Sailing From Cartagena To Panama
Plan your Colombia to Panama sailboat voyage with our comprehensive guide
Complete Your Reservation
You can book securely online via the reservation form on your chosen boats profile page. To secure you place on board a deposit payment must first be made. Many operators give priority to sailcolombiapanama.com customers who use our fast-track reservation system. Use this option to send us your details and pay instantly. We will then double check availability and reserve your place immediately with the captain, providing them with proof of payment.
It isn’t always possible for our system to stay up to date with availability, sometimes departures will be shown online that may already be sold out before the system has been updated. This is mainly due to the difficulties operators have with communication in the San Blas islands and at sea. If this is the case, you will be given the option to change your booking to another departure or receive a FULL REFUND.
A standard booking option is also available. You can use the reservation form to send us your details without any pre-payment. If you chose this option we will confirm there are still spaces before you make the deposit payment. You should be aware that you will not be given priority over customers using our ‘fast track’ process or even other booking agencies.
The final balance payment must be paid in cash USD$ directly to the captain. Some operators will accept Colombian Pesos at a pre-agreed rate. Credit/debit card or any form of electronic payments are not available, be sure to have everything prepared ready for departure.
Remember that your bank may restrict daily transaction amounts from your card when you are in another country. Please plan accordingly as you might need to make cash withdrawals over a few days before your trip starts.
After you have withdrawn your cash you can exchange to USD in various locations in Cartagena. Ask your hotel reception for the nearest reputable ‘casa de cambio’
All boats featured on this website are owned and operated independently from SAILCOLOMBIAPANAMA.COM . The information provided regarding amenities, services on offer and sample itineraries have been provided directly from the boat captain/owner.
Delays & Change Of Itinerary
The nature of ocean sailing does sometimes result in delays to your journey or changes to the planned itinerary.
Delays and cancellations may be forced upon the captain for reasons including but not limited to; unsafe sailing conditions, mechanical issues, severe under-booking or passenger cancellations, sickness or unavailability of crew, local protests/industrial action, government department closure (Immigration or Port Authority)
Before booking you should understand flexibility may be needed in your plans regarding departure/arrival dates and locations. Please DO NOT BOOK if you have a flight connection without a comfortable amount of time to spare.
Transfers and Cancellations
Refunds of your deposit or a transfer to another vessel will only be issued in the very rare event that a total cancellation of your voyage occurs before departure.
If you decide against travelling or your plans suddenly change it is in your best interests to notify immediately. As a goodwill gesture we will refund 50% of your deposit if we are able to re-book book your space aboard the vessel.*
*Not applicable if the vacancy is filled by a different booking agency.
All passengers should check their travel insurance coverage in regards to lost/damaged property, medical coverage and any other possible associated costs as a result of any delay or change of planned itinerary before departing or during the trip.
All boats are privately owned vessels and not operated by sailcolombiapanama.com. Please check you are fully covered for this type of boat trip.
You must ensure that you have a full passport with a sufficient validity period to allow entry and exit to all countries you are travelling from and two.
If the captain is not satisfied you will be granted entry upon arrival they retain the right to refuse passage.
If you are unsure you should contact the relevant embassy or consulate to ascertain the entry requirements relevant for you. You are responsible for obtaining the correct documentation for entry the destination country if required.
The cost of travel does not include additional fees for immigration above normal agent administration costs. Any additional fees such as entry visas, extensions or reciprocal fees levied to passport holders of certain countries are not included.
Choosing The Right Boat
Understandably this is the most important decision for most people when planning their Panama to Colombia sailing trip. Be sure to book early so you have a better chance of getting on your preferred boat.
Some boats are chilled out, and better suited for people who want to have fun and socialise whilst avoiding anything too intense. Other boats will appeal to individuals and groups that are keen to be with a larger group, and a captain happy to encourage more partying.
We can’t guarantee who you will be travelling with but we can certainly try to make sure you get on a boat that generally attracts the type of group you would like to be part of.
Most boats are comfortable private vessels that are also the home of your captain and crew. In most cases they were designed for smaller charter groups or private cruising with a mixture of berths available. Most have since been converted from their original design to include extra berths. This means space can be very limited.
Remember that you will be sharing a relatively small space with other guests, tolerance and flexibility is needed. All standard shared trips are aimed at ‘backpackers’ and adventure travellers, so please take that into consideration before you book. If you would not be comfortable in shared hostel situations, then its possible the trip isn’t suitable for you.
All passengers will have a designated berth, nobody should be expected to sleep in the cockpit or deck area. Berths will normally be in standard shared cabins with bunks or in a converted lounge area. Some also have a dormitory style layout. Private cabins are very rare, when available they are often priced higher and sell out well in advance.
You will not be guaranteed total privacy on board and may need to share a double bed depending on the layout of the boat and the amount of couples you are sharing the trip with.
Although most boats are sailing vessels it is unrealistic to expect to sail all the time. All boats will likely use the engine at least at some part during the long ocean crossing and certainly when within the islands where it is difficult to navigate through shallows and reefs.
Food & Drink
Most trips include three meals a day plus drinking water*. Snacks are sometimes included but its a good idea to bring your own, along with sodas. Don’t expect anything too exotic as the people travelling with you may not be as adventurous as yourself when it comes to trying new things.
*Drinking water is included, however most passengers are not used to the taste of water stored in tanks on a sailboat. We recommend buying some powder juice flavours in case you find the taste unpleasant.
Alcohol is not included. In most cases you can take your own with you. If you plan on taking beer you should buy cans rather than bottles for easier disposal and safety. Boxed wine is also preferential. Refrigeration space may be quite limited.
- Vegetarians and vegan diets can be accommodated if we are notified with several days notice. On some boats there may be a surcharge
- Fresh lobster is not included in the price of all trips. It is also not available during breeding season
- Most captains will try to provide as much freshly caught seafood as they think is suitable based on past experience with customers
This will vary depending on the boat. At the very least there should be snorkel gear provided. Some boats have additional equipment such as kayaks, stand up paddle boards and beach toys.
The fishing equipment may be restricted to crew only to prevent miss use and damage. Fishing may also be restricted in certain areas to help protect the local indigenous fishing economy as part of a responsible tourism plan.
Often when the boat is under way in open water all hatches and port-lights will be closed for safety reasons, meaning no natural ventilation below deck. All boats have fans however sometimes it can get hotter than some people expect. This is unfortunately an unavoidable part of the sailing experience in a tropical climate.
Fresh water is an extremely valuable commodity on a boat, so don’t be surprised if you are restricted in some way regarding shower use. As a basic safety principle of sailing, water will need to be conserved for the ocean crossing as there are no opportunities to re-fill in case of delays or emergency.
Some boats may have enough storage to offer some limited shower use however others may totally restrict for the duration of the trip.
What Is Included?
A standard trip should include the following, however many boats do offer extra
- Accommodation on board in a designated berth
- Three meals per day and drinking water
- All standard immigration agent and port authority fees
- Snorkel equipment
Basic itinerary details are provided on the profile page of each featured sailboat. All are subject to changes.
Most sailing trips from Cartagena to Panama are five nights in total. This includes about three days exploring the San Blas islands. The length of the trip will depend on weather conditions, and departure time from Cartagena.
You will meet at a pre-arranged time and location nearby, normally in the late afternoon or early evening near Club Nautico Marina. You will set sail overnight spending the whole of the following day and second night at sea. You should arrive to San Blas early the next morning, before exploring the islands for three days
Cartagena To El Porvenir or Chichime
If your trip is scheduled to finish in one of these localions you will spend your 5th night aboard the boat anchored in the San Blas Islands. In the morning a boat transfer will take you to the mainland where shared transport will be available to get to Panama City
Portobelo and Puerto Lindo To Cartagena
Portobelo and Puerto Lindo are further west from the San Blas islands. On the 5th day you will set-off in the afternoon or early evening to sail overnight along the coast, arriving early the next morning.
Activities in San Blas
When visiting San Blas you will have plenty of opportunities to snorkel, swim, relax on the beach and meet the local islanders.
The trip is not a guided tour, the captain and crew will make suggestions and recommendations each day, however guest participation, organisation and attitude is extremely important.
Captain & Crew
Another question you may have before booking, is who your captain, and what is their reputation. Its a fair concern to have, however something that is slightly overstated. The captain and crews primary responsibility is to run the boat. They are not expected to give guided tours, sailing lessons, entertain or socialise with guests for extended periods. There are some that do get involved more than others however you shouldn’t take it personally if they don’t.
Many operators employ contract captains to run their boats. They do sometimes change and there is no guarantee which captain will be in charge of your trip.
Depending on the size of the boat and group , the captain will have at least one crew member to assist with duties on the boat, including cooking and navigation watches.
El Porvenir / Chichime To Panama City
On your final morning a local boat will collect all passengers and take you to the mainland. Vehicles will be available here to transfer you to any centrally located hotel or hostel in Panama City.
You should be sure to have additional cash in USD$ ready before you start the trip in order to pay for these transfers.
- Boat transfer – $20.00 USD
- Mainland dock fee – $2.00 USD
- Ground transport to city – $30.00 USD
These services are provided by non-affiliated local operators.
Bus From Portobelo & Puerto Lindo To Panama City
Take a bus to the city of COLON. Here you will find connections to Panama City, they depart every 30 minutes or when full and arriving to Albrook Termnal
It is also possible to connect in the town of ‘Sabanitas’ a small town before arriving to Colon. If you chose this option you may not get a seat on the bus to Panama and might have to stand the whole journey.
Shuttle Service From Portobelo / Puerto Lindo To Panama City
When there is sufficient demand we can arrange a direct transfer option to Panama City. You will be met in Portobelo / Puerto Lindo and dropped at any centrally located hotel, hostel or B&B in Panama City
This service is provided by non-affiliated local operators. We do not take any commission from them and cannot accept responsibility any lost or damaged items or other issues. You are free to book your transfer with your hotel or a local agency. Prices are subject to change.
What Is Not Included?
- Guna Yala (San Blas) Tourist entry fee – $20.00 USD
- Transport costs to meet the boat for departure
- Panamanian entry visa or any special entry fee if required
- Alcoholic drinks, sodas and snacks
Guna Yala Tourist Entry Fee
The Guna Yala Congresso charge a fee of $20.00 USD per person that enters the territory regardless if they are visiting on a sailboat or just a day trip from the city.
For customers departing on a boat from El Porvenir or Chichime this will be collected at a checkpoint when you are en-route to the coast shortly before you arrive to the boat transfer location.
This will be collected towards the end of the trip in El Porvenir and must be paid in cash USD$. You should be sure to have additional cash changed in Cartagena for this.
Before you arrive to meet the boat you should have your luggage properly prepared. The items that you will need for the duration of your trip should be put into a separate smaller bag. Your main larger luggage may need to be be stored away in an inaccessible area of the boat.
Its important you protect your luggage with plastic, such as large trash bags. Cover the outside and also the items inside. They might get wet in the boat transfer.
Here are our recommendation for what you should pack
- High UVA skin protection
- Insect repellent
- Dramamine seasickness medication
- Two pairs of swim suits
- Two T-Shirts & shorts
- Snacks, juices/soda, alcohol
- Light jacket/sweater
All standard immigration costs and agent fees are included in the advertised price.
The captain will either collect your passports at a specially arranged pre-departure meeting the day before departure or we will instruct where to drop them at a local affiliated agency in Cartagena. In either case they will be collected by an agent and processed at the local immigration office. It is unlikely you will have to attend yourselves.
The agent will return all passports directly back to the captain who will keep them all together until arrival in Panama. This is standard procedure and nothing to worry about.
The Panamanian immigration service have a small office located on the island of El Porvenir in San Blas. All entry paperwork is completed by the captain and its very unlikely you will be asked to meet the officials.
Visas & Fees
The cost of travel does not include additional fees for immigration above normal agent administration costs.
Tourists from USA, UK, EU, Australia, NZ plus many other countries are often exempt from paying fees or needing visa documents when entering Panama. The Panamanian government and immigration service however have in the past made sudden unpublished changes to their policies without notice. This has included restricting the amount of days that tourists can visit the country on a standard visa without paying for an extension.
The captain of your vessel has no power over any Panamanian government official and the decision of the immigration personnel is final.
NEW REGULATIONS – March 2017
As of March 6th 2017, the Panamanian Immigration Authority (Servicio Nacional de Migracion-SNM) announced new guidance for Panamanian immigration officials on the enforcement of pre-existing regulations.
If you have previously visited Panama twice with a standard tourist visa (issued free on entry) you may not be be granted a entry a third time within 12 months. Furthermore, if you are planning on returning to Panama after your first visit as tourist, you may not return until a period of 30 days has passed.
The exact details of the regulations are still not totally clear at this moment. For the avoidance of doubt, the captain retains the right to refuse passage to any person or persons that they do not feel comfortable having aboard. This includes passengers of any nationality, even if they can provide a valid travel visa or proof they will qualify for a tourist visa on arrival in Panama.
Customers are reminded trips are ONLY to to standard tourist passengers.
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Trade Winds – December To March
Westerly trade winds are normally most prevalent from December to March each year, these will undoubtedly cause a bumpy ride from Cartagena to San Blas, even though you will be travelling with the wind rather than against it. Boats sailing to Panama at this time of year tend to alter their courses. Others will only sail to and from Sapzurro / Capurgana and some will not operate at all, using the time instead for yearly maintenance.
Within the islands the weather is not too bad. There are some anchorages much better protected than others. January is also the start of dry season so less chance of rain.
Delays and cancellations are possible during this period but demand is also at its highest. We recommend booking six weeks in advance if possible and keeping a flexible schedule.
Rainy Season – May To December
Many people are concerned at the prospect of travelling during the so-called ‘rainy season’, however it really shouldn’t put you off. Most of the islands you will visit are on the out-skirts of the archipelago, far from the mainland. They are affected much less than mainland Panama. There are occasional downpours in the afternoons, mostly strong tropical rains which last for a relatively short amount of time before clearing away. You might also experience some strong localised winds locally referred to as a “culo de pollo”. Again, they are intense but relatively short-lived.
From Cartagena to San Blas the weather is quite comfortable with only moderate winds.
Is There A Hurricane Season?
Traditionally hurricane season in the western Caribbean does not affect Panama, San Blas or Cartagena. In November 2016 the effects of hurricane Otto caused delays for several days with tropical storm strength winds.
One of the dangers with travelling in this part of the world is the lack of regulation within industries such as this. Boats have been inspected and given permission to operate by Colombian port authorities however this is bureaucratic procedure which is relatively simple to obtain if an operator has good contacts, sufficient funds and other relatively easily obtainable papers. This is why we believe strongly in self regulation and not solely relying on authorities.
All boats boats operating should have as minimum requirements;
- Experienced Licensed Captain
- Type 1 life vests in good repair for all passengers and crew with lights and whistles
- Life Raft to accommodate all passenger & crew with up to date inspection
- Dingy with a enough horsepower to to manoeuvre the boat in an emergency
- EPIRB – Emergency Positioning Indicator Radio Beacon-tested each trip within expiration date
- Up to date fire extinguishers in each room and engine room
- Emergency Flares within expiration date
- VHF Radio
- Experienced Licensed Captain
- HF Radio or satellite phone
- More than one GPS
- Electronic and paper charts
- More than one experienced crew member
- Adequate berth for every passenger
- Fresh water supply for offshore sailing
- Man overboard device and procedure
- Ocean rated first aid kit
- Safety briefing before departure