When I set out to travel from Panama to Colombia via sailboat, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it would be an adventure of a lifetime. The experience started out in Puerto Lindo, Panama where I met the captain of Sailing Koala X, a 54-foot sailboat we would call home for the next few days. I traveled with 11 other passengers from all over the world, who would soon become friends for life.
Over the next three days, we sailed through paradise to different San Blas Islands. The water is pristine and every island is surrounded by a unique shade of blue. We learned about the Kuna tribe culture, the indigenous people who live here and ate three delicious meals a day including freshly caught fish. One thing you won’t need to worry about is the food. It was delicious and made with love! The staff on board made sure everyone ate well and had a wonderful time. (If you have any food allergies or restrictions, just let the crew know, and they will be more than accommodating.)
The days are blissful and include kayaking, traveling by dingy to smaller islands and snorkeling and discovering the beautiful reef. Then comes the intense part – sailing in the open ocean for 36 hours to Cartagena. The trip costs $550 US per person and includes food, water, kayaks, snorkel gear and the captain takes care of getting the passport stamps for the border crossing. Keep in mind you will have to pay an additional $20 US (Kuna tax) to visit the islands.
Here is what the adventure looks like:
Day 1 – Let the adventure begin!
We arrived in Puerto Lindo at 11 am at Casa Restaurant X, and waited here for several hours. You won’t be boarding the boat until the evening so remember to be patient. This is a great opportunity to meet the people you will be getting very close to over the next few days and also a good time to pack a small bag with some essentials like sunscreen, a towel, bathing suits and comfortable clothes to change into at night. (Scroll down for a list of what to bring.) Once we got onto the sailboat, we were assigned our rooms, had dinner and set sail to Porvenir at night.
It takes a while to get used to being on a boat in the open ocean. I didn’t take any seasickness pills on the first night, but I highly suggest you do! I shared a room with my friend Eli from Switzerland, and it was a very tight space in a sweltering room. We sailed through bioluminescent waters, and I spent several hours at night outside looking up at the stars.
Day 2 – Arriving in San Blas, Porvenir to Chichime Island
As soon as I woke up, chef and crew member Robin had coffee and breakfast ready to go! What a treat. He is a fantastic chef and also made me tea with ginger and honey since I wasn’t feeling so well.
This was also the first time we met people from the Kuna tribe and our first opportunity to get in the water for a swim in San Blas. We shared some of our breakfast with the kids, and the ladies showed us the beautiful traditional bracelets they make. This is also when you turn in your passports to the captain and won’t get them back until the boat arrives in Cartagena.
Day 3 – Chichime to Banedup Island
Sailing from island to island is a breeze. Sailing in the open ocean is not, but try to enjoy the ride as much as possible. When we arrived at the next island, we took out kayaks and started exploring. There are several starfish in the water, and although the weather was perfect for most of the trip, it was nice to have a cloudy day and get a break from the sun. At night we had a BBQ dinner on the island and got to learn more about the Kuna tribe from Diana, a local woman who lives on the island.
Day 4 – Banedup to Maoky Island
This is the last day before sailing in the open ocean so enjoy it! We went snorkeling and spent time on the island. After visiting the San Blas Islands you’ll find it tough to say goodbye to Panama, but there is always an adventure around the corner when you’re traveling. Mentally prepare yourself for what it will be like over the next few hours. My best advice is to put on your most comfortable clothes and get as much sleep as possible.
Day 5 – 36 hours at sea
If you forgot to bring seasickness pills chances are someone on the boat will have extra. But it’s a good idea to bring your own. Plan to eat light, sleep a lot and find a comfortable space on the boat anywhere you can. It’s tough to move around the boat without getting tossed around, but we all managed to survive the ride without getting sick. Thankfully!
Day 6 – Arrive in Cartagena, Colombia
The longest day and night of the trip is finally over. We woke up to calm seas and at this point, we started to see land again. My favorite part was seeing dolphins swimming alongside the boat in the morning. We arrived at Club Nautico in Cartagena around noon and waited approximately an hour to get our passports back. The adventure is now over, and it’s tough to say goodbye to our boat family! I will never forget about this experience, and I would 100% do it again in a heartbeat.
What to bring:
You won’t need much, and you won’t have much space on the boat to shuffle through your bag. Pack a small bag with a towel, sunscreen, hat, bathing suit, seasickness pills, toiletries, coconut oil, a light jacket and comfortable clothes. You aren’t allowed to wear shoes on the boat so pack them away. It’s an excellent idea to bring a few snacks to share with the group. Bring whatever you would like to drink and don’t forget your GoPro.
Visiting Central America soon? Check out my other travel guides.
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