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1925

Boat from Panama to Colombia – 3-day border crossing

0
  • 3-days/2-nights
  • Every Monday
  • Max. Guests: 14
  • Cartí, San Blas - Sapzurro, Colombia

Boat Panama to Colombia - Your San Blas Island Adventure starts here

Step into another world with our 3-day island hopping tour with the boat from Panama to Colombia, taking you to uninhabited tropical islands, colorful coral reefs and Kuna villages, where you can experience an ancient culture up close.

With limited time spent on the boat, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to soak up the sun and relax on the beach. Sleep in traditional cabins on tropical islands and cross the Panama-Colombia border, facilitated by our experienced, local team. This is the perfect way to explore the San Blas Islands and immerse yourself in a unique culture that few travelers have the chance to experience.

Tropical Islands95%
Indigenous Culture85%
Adventure80%
Fun100%

Details

Duration

3-days/2-nights 

Departure & Arrival

Monday: 8:30am Cartí, San Blas (Pick-up at your hotel in Panama City available)
Wednesday afternoon: Sapzurro, Colombia. Stay here or travel onwards to Cartagena/Medellin (see below)

Prices (per person)

Tour Option A: Shared dorm cabin*
$385
Tour Option B: Private cabin**
$425
Transport Panama City to Cartí (mandatory)
$35

* Dormitory: mixed, up to 8 people. Beds with mattresses, pillow, sheets. Shared bathrooms with western-style toilet & shower, no hot water. 

** Private cabin: for 2-6 people of the same group. Beds with mattresses, pillow, sheets. Shared bathrooms with western-style toilet & shower, no hot water. Potentially private bathroom for 1 out of 2 nights. 

 

Included

  • Boat transfer from Cartí, Panama to Sapzurro, Colombia through the San Blas Islands (max. 2-4h/day, safety vests provided)
  • 2 nights in traditional cabins (western-style beds and bathrooms) on two different islands
  • Meals (3x/day, starting with lunch on Day 1 - vegan/vegetarian options available on request)
  • Visits to different islands and Kuna villages (incl. entrance fees)
  • Immigration fee & support at the border
  • Kuna guide, knowledgable about our culture and history
  • MANDATORY: Governmental entrance fee to San Blas and dock fee ($22 USD per person)
  • MANDATORY: Transport from Panama City to Cartí, San Blas ($35 USD per person, shared SUV/4x4 for max. 6 people)
  • Beverages, drinks, snacks (buy or bring along)
  • Sunscreen, towels and personal items

Discounts

  • Groups of 5 or more: 10% off tour price
  • Children 5-8 years: 50% of tour price
  • Children 0-4 years: free stay (excl. food, can be purchased in the restaurant)

April & May Special Opportunity

Witness the Majesty of Leatherback Turtles

SPECIAL OFFER – APRIL & MAY:

Add one additional night at the end of your trip to visit Armila, a Kuna village on the mainland close to the Colombian border and a crucial nesting site for leatherback turtles, the largest and most impressive sea turtles on our planet with up to 2m/700kg. Learn about the various conservation efforts to protect these turtles and their nesting habitats and witness the incredible natural wonder of these endangered creatures.

Accommodation: dorm room only, meals included 
Price: +60 USD per person  
Program: arrive Wednesday afternoon to Armila, explore the village and beach. Dinner. Thursday morning: breakfast, followed by a dugout tour on the river into the jungle (Darien Gap), boat to Puerto Obaldia for Emmigration procedure from Panama, lunch and beach time in La Miel, final stop in Sapzurro where the tour ends. 
If you choose the extension with Armila, you part in Puerto Obaldia with the rest of the group that goes straight to Colombia. Instead of going from Puerto Obaldia to Sapzurro and ending the tour there on Wednesday afternoon, we will take you to Armila (10min boat ride) and extend the tour by ca 24h with a stay in Armila and a visit to La Miel. On Thursday afternoon, the tour then ends in Sapzurro. 
How to book: via email
 
Read more here
 

A giant leatherback turtle returning to the sea in Armila, San Blas, Panama

A giant leatherback turtle laying eggs in Armila, Kuna Yala, Panama

What to expect - Boat from Panama to Colombia

As a local business, we invite you onto the trip of your lifetime: explore in a small group the best the San Blas islands have to offer while supporting the local communities and making connections with like-minded travelers.

Starting in Cartí in San Blas, Panama we’ll be cruising in speedboats from one tropical island to another, all the way to Sapzurro in Colombia. Along the way we’ll explore different islands and Kuna villages. You’ll be living the dream in traditional Kuna cabins right next to the crystal clear Caribbean sea and enjoying super fresh local cuisine.

With short travel distances per day on the boat, many stops on the islands in between, and the coastline always in sight, you won’t get seasick!

Get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure you won’t forget!

  • Visit deserted islands
  • Explore an indigenous culture
  • Sleep in traditional cabins on the beach
  • Support local communities
  • Small groups
  • Local Kuna guides knowledgable in our culture
  • Delicious seafood

Itinerary

Might be slightly adapted due to weather or sea conditions or local festivities

Day 1 - Arrival in San Blas

We meet in the morning at the dock in Cartí, San Blas to start our trip. To get to Cartí, we arrange transport in a shared 4×4 from Panama City to Cartí for you with 3rd party drivers, incl. pickup at your hotel. Throughout the day, we explore several islands in the Cartí area, according to some the most beautiful islands in all of San Blas. At night, sleep in a traditional cabin right on the beach. Make sure to not miss the spectacular sunset and night sky!

Day 2 - Exploring Kuna culture

Today, we set out after breakfast, to explore the idyllic islands surrounding Nargána, Tupile and Ustupo. This secluded area is so far off from the mainland road, which makes it a rare gem mostly untouched by tourists. Here, the Kuna people live in harmony with nature and have been doing so for centuries. Throughout the day, we stop on some uninhabited islands for swimming and relaxation. We will get up close with the Kuna culture and lifestyle during a village visit for lunch where a local family invites us to eat in their small restaurant and during our stay for the night in Ustupu, one of the most traditional Kuna villages. 

Day 3 - Border-crossing

Today, it’s time to leave the islands behind and cross into Colombia. But before doing so, we make a final stop on beautiful Isla Pino. After extensive beach time and delicious local lunch, we head to Puerto Obaldía for the migration papers from Panama. Once done with the paper work and luggage check, we can enter the boat one last time for the ride across the Panama-Colombia border and arrive in the afternoon in Sapzurro, where our trip ends.

Map

PRE-TOUR | Panama City-Cartí, San Blas: shared jeep ride, organized through us
TOUR | Cartí through San Blas Islands to Sapzurro, Colombia: this tour, with us
POST-TOUR | Sapzurro, Colombia: onwards journey independently (see FAQ below for info)

San Blas Frontera - Map of 3-day island hopping trip Panama-Colombia through the San Blas Islands

FAQ

How is San Blas Frontera different from other operators?

  1. We are a local company – we are the only local, Kuna company offering this trip. We grew up in the border region between Panama and Colombia with our Kuna traditions and customs. The San Blas Islands are our home. All our guides are from San Blas, we do not employ foreigners or volunteers as guides.
  2. We offer a higher comfort – you will sleep in actual beds (hammocks only if you really wish to) and you can choose between small dorms or a private room
  3. We eat local cuisine – no processed or western food, only local cuisine prepared by local restaurants or families. Of course, we also offer vegan and vegetarian alternatives.
  4. We travel in small groups – Our groups are small enough to feel like you’re exploring San Blas independently, but big enough to create a good social vibe (ca. 8-15 people. vs up to 40 with other operators)
  5. You can stay longer if you like – our tour is planned for 3 days but reach out to us if you would like to extend it by a few days!

How to book and to pay?

You can book via the homepage (pick your desired date in the calendar and choose package option) or through email at reservaciones@sanblasfrontera.com.

Payment is in cash on the day of the tour (US Dollars only). If this is not possible, we also accept payment via PayPal or bank transfer for an additional fee. Please reach out for details.

How to get to the starting point in Cartí?

Our tour officially starts at the dock in Cartí, Kuna Yala, Panama. Cartí can be reached through a mountain-road in shared 4×4 cabs in ca. 3.5h from Panama City. Since there is no public transport to Cartí, and only registered drivers are allowed to bring tourists to San Blas, we will arrange the pickup for you in your hotel in Panama City and your drive to Cartí. Here, we start the tour with our boat.

What to expect at the border to Colombia?

Before leaving Panama and entering Colombia, we make a stop in Puerto Obaldia, Panama to get the paperwork ready for legally leaving Panama. This is the last Panamanian community before entering Colombia. We will take care of the paperwork and visit the different offices in Puerto Obaldia for you while you can have a drink or eat something at a local bakery. Usually this also involves luggage inspection by the local police before being allowed to return to the boat and enter Colombia. Our tour ends afterwards in Sapzurro, Colombia. You can stay in Sapzurro for a night or directly go to the next community, Capurgana. 

In Capurgana, you will need to get your entry stamp into Colombia within 24h of having arrived in Colombia. The immigration office can easily be located on the main street and it is an easy procedure. Please familiarize yourself with the specific entry requirements to Colombia for your country before starting the tour. 

 

How to travel onwards (from Sapzurro, Colombia)

 
Sapzurro to Capurgana:
Our tour ends on Wednesday afternoon in Sapzurro, Colombia.  You can stay here for a day to enjoy the relaxed vibe and beach in Sapzurro or directly go to Capurgana, where the Colombian immigration office is. We can support you in organizing a boat that can bring you directly to Capurgana (15min, 5-10 USD) when we arrive in Sapzurro. Once in Capurgana, please stamp your passport at the immigration office in Capurgana, this has to be done within a day of arriving to Colombia. The Immigration office is in Capurgana (main street) and usually open until the evening (ca. 6-7pm).In Capurgana, you can change US Dollars to Colombian Pesos in many places. There are no ATMs but some hotels might withdraw pesos for you if you pay with credit card. You will need to spend at least a night in Sapzurro or Capurgana before travelling onwards since ferries leave Capurgana only in the morning, although we highly recommend spending more than just one night in the area.
 
Capurgana to Cartagena or Medellin: 
From Capurgana, ferries leave every morning to Turbo and Necogli (8am and 10am), from where you can catch onward buses. Traveling to Cartagena or Medellin takes ca. 1 day, leaving Capurgana in the morning and arriving in the evening at your destination. So with tour ending on Wednesday, you can be in Cartagena by Thursday evening if you don’t stay for a few days in Capurgana. Total price Capurgana-Cartagena: 220k COP/75$, Capurgana-Medellin: 185k/62$. All tickets to be paid in Colombian Pesos (you can exchange money in Capurgana, Necocli)
Step 1: Boat Capurgana-Necocli
ca. 1.5h, departure: 8 am & 10am daily, 85k COP. Book your ticket the day before with Empresa Caribe SAS. Wrap your backpacks in plastic bags (can be bought there)
Step 2a: Van Necocli to Cartagena: 
First van from Necocli to Monteria, ca. 3h, 40k COP with the company Sotracor. Second van from Monteria to Cartagena: ca. 5.5h, 65k COP with the company Uroccidente.
OR: Step 2b: Van Necocli to Medellin
ca. 9.5h, 80k COP.
 
Alternatively: flights from Capurgana to Medellin on specific dates with www.pacificatravel.com.co
 
Amounts might change due to exchange rates or price changes of the ferry/bus operators

Can you share an exemplary itinerary from Panama City to Cartagena?

Exemplary planning from Panama City to Cartagena (4-days):

  • Sunday evening: latest arrival in Panama City (alternatively, but risky: arrival before 5am at Albrook Bus Terminal with overnight bus, e.g. from Bocas del Toro)
  • Monday: 5am departure in Panama City by 4×4 (no public transport to San Blas), ca. 3-4hours drive to Cartí, San Blas, Panama; we can arrange the ride for you. At 8:30am, our tour starts in Cartí, San Blas, Panama
  • Monday to Wednesday: Island hopping tour
  • Wednesday, afternoon: Arrival in Sapzurro, Colombia. Stay overnight in Sapzurro to enjoy beaches La Miel & Sapzurro. Alternatively, 10min boat to Capurganá, passport stamping and stay overnight.
  • Thursday or later: departure with ferry from Capurganá to Turbo or Necogli (1oam, your passport needs to be stamped before that!), from there bus ride to Cartagena (alternatively to other major cities in Colombia). Arrival in Cartagena in the evening.

We recommend staying for several days in Sapzurro and Capurganá if time permits. Travelling from Capurganá to Cartagena is possible in 1 day. Passport needs to be stamped in Capurganá within 1 day of arriving in Colombia. 

 

What should I pack?

You’ll be spending the entire day out on the ocean and in the sun so we highly recommend dressing accordingly!

Please bring mandatory:

  • Passport: mandatory, it will be checked upon entering the Comarca of Kuna Yala (San Blas)
  • Sufficient cash:in US Dollars to pay for the trip in cash, to buy drinks, snacks, souvenirs on the island (small bills of 1 USD and 5 USD highly recommended) – Credit cards are not accepted and there is no ATM in San Blas

Additionally, we recommend:

  • Sun protection: for the island and the boat ride (sun blocker, hat, T-shirt with sleeves, towel)
  • Towels
  • Water to drink: Water/soft drinks are not included in the package, please bring sufficient or purchase on the island
  • Snacks
  • Swimming gear
  • Sandals, flip flops
  • Wetbag or plastic bag for your valuables in case of a wet boat ride or rain
  • Flash light
  • Clothes (to change if you get wet on the boat ride + it might get chilly/windy at night)
  • Snorkeling equipment

Please wrap sensitive items and put them in a waterproof bag as the boat ride to and between islands might get bumpy and wet at times. Have your passport and cash with you during the car ride and ready to present when entering the Comarca of San Blas (passport check + payment of the governmental entrance fee) and in Puerto Obaldia.

How much luggage can we bring?

You can bring your luggage with you. If you have more than 1 large backpack/suitcase and a smaller carry-on, please inform us ahead of time.
Please also inform us if you have any bulky luggage (surf board, bike). Extra charges might occur. During trade wind season (December to February), there can be heavy winds and high waves, so please consult with us before the trip and ensure to wrap your bulky luggage to prevent it from getting damaged. We are not responsible for any damages that might occur.

How much cash should we bring and which currency?

How much cash: You will need cash for the following situations during our trip: 

  • Paying the tour price and transport to Cartí (in USD, if not already paid via PayPal)
  • Governmental entrance & dock fee of $22 USD (to be paid to the local authorities)
  • Cash for drinks, drinking water, beverages or snacks (not included, buy on the main islands or bring your own)
  • Cash for souvenirs, if wanted 
  • Onwards travel from Sapzurro/Capurgana

San Blas is cash-only, there are no ATMs or card payments in San Blas.

Currency: US Dollars are the officially accepted currency. Please bring sufficient cash (US Dollars), preferably in bills of $1 or $5 for paying for snacks, water, taxes etc. since locals rarely have sufficient change for larger bills. 

What about the entrance fee and other fees?

The followings fees are included: entrance fees by individual islands and villages that we visit, incl. the fee at the immigration center in Puerto Obaldia, Panama

Not included: the governmental entrance tax for visiting the Comarca of Kuna Yala, which all visitors to the San Blas islands have to pay once at the dedicated entrance points to Kuna Yala (road, ports and airports). This fee is used to protect the rich biodiversity of the Kuna Yala rainforests. It is $22 USD for foreigners and $5 USD for nationals and residents.

Is this trip suitable for children?

Yes, this trip is also suitable for children. Children usually love the beaches, the boat rides and being on an island. We recommend that children are at least old enough to walk when joining this trip. Keep in mind that most places do not have special baby equipment (baby beds, baby seats or special food/drinkable water) and that you will need to carry your infant on your lap during the boat ride.

Please also consider our special discounts for children.

Read this before booking your trip

A trip to the San Blas Islands is most likely very different to your usual vacation. All operations in San Blas are by law 100% owned and operated by local Kuna people, foreign investments are banned and foreigners/Panamanians are not allowed to conduct any business in San Blas. Most of the cabins are run by large families and provide income for a very large number of people. Many of the operators or employees have lived their entire life in San Blas, some never left the Comarca and most have never traveled to another country or stayed in a hotel. Kuna people have for hundreds of years lived a very simple and basic life consisting mainly of fishing and hunting. Tourism is fairly new and only very few have had real experience in the hospitality sector.

At the same time, the islands are very remote and difficult to reach. Everything that the islands themselves cannot provide (building material, gasoline for the boats, food,…) needs to be sourced in Panama City and sent for a high surcharge in a 4WD/SUV to the dock of Carti. From here, it is then redistributed via boats and again for a fee to smaller sellers and cabins. The islands are not provided with any infrastructure (electricity or running water) and locals live a simple life in tune with nature.

As you can imagine, great effort is required to provide a basic service to tourists and the locals do it to the best of their knowledge. As such, we kindly ask you to leave your mainland expectations behind and be open and try not to compare the $-value of a night in San Blas with a night in other parts of Panama. The simplicity of the cabins reflect a mix of the basic traditional lifestyle and the expensive sourcing for material with external financing being not allowed. Similarly, meals reflect local food patterns (fish/sea food with rice) with limited access and the attempt to adapt to foreign tastes with a bit of sides and salads. Drinking water needs to be imported from the City and is a luxury to most locals. Providing electricity and fresh water requires great effort and usage times might be restricted. Bed linens are washed by hand in the river on the mainland or sent to Panama City. There is no communal trash collection or recycling system in place. Only few locals speak English and some don’t even speak Spanish. 

 Nevertheless, we work closely with cabin owners to ensure that you will receive a great service, experience clean and functioning facilities and that your stay will be a remarkable one!

With this in mind, be ready to jump into your island adventure! Once on the island, you’ll most likely find that in such a beautiful setting, most modern-day luxuries are not needed and that there is a point to the simple and relaxing life that the Kuna people live 😊

Hear from our guests

  • Antonio Di Guida, on the San Blas Islands trip from Panama to Colombia

    Living and traveling through Kuna culture was one of the most incredible sensations found on this overland journey in Central America

     

    Blog Post

    Antonio Di Guida
    Italian Backpacker, Travel Nomad & Photographer
  • Timothy Cohen

    “I opted to use the services of a Kuna-based company, San Blas Frontera, to be sure that my money would end up staying within the community. As well as meeting the Kuna communities, I was also lucky enough to enjoy the beautiful, sandy beach with not a care in the world. A different sunny island for each day of the year – definitely something I could get used to!”

     

    Images

    Timothy Cohen
    Lonely Planet Pathfinder
  • Our guests followed a spontaneous invitation to a traditional Kuna ceremony, dressed in Mola attire

    We had a unique and unforgettable evening and are very grateful that we could be part of it! Thanks to Luis and his company!

     

    Blog Post

    Anna & Chris
    Happy couple on a world tour, that spontaneously followed our invitation to join a traditional Kuna ceremony
  • It was a fun three-day trip full of authentic experiences and impressions that are rarely found anywhere else in the world.

     

    Blog Post

    Martin
    Traveling the world on his bike

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