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A Boat Trip from Panama to Colombia via the San Blas Islands

If you want to travel from Panama to Colombia (or Colombia to Panama) you have three options:

1) Take a boat from Panama to Colombia via the amazing San Blas islands

2) Walk through the wild jungles of the Darien Gap. Living to tell the tale isn’t guaranteed!

3) Fly (probably the least exciting option).

As you’ve probably guessed, we decided to take a boat tour from Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures. This differs hugely from the more common option of taking a 5 day yacht trip where you’ll spend a lot of time at sea. We spent about 8 hours on the water over the 4 day trip which gave us more time to relax and explore some tiny Caribbean islands. Here’s what to expect on this island hopping 4 day boat trip from Panama to Colombia (or Colombia to Panama).

The beaches

Even if you don’t make the journey from Panama to Colombia I’d strongly advise you to spend a few days exploring the San Blas Islands. The beaches were the best we saw in Central America (by a long way) and there isn’t a resort to be seen. White sand and bright blue water are the main features on these tiny, unspoilt Caribbean islands – you might even get to see dolphins playing just off shore like we did.

Further reading: I wrote a post about the islands we visited during the tour, check it out!

San Blas Islands - Panama to ColombiaIsland hopping Panama to ColombiaPanama to Colombia - island hopping through the San Blas Islands

The food

How does all you can eat lobster sound? That was our dinner on the first night and I made sure I got my money’s worth – I might never have the option of gorging on that much lobster again in my life! The rest of the meals were good as well but couldn’t quite live up to the amazing start. Nutella even made a welcome appearance for breakfast one morning; we’d avoided it in Central America as it was really expensive.

Lobster on the tour from Panama to Colombia

The travel

We got picked up in Panama City in a jeep for the scenic trip to the Caribbean coast and from there we travelled on speed boats all the way to Colombia. We didn’t go out to the deep blue sea; land was visible the whole time and the water wasn’t too rough. I think we were lucky as the group before us apparently had a few bumpy rides; definitely bring sea sickness tablets! I’ve heard horror stories about the rough 40 hour ocean voyages that the yacht trips make – we were definitely glad we took the speed boat option.

A boat trip from Panama to Colombia via the San Blas Islands

The people

Group tours can be pretty hit and miss; it all depends on the people you’re with. We had a great group and a couple of laid back guides which made the tour a good fit for almost anyone. At times we drunk with the party crowd but we had plenty of “couple time” on deserted Caribbean beaches. There was no pressure to socialise 24 hours a day and the whole atmosphere was really relaxed. We were determined to find out if this tour was suitable for couples as well as young backpackers and it definitely is (it may depend on the group you’re with the though). The guides were also great and didn’t organise activities all the time; when you’re on beaches as good as these you want plenty of time to relax.

Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures

The sleeping arrangements

We slept on three different islands; two nights in hammocks and one in a cabin that we shared with another couple. I’d never slept in a hammock (well, not for a whole night at least) and it took a bit of getting used to. There were also a lot of mosquitoes around so make sure you bring some repellent and maybe your own mosquito net if you have one. Having a bed to sleep in on the second night was definitely welcome but sleeping in hammocks does have a certain appeal once you get used to it.

Panama to Colombia - huts in the San Blas Islands

The Kuna

The Kuna are the owners of the San Blas Islands, which form part of the Kuna Yala (land of the Kuna), an autonomous region of Panama. We stayed in a Kuna community on the last night and had a brief tour of the village. It was interesting enough but I always feel a little uncomfortable on these village tours (actually, I usually try and avoid them all together). It only lasted around half an hour though and it was nice to learn about this interesting culture. The Kuna settled in these islands during the 1800s and have lived in their traditional way ever since.

Further reading: Interested in the Kuna society and history? Check out this article!

Panama to Colombia - Kuna Yala village

Capurgana and Sapzurro

The boat tour from Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures finishes in Sapzurro (or starts there if you’re doing it from Colombia to Panama). Sapzurro and Capurgana are small towns only accessible by boat and are very different from the rest of Colombia. The beaches were OK but nothing compared to the San Blas beaches. There are some good nature trails in the area but I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time there; take a boat and bus to Cartagena after a night or two.

Panama to Colombia - Capurgana

Panama to Colombia: How much does it cost?

The boat trip from Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures will set you back around $375, plus an extra $30 for the jeep transfer and $22 for the Island tax/entry fee. You’re also looking at around 140,000 COP to get from Capurgana to Cartagena. This works out cheaper than the yachts (which are between $500-$550) and you avoid the rough sea crossing. It was an easy decision for us as Gia gets seasick and wanted to spend the least amount of time on the water as possible.

Panama to Colombia - a San Blas beach

The boat trip from Panama to Colombia has been one of our most memorable experiences in Latin America so far. If you want world class beaches, fresh lobster and a unique adventure, definitely consider taking the trip!

I worked with San Blas Adventures to bring you this post; all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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6 Comments

  1. August 14, 2015 at 6:13 am — Reply

    Looks awesome bro – I’m heading that way myself soon and was looking at the yacht option but this looks like a way better option and also cheaper too…happy days!

    • Jon Algie
      August 14, 2015 at 9:19 am — Reply

      Cheers Chris, it’s a great trip and a lot of people don’t seem to know about it!

  2. Terry Reitman
    September 1, 2015 at 7:09 am — Reply

    The open sea crossing to Cartagena is seen as one of the worlds toughest by the global boating community, Please make yourself well informed of what you are getting yourself in for, and then relax, its a great trip, a must do and completely safe .

    • Jon Algie
      September 1, 2015 at 12:09 pm — Reply

      It does seem tough – glad we stayed closer to the coast!

  3. April 3, 2016 at 12:05 am — Reply

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for this article, we’ve just booked our tickets for the end of this month – Columbia to Panama. We were a bit hesitant as we are a couple in our 30s, not backpackers in our 20s. I hope that we enjoy it as much as you two did!

    Any further tips would be welcomed!

    Jess

    • Jon Algie
      April 5, 2016 at 4:46 pm — Reply

      Nice, I hope your enjoy the trip! I guess it depends a lot on your group but I think there is usually a range of ages etc.

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