wind carry you there.

6 comments on “The Art of Sailing From Colombia to Panama

  1. “Wind in the Willows” comes to mind . . . reminding me (who has lived on two boats . . . so far) that there is nothing better than simply (he paraphrases :) ) “messing about with boats” . . . Cool stuff, Sara . . . cool to (almost) the point of envy . . . jealousy :) Safe travels

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