There are a few possible departure ports in Panama but the majority of sailboats in Panama are currently leaving from the San Blas islands themselves.
It will cost more to get to the ports in San Blas (Carti, El Porvenir), but it means that you avoid an often rough passage (Approx 12hrs) from the ports in Colon (Portobelo, Colon, Club Nautico and Puerto Lindo)to the San Blas islands. By leaving from the San Blas you have more time to actually enjoy sailing around the beautiful islands before heading out to sea for the 30-48hr crossing to Cartagena.
San Blas Island Ports
The drop off point at the Carti port in the San Blas islands can be very hectic at times, especially during the morning rush, but just be patient as everything works out in the end. Here you will most likely be met by a Kuna boatman who will either take you out to the sailboat anchored just off shore or alternatively take you to El Porvenir on the headland which is about 45 mins away. From the drop off point to the boat if it’s anchored near Carti is around $5, if you need to go to El Porvenir then it’s around $10. Prices can decrease depending on how many people are travelling with you.
El Porvenir island is where you will get your passports stamped by the local immigration official, the Captain usually takes care of this and it is usually very straight forward. Then you’re all set to enjoy the islands and sail to Cartagena, Colombia! If you require any permits/visa to enter Colombia please make sure you have a couple of copies of each as immigration may require a copy.
- Carti Port:
Carti Port in the San Blas is the only port in the San Blas islands that you can reach by road. The transport is with the Kuna licensed 4×4 vehicles only, there is no public transport allowed to enter Kuna Yala. Daily departures leave for Carti at 5-6am each morning from your Panama City Hostel/Hotel. This is the only departure time and you’ll have more time to lounge on the beach in San Blas. Once you arrive in Carti you will take a launcher to your sailboat with one of the local Kuna transport companies. The driver of the 4×4 usually helps organize this.
The 4×4 usually takes around 3hrs and the launcher boat approx 10 minutes, you may be waiting for anything up to an hour in Carti for other passengers or the boat to arrive. Once on the boat you will head to the island of El Porvenir where the captain will take care of immigration, before heading off into the islands.
Travel fees to reach your boat to Colombia via Carti are approx $50. This includes $30 for the 4×4 jeep to Carti, around $12 in Kuna taxes to be paid along the way and an average of $5-10 for a small boat to take you to the yacht. Be aware there are no cash machines in Carti or El Porvenir so all money must be withdrawn in Panama City the night before departure.
- El Porvenir Port:
To reach the port of El Porvenir you take the same route to the Port of Carti as explained above and then take another launcher to the island of El Porvenir which is approx 30 minutes to an hour away. The launcher can cost $10-20pp. The Captain will meet you on El Porvenir island and take care of immigration for you.
You can also fly into El Porvenir from Allbrook airport in Panama City. Flights leave each morning from Panama City with Air Panama at around 6am (30 min flight) and cost around $80 plus taxes, we can purchase these for you if required. You would then have to wait for the other passengers arriving by road who normally arrive 10-11am.
Colon Departure Ports
The other departure points are in Colon Province and consist of Portobelo, Puerto Lindo, and rarely Colon and Turtle Cay Marina, all within about an hour of each other on the Caribbean coast. You can reach these ports by bus from Panama City at a relatively low cost of around $3-5. Departure times vary from these points, but will usually either be early in the morning or later at night. In some cases you can travel to meet the boat on the same day, other times you may need to spend one night in Portobelo or Puerto Lindo. Most people traveling to these departure points often have their boats to Colombia booked in advance. You can take the option of turning up in either Portobelo or Puerto Lindo and trying to book a boat but you will probably find most have booked well in advance and ones that may have space are not that appealing.
- Portobelo/Puerto Lindo:
We advise people to take their cash and supplies from Panama city for the journey. Note that the last chance to get money from an ATM is in the Rey supermarket in Sabanitas, and that the next petrol station is located at the yachtclub in Puerto Lindo. The Rey Supermarket is also a good option to stock up on supplies for the trip if you do not want to travel with them from Panama city. Both Portobelo and Puerto Lindo have a few basic hostel options to stay the night if required.
Portobelo is a quaint little fishing village in between Colon and Puerto Lindo and is the main departure port on the Colon coast. From the Albrook Bus Station, take the bus expresso #23 to colon, the fare should be $2.50-3. Get off the bus in Colon and step directly in the bus “Portobelo”, with regular departures ($2). You can also get off the bus to Colon at the Rey Supermarket in Sananitas and take the next bus for Portobelo on the corner.
Puerto Lindo is located on the Costa Arriba in Panama. From the Albrook Bus Station, take the bus expresso #23 to colon, the fare should be $2.50-3. Get off the bus in Colon and step directly in the bus “costa arriba-Isla Grande”,at 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.00pm or 5.30pm Tell the bus driver to stop in Puerto Lindo ($3). You can also get off the bus to Colon at the Rey Supermarket in Sananitas and take the same bus from Colon that will arrive about 15 mins after the above departure times from Colon.
Colon is reached by public bus as explained above and Turtle Cay Marina is normally reached by a private bus from Panama city and you will be told well in advance about this and the logistics involved.
Very Important Arrival Port Info
Most boats do not include any transport fees in getting to the center of Cartagena from the arrival point in Colombia. Please remember we do not control these prices and neither do the captains, they may change without warning, but it is unlikely.
1.Arriving at Club Nautico, Manga in Cartagena you can take a taxi to the old town or Getsamani for approx 5-7 million pesos.
2.Arriving into Saozurro/Capurgana/La Miel you would normally stay the night in a local hostel hostel before taking a water taxi to the city of Turbo from where you can take a bus either South in the direction of Medellin or North to Cartagena. Both are a full days travel.
La Miel – Capurgana: You can either catch a boat all the way for 14,000 pesos or walk 20mins over the hill to Sapzurro and catch the boat for 7,000 pesos.
Sapzurro – Capurgana: There are ferries for 7,000 pesos . Or, for the braver, there is a challenging but rewarding hike between the two bays, which takes about 1.5 hours and has incredible views.
From Capurgana to Turbo there is a ferry that leaves every morning at 7:30. The ferry costs 55,000 pesos. They weigh your bags and anything over 10kgs is 500p (25c) per kg. Make sure you check the weight, these guys are quick! From Turbo you can catch a bus for Cartagena, via Monteria or Medellin and arrive late that night. The price for these journeys varies depending on the bus company. Turbo – Monteria – Cartagena costs around 75,000 pesos and Turbo – Medellin costs around 60,000 pesos.
Colombia Departure Ports:
- Club Nautico, Cartagena:
Club Nautico in Manga, Cartagena is the port almost all boats leave from on the trip from Colombia to Panama. It is a quick 5-10 minute taxi from the old town or Getsamani. The captain will meet you on one of the docks, the time and place is usually organized during an orientation meeting or when handing over your passports at Hostel Mamallena Cartagena usually the morning of the day before departure.
Please read the above section “Arrival Ports in Colombia. It is a similar itinerary in reverse to reach reach these locations for departure. It is very rare for a boat to be leaving from these locations.