Before departing on my Great South American adventure, I had no Idea the Darien Gap even existed.
It wasn’t until I began chatting with other backpackers en route to South America did I learn of this anarchic cartel filled jungle that divides the continents.
The more people who advised me not to attempt the overland crossing, the more dead set I became on doing it.
“I’ve trekked through some of the dodgiest parts of Ethiopia and Sudan, been chased by gun wielding farmers, and jumped international borders.” I thought defiantly. “How bad could it really be?“
It wasn’t until I met that sun scorched Alaskan, did my gung ho overland ambitions begin to wane. He described a Jurassic park like jungle filled with gangsters and crooked cops who would demand a few hundred dollars every few miles.
Needless to say, I began researching my other options. With only 600$ to my name, I needed to find a way to Colombia for cheap if not completely free.
Without further ado, below are all the ways you can cross the Darien Gap.
1) Trek The Darien Gap Overland
As I mentioned before, this option is by far the most dangerous, arduous, and probably even the most expensive. Although you don’t have to pay for a plane or boat, you will have to pay off local cops.
Additionally, if you’re serious about going overland and don’t want to be taken hostage or killed, you’re going to need an experienced guide. So unless you’re a jungle survival pro and know how to evade the cartel and cops, I wouldn’t advise it.
2) Sail Across The Darien Gap On A Yacht
Sailing from Panama to Cartagena is one of the most relaxing and exciting ways to cross the continents. Although it is a bit on the pricey side at 550$, it is worth every penny. It is not simply a ferry service but rather a 5 day island hopping, party filled, lobster eating adventure that you will never forget.
Thanks to some negotiations, I’ve managed to work out a small but decent discount if you decide to reserve a trip through The Runaway Guide. Check out Runaway Reservations for more details.
3) Hop around the Darien Gap On Planes, Boats, and Busses
This option is one of the cheapest and backpacker tested but nowhere near as much fun as sailing. First you catch a domestic flight for around 100$ from Panama City to the city of Puerto Obaldia. After getting an exit stamp you can take a 30 minute motor boat to Capurgana. From here you take another boat across to Turbo where you can then take a bus down to Medellin. Although it’s a bit tricky, you get the adventure of crossing the gap by land while remaining relatively safe. Plus the total cost after bus, boat, and other fees is only around 300$.
4) Fly From Panama To Colombia
Flying is not the cheapest way to cross the Darien gap and it is definitely the least adventurous. And since the price of a plane ticket is almost equivalent to a 5 day cruise through paradise, I would definitely recommend sailing instead. However, if time is an issue, then a flight is your best option. Flights between Panama City and Cartagena Columbia run daily and average around 400$. The cheapest flights are often found on Spirit Airlines. If you don’t want to pay double at the airport, be sure to buy you’re carry on baggage space online.
5) Hitchhike On A Boat Across The Darien Gap
Hitchhiking on a boat between Panama and Colombia is possible but often requires a lot of waiting. If you’re interested in working for passage on a boat like Yacht Independence as I did, it definitely helps if you have prior experience on boats, and are willing to put in a least a few months work as a deck hand. Check out Crossing The Darien Gap For Free to see how I did it.
Unless you are prepared to pay exorbitant fess, and be kidnapped or even killed, I wouldn’t recommend Crossing the Darien Gap by land. Crossing by a combination of planes, boats, and busses is an adventure but also a lot of hassle and potentially dangerous. Flying is quick but not much cheaper than going by boat. In the end, the most fun and relaxing way to cross the Darien Gap is to go by sail boat.
If you want to go by boat and are looking for a discount, you can book through me for 25% off the 50$ deposit fee. Be sure to message me on facebook at The Runaway Guide first for the coupon code. Then head to Reserve Your Ticket To Paradise. If you need help finding a cheap flight to either Panama City or Cartagena, message me on Facebook and I will see what I can do :)
Let Me Know What You Think!
It wasn’t until yesterday, when I was looking around on Google maps, and decided to see what the N/S America border between Panama and Columbia looked like, that I found out about Darien Gap. I had though the roads went all the way through, and that the only reason expeditors often fly or sail past that area was because of the dangerousness of the countries due to the gangs (and corrupt officials).
So if the inland is so dangerous and slow to travel through because of the jungles, then what about the coastline, i.e. the beaches? That will still be subject to the bad people, though it might be easier to see them coming. Trying to look on Google satellite, it’s hard to tell, but I do see typical sandy beaches. Are there places where the forest comes right up to the ocean (don’t see how there would be no space between the ocean and the brush), or is it cliffs?
The Runaway Guide says
Hey Eric, it is possible to Kayak the gap.
Brandon Lem says
I have a couple questions about “2) Sail Across The Darien Gap On A Yacht”
Where does the sail boat leave from? and how am i able to get to that location. Right now i am in costa rica, and i know to take a bus to panama city, i’m just wondering where from there. And you %25 discount make the $412.50, so if i put $50 down i will only need to bring 462 on board to pay. Hopefully you see this, i am planning to be heading down in the next few weeks.
The Runaway Guide says
Hey Brandon, I boat leaves from the San Blas islands. A shuttle takes you there from either Hostel Luna/Mamallena hostel in Panama city.
Unfortunately it’s just 25% off the deposit of 50$. I wish I could offer 25 off the whole trip cause its dang expensive. The total trip price is 550$.