Sailing from Panama to Colombia with a bicycle on the Sailing Koala

During my cycling trip from Alaska to Argentina, I ended up sailing from Panama to Colombia. I climbed aboard the Sailing Koala and had a great time visiting the San Blas islands as part of the voyage!

Panama To Cartagena with a bike

Getting from Panama to Colombia with a bicycle presents some difficulty. Namely, the Darien Gap – a swampy marshland with few roads and a popular place for drug runners to shoot their guns off.

The sensible option, is to sail from Panama to Colombia, and so that's what I did!

Not all boats that sail between Panama and Cartagena will take bicycles, so it's best to do your research beforehand. This account is my experience of sailing with the bike between Panama and Cartagena, and perhaps there's a few insights you can use to make your own trip easier.

Boat Ride from Panama to Colombia

I was looking forwards to sailing from Panama to Colombia and seeing the San Blas Islands along the way, and it got off to an early start when the four wheel drive came to pick me up at 04.30 from Zulys hostel in Panama City.

The driver was almost as sleepy as I was, and roping the bike and trailer on top of the four wheel drive seemed to take a very long time! Just as well he tied it on well though, as he then drove like a maniac for the next 4 hours to the coast!

My bicycle and trailer strapped to the roof of a 4WD in Panama

The road was one that would have been possible to ride, but it would have been pretty unpleasant cycling.

There were constant killer ascents and descents, not to mention some rough sections and a waist high river crossing.

I in no way felt guilty for taking the four wheel drive option !

Sailing trip from Carti in Panama

At the coastal town of Carti, there were some brief formalities to go through, and I was greeted by Fabian, the captain of the Sailing Koala.

The Sailing Koala at just over 30 feet, is not the biggest boat on the ocean, especially when six passengers complete with backpacks and of course my bicycle and trailer are loaded on board. Lets call it cosy!

If you are planning on sailing from Panama to Colombia keep that in mind.

Setting sail from Panama

The first island we visited was little more than an hour from the mainland, which gave us all a chance to get used to the boat, and each other.

On board the Sailing Koala were Roger (Mr. Aquadump) from Holland, Adrian from Germany, Jennel and Laura from Canada, and Marlon also from Holland.

On such a small boat, you make friends quickly, and the Sailing Koala crew was a solid one from beginning to end!

The San Blas Islands near Panama

The first island we headed too, as all the islands in San Blas we visited, is home to members of the Kuna tribe. Fabian prides himself on his contacts with the Kuna community, and it gave us a brief insight into the way they live, eat and are educated.

The first island we visited in the San Blas as we sailed from Panama to Colombia
Colourful fihsing boat and amazing waters of the San Blas islands near Panama
After landing, we had a walk around the island and an impromptu basketball match with some of the kids took place.

That the Kuna, one of the smallest races of people on earth should play basketball was quite amusing, but what they lacked in height, they made up for in skill and aggression !

Lunch with the Kuna

Lunch was in one of the Kuna houses, and the staple of rice, beans, potatoes and fish would become a familiar feature over the following days.

The following day, we headed to another island… and what an island it was !!

A tropcial paradise in the San Blas islands. I visited here when sailing from Panama to Colombia.

Remarkably, they even had cold beer…. that came in handy !!

San Blas Islands

This island was home to a couple of families of Kuna, who offered great hospitality as we walked, swam and snorkelled around the island for a couple of days.
Walking along the beaches of the San Blas Islands
You may feel a touch of jealousy at these pictures… but that's ok !!
San Blas Islands - A perfect desert island setting!
Slightly better than Skegness.
The palm fringed beaches of the San Blas islands near Panama.
A perfect castaway island.
Sailing from Panama to Colombia
I really felt like delaying sailing from Panama to Colombia and staying there for a month! At night, a few little drinkies seemed to be in order, which led onto lots of little drinkies and then drinking games. Great fun !!

Sailing to Colombia Highlight

I have to say that sailing from Panama to Colombia on the Sailing Koala was one of the highlights of my cycling expedition. Probably because it didn't involve the bicycle at all !!
Making new friends, sharing stories, having new experiences and learning a little along the way is why I enjoy travelling so much.
 sailing from Panama to Colombia
The Sailing Koala

Arriving in Colombia

Eventually, it was time to make our way to Colombia… 40 hours of non stop sailing.
Being in a little boat in the middle of the ocean is a bit of a crazy experience, especially when the auto pilot breaks, and you have to take shifts in steering the boat through the night as it is rocked by waves, and lightening cracks the sky overhead.
I actually fared a lot better than I thought I would (thanks to some travel sickness pills), and towards the end, I had found my sea legs.
Dolphins accompanied us some of the way, and at one point, Marlon was almost hit by a flying fish in the middle of the night that had decided to land in the Sailing Koala.
Fabian - the Captain of the Sailing Koala
Sun block is a must whilst sailing… this is probably a little extreme though Fabian !!
Captain Dave Briggs sailing from Panama to Colombia
Captain Dave at your service !!
Sleeping arrangements.
The skyline of Cartagena was unexpected after so long in the islands and at sea.
Unloading my bicycle and trailer after arriving by boat in Colombia.
And finally we reached land, where we all had the curious sensation of the land still moving beneath us. What a trip and what an experience!!
Sailing from Panama to Colombia via the San Blas islands.

Panama to Colombia FAQ

Readers who are looking at sailing trips to get from Panama to Colombia as well as other potential routes, often ask questions similar to:

Can you take a boat from Panama to Colombia?

There are many boats and catamarans that make the amazing trip between Panama and Colombia. The most popular passage takes five days and five nights from Puerto Lindo, Panama, to Cartagena, Colombia's beautiful colonial town.

How long does it take to get to Colombia from Panama?

The sailboat trip to Cartagena in Colombia usually takes 5 days from Panama, and includes stops at the San Blas islands along the way.

Can you travel by boat to Colombia?

Sailing Panama to Colombia ca be arranged at your accommodation in Panama City or at coastal departure areas.

How do you cross from Panama to Colombia?

Sailboat trips are the best way to travel between the two countries. The crossing via the Darien Gap is too dangerous to make.

Read more about cycling from Alaska to Argentina


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