Sailing From Panama To Colombia
Plan your Panama to Colombia sailboat voyage with our comprehensive guide
- Booking & Terms
- Your Trip
- Transport To Boat
- Additional Costs
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. Credit/debit card or any form of electronic payments are not available. There are no cash facilities after you have left Panama City so, be sure to have everything prepared the day before your 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 staggered cash withdrawals over a few days before your trip starts.
The official currency of Panama is the $USD, although it is generally referred to as the ‘Balboa’. You will not need to exchange any currency.
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 Panama To Cartagena are four or five nights in total. This includes about two nights and three days exploring the San Blas islands. The length of the trip will depend on weather conditions, and the departure location.
Your captain will take you to a few popular islands, normally at least one different location per day. You should expect to set sail to Cartagena in the afternoon or early evening of the final day in San Blas, this crossing normally involves two nights at sea, with a total of 35 to 45 hours in standard weather conditions.
Trips arriving to the boarder towns of Sapzurro and Capurgana don’t require the long ocean passage. Instead a planned itinerary of three nights, and four days is usually sufficient
El Porvenir or Chichime To Cartagena
If your is scheduled to depart from one of the San Blas locations such as ELBPorvenir or Chichime, you should expect a standard total trip duration of four nights. These islands are within the archipelago of San Blas and accessible by road and boat transfer from Panama City. You will probably arrive to the boat mid/late morning. No additional sailing time is required.
Portobelo and Puerto Lindo To Cartagena
Departures from Portobelo and Puerto Lindo normally leave in the evening with the first night sailing along the coast to San Blas. To compensate for the additional distance involved trips are five nights in total. You should get some extra time to enjoy the islands as you won’t need to travel to meet the boat in San Blas.
San Blas To Sapzurro
Most trips start in Carti or El Porvenir with a total duration of three nights and four days. The islands you will visit will be very different compared to a Cartagena sailing trip, instead you will be sailing closer to the coastline visiting places many other boats don’t go to.
Check out our interactive map for more details including onward travel options to Cartagena and Medellin.
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.
Panama City To Carti, El Porvenir Or Chichime
We can arrange the transfer on your behalf and take no commissions or booking fee, meaning you pay the basic passenger rate only. When we have many bookings for the same departure we might also be able to negotiate an even cheaper rate.
You must leave from Panama City at around 05:00 – 06:00 with a pre-booked transfer service to the mainland coastal area of the Guna Yala region at ‘Carti’. From here a local boat transfer will take you to the location where your sailboat will be waiting.
These services must be paid in cash USD$
- Ground transport from city – $20.00 USD – $25.00 USD
- Carti dock fee – $2.00 USD
- Boat transfer – Carti $5.00 El Porvenir/Chichime $15.00 – $20.00 USD
These services are provided by non-affiliated local operators. We do not take accept 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.
Bus From Panama City To Portobelo & Puerto Lindo
YOU WILL NEED TO STAY OVERNIGHT IN PORTOBELO OR PUERTO LINDO IF YOU CHOSE TO TRAVEL THIS WAY. THERE IS NO CONNECTION EARLY ENOUGH TO USE THIS OPTION ON THE MORNING OF DEPARTURE. .
Take the express bus from Albrook Terminal in Panama City to the city of COLON. You will need to buy a pre-loaded transport card at one of the kiosks in the departure hall. They depart every 30 minutes or when full. On arrival in the bus station in Colon you must ask for the next departure to your destination. Connections to Portobelo normally leave every 30 minutes. Busses to Puerto Lindo are much less frequent though.
It is also possible to connect in the town of ‘Sabanitas’ a small town before Colon, however this is not recommended when travelling with large luggage. The busses here often arrive already full with many locals struggling to board.
Shuttle Service From Panama City To Portobelo & Puerto Lindo
When there is sufficient demand we can arrange a direct transfer option from Panama City. You will be collected from any centrally located hotel, hostel or B&B and taken to the meeting point for your pre-departure briefing with the captain in Portobelo or Puerto Lindo.
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
- Colombian 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.
IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU COLLECT A INDIVIDUAL RECEIPT. OTHERWISE YOU COULD BE FORCED TO PAY AGAIN WHEN YOU ARRIVE TO THE ISLANDS
If you are leaving from Portobelo or Puerto Lindo you can expect to pay the fee on the boat via the captain when he visits the local island authorities at the same time as completing the immigration paperwork.
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 collect your passports, either when you board the boat in San Blas, or at a pre-arranged departure briefing if you are leaving from Puerto Lindo or Portobelo. The Panamanian immigration service have a small office located on the island of El Porvenir in San Blas. All paperwork is completed by the captain and its very unlikely you will be asked to meet the officials yourself. The captain will then hold all passenger passports together with the relevant departure papers in a safe location on the boat. This is standard procedure and nothing to worry about.
On arrival in Cartagena the captain will meet with an agent specially tasked with processing the paperwork at the local immigration office. Passengers will stay on board the boat until he returns with the newly stamped documents.
Visas & Fees
Please check the latest requirements regarding visa requirements at the time you are travelling. Currently tourists from USA, EU, Australia, NZ plus many other countries are exempt from paying fees or needing visa documents when entering Colombia.
If you are unsure you should contact the relevant embassy or consulate. You are responsible for obtaining the correct documentation for entry to Colombia if required. We may ask to see proof you have a valid visa already in place before we accept any booking.
The cost of travel does not include additional fees for immigration above normal agent administration costs.
Canadian Citizen Tax
If you are travelling with a Canadian passport there is a tax payable on arrival in Colombia. The cost is variable, so you should check with the relevant authorities before you book.
This is payable in Colombian Pesos or USD so you ensure to have additional cash before leaving Panama. No advance paperwork is required and the captain will be able to assist you.
This tax is a direct response to the a similar fee that Colombian tourists must pay when entering Canada.Read More
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Trade Winds – December To March
Westerly trade winds are normally most prevalent from December to March each year, these will undoubtably cause a bumpy ride from San Blas to Cartagena. Boats sailing to Colombia at this time of year tend to alter their courses to follow a more coastal route. Others will only sail as far as 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 San Blas to Cartagena 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