Boats - Panama, Colombia San Blas
Sailing between Panama and Colombia is an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. Sailing to Colombia or sailing to Panama means you’ll spend around 3 days in the beautiful San Blas islands of Panama.
Why would you want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity by flying when you can travel by boat to Colombia or by boat to Panama?
This trip is going to be one that you will remember for the rest of your life. Keep reading below for more information on departure dates and information on the boats.
We deal directly with the captain, no other booking agencies are involved
Mamallena Tours and Travel, along with Hostels Mamallena Panama City and Cartagena, is the original agency for boats to Panama and boats to Colombia. We have been booking these sailing trips for over 10 years so our experience and contacts ensure that you can get the most out of your once in a lifetime sailing trip.
We only work with boats and captains that have earned our trust over the years and that continually get positive reviews from your fellow travelers. We don’t do special deals with captains and our reputation means a lot to us. We’re working to keep you as informed as possible so you can make the right choice when it comes to booking your boat between Panama and Colombia.
Making a booking through us will cost you the same as booking directly with the captain. The advantage of reserving with us is the security and peace of mind, knowing you have booked with the only agency that has offices in both Panama and Colombia. Booking directly you’re at the mercy of the captain. Book through Mamallena Tours and Travel and we’re able to help you out when you need it.
Check our fact sheet to get the most up to date list
Gitano del Mar
Gitanita Del Mar
Perla del Caribe
You have obviously had thoughts about taking the sailboat between Panama and Colombia. You should definitely do it. Its a great trip and for most people the highlight of their travel experiences in South and Central America.
The trip includes a couple of days of open sea sailing between the San Blas islands of Panama and Cartagena, Colombia. Depending which country you depart from, you will either start or end you trip by spending 2-3 days relaxing on those white sand tropical islands you have heard so much about and seen in so many photos. Its a few days of swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing and generally just relaxing with the new friends you’ve just made. You can try you’re hand at fishing for dinner and get up close and personal with the natives of the San Blas islands, the Gunas.
This is everything you have read about, and what better way to do it than by sailing from Panama to Colombia or sailing from Colombia to Panama via the San Blas islands.
Over the last few years the prices of this trip have been increasing (like everything else…..) Most boats sailing between Panama and Cartagena are now charging $500 to $650 for average 4 night/5 day trip, depending on the boat and season.
The quality of the boats can vary and this isn’t always reflected in the prices they charge. We like to think that we only work with the better boats doing this trip, from our years of experience we have generally figured out which are the ones who provide the best service and most fun for passengers. If there are boats doing this trip that we aren’t working with then you have to ask yourselves, “why not?”. It is often because they are new, or because we have chosen not to work with them for whatever reason. Take care if you decide to book one of these boats.
Boats from Panama to Cartagena
If you’re sailing from Panama to Cartagena then you’ll either leave from the San Blas Islands or from Portobelo. Portobelo is cheaper to get to from Panama City but it involves a longer sailing trip to get to San Blas. More boats leave from San Blas, normally the island of El Porvenir.
To get to the San Blas Islands from Panama City you’ll need to travel by private 4×4 which will take you as far as Carti, a small outpost on the Panama coast which is part of the mainland Guna Yala ‘Comarca’, San Blas. If your boat is anchored in ‘El Porvenir’ you will catch a small boat from here to meet your sailboat. Departure is from your hostel in Panama City (we suggest Hostel Mamallena) and it leaves early in the morning. The price of this transport isn’t included in the trip and you’ll also need to pay taxes. We will let you know the current costs before you book.
This part of the trip can be a little chaotic and disorganised, take it as it comes as this is the way it is in San Blas. We are not allowed to operate our own transport here. Once you’ve met the boat you’ll get settled in and the fun will begin! You’ll have your time around the beautiful islands and then set sail for Cartagena after the captain takes care of immigration. Make sure you bring your seasickness pills…….
Boats from Cartagena to Panama
Sailing from Cartagena to Panama works more or less in reverse (funny that!). The boat will leave from the bay near Club Nautico Marina in Cartagena, just a short taxi ride from you’re hostel (We suggest Hostel Mamallena, again). Departure time is either in the morning or the evening. If its the evening its probably going to be a 5 night trip, finishing in the morning of the 6th day. Sailing from Cartagena to San Blas means that you get the 2 day open water crossing out of the way first and then you get to relax on the islands.
On the last day the captain will arrange for transport for you from San Blas to Panama City by 4×4. This cost is extra, along with taxes you will need to pay. Usually you will leave in the morning and arrive in Panama City around 1pm. It might be possible to stay in the islands a little longer and leave at around 3pm. Its also possible to spend more time in the islands after your trip. It will still cost you the same to get to Panama City, no matter what day you go on. If you’re arriving in Portobelo then you’ll usually be there in the morning and can take a bus to Panama City.
What to expect?
– Don’t expect a luxury cruise, if you set your expectations too high you may be disappointed. In some cases you can pick a private cabin, in others you may be sleeping in the salon. Others may be sleeping in the salon as well. The captain may tell he takes 10 people and when you get on board its 12 people. The boat might not have as much space as you’d like. Your fellow passengers might make a lot of noise. We’re not trying to put you off the trip, but we’d rather you have realistic expectations as well.
– There could be delays. There might be problems with immigration or the weather. The actual trip between Panama and Colombia usually takes around 30 to 48 hours but it has been known to take longer. It might also be shorter. Keep your onward travel plans flexible at let us know if you have a flight booked shortly after you are due to arrive.
– Don’t expect a lot in the way of cooking for the open sea part of the trip. There’s often not enough time for the captain to cook, and you may not feel like eating. Don’t stress too much if you just get sandwiches. While you’re in San Blas the food should be much better, and there’s usually fresh sea food available for at least a meal or two. That also depends on the season and on whats available at the time.
– On some boats you will be expected to help out in some way with cooking and cleaning. On others you won’t be. This is basically a shared trip and to make it a success everyone has to contribute.
– Do expect to have fun. You’ll be on the boat with a bunch of people just like you, fellow backpackers looking to make the most of their trip. Take it as it comes and you’ll have a great trip.
Hints and Tips
– Try and book in advance. Its possible to arrive in Cartagena or Panama city and make a booking for a boat, but if you know which boat you want then you should book it in advance, others will be doing the same so your options will be severely restricted the closer to departure. At certain times of years the boats will fill up quite far in advance.
– We try to be honest about our experiences with all the boats on our list but you should also do your own research online and from other travelers. We will only book a boat that you ask us to book for you so be sure that its the one you want.
– We won’t tell you that you are booked on a boat unless the captain has confirmed it with us. We won’t ask for a deposit from you unless the booking has been confirmed. Be wary of places asking for a deposit before you have received confirmation of the booking.
– Three meals a day are included, plus deinking water. Take your own snack foods, soft drinks and alcohol. While you’re in San Blas it is not always possible to buy more of everything.
– Take extra money. There are no ATMs in San Blas and you don’t want to run out of cash. Its possible to stay for longer in San Blas before or after the trip and that will cost extra.
– Do not book any flight departing within two days of the date you are due to arrive unless it is a reservation you are making solely for immigration purposes. It is possible that there could be delays and you don’t want to miss the flight.
– Make sure you have travel insurance. This is an adventure, the unexpected can happen. Property might get broken, electronics may get wet, and if this happens you will want to be covered. If you haven’t already then you should do so even if it is for peace of mind.
From December to March the sailing conditions can be relatively rough compared to other times of the year. Thats not to say that the rest of the year its smooth sailing, but its somewhat better than between these months. Please bear in mind that this may cause delays in departures or increase the travel time of trips. Remember that this is a sailing trip on the open sea, there are many variables that may cause delays, please remember this in mind when booking hostels and onward travel. Also remember that this can be a somewhat dangerous trip. We´re yet to lose someone but it is sailing, which means that you are at the mercy of the weather, and thats beyond everyones control.
Arrival/departure locations and transport costs
There are two main departure/drop off areas, with two places in each. Take note of where your boat will leave from or drop you off at. Most boats will not include any transport fees in getting to and from Panama City, when they do it will be explained in their respective write up below. Please remember we do not control these prices and neither do the captains, they may change without warning, but it is unlikely.
- Going to and from Carti and El Porvenir (San blas) costs are approx $60-$70pp by licensed 4×4 transport (There is no other way of getting to Panama City from the San Blas). Costs are ( $30pp 4×4, $2pp Guna Taxes, $5-20pp Lancha fee and $20 Kuna Yala entrance tax). The transport from Panama City by 4×4 departs around 5am. We can arrange this for you in advance. Pick up is from your hostel and you can come to us to pay and book it if you are staying somewhere other than Hostel Mamallena. If you are arriving to San Blas from Colombia then you will probably leave your boat in the morning and arrive in Panama City by aproximately 1pm. Your captain will arrange all transport.
- Going to and from Portobelo or Puerto Lindo is around $10pp in travel costs by public bus to Panama City. The journey is approx 3-4hrs with a change of bus in Sabanitas or Colon. Sometimes a shuttle may be organised if theres enough interest. Just remember that getting from San Blas itself to Portobelo is around 12 hours of extra sailing time. The seas can be rough at certain times of year.
- Carpurgana is a small town located on the Panama/Colombia border that is sometimes used by boats instead of arriving/leaving from Cartagena. You can get there from both Medellin and Cartagena. From Medellin it probably means a day trip to Turbo, a night there and then a boat trip the next morning. Its the reverse coming back, but possible in one day, you’ll just arrive late. Its not often that boats start or leave from there, and its usually only if the weather is bad. There is currently only one trip that regularly leaves from there, which is San Blas Adventures (a motor boat).
Important Immigration Information
The Panamanian government requires that all those people arriving by private passenger boat leave within three days of arrival in a Panamanian port or pay a special tax of $105. If you pay the $105 then you may stay in Panama the full length of a tourist visa, if you don´t then you need to leave within three days or pay $105 on departure. This tax affects some of our boats but not others. Some of these boats are classified as commercial boats and you are not subjected to the three day rule if you are traveling on them. Our fact sheet will say which boats are affected. Yes, we know, its stupid. Not much we can do about it. And no, a bus ticket doesnt count.
Remember that its also a law worldwide that you have a ticket of departure from the country where you are arriving to. Its not often enforced when arriving by land to most countries but Panama often does enforce it. No matter how you are arriving you should have a ticket showing you are leaving Panama, It has to be Panama, not the country where you will fly home from in two months. If you are arriving to Panama by bus before your boat trip you will need to show a ticket as well, and as this is an informal trip it doesnt count as a ticket out. Its often possible to book a ticket and not pay for it on sites such as www.copaair.com or www.expedia.com
All Canadian passport holders arriving into Colombia now also need to pay a $60 tax. This is because of a similar fee that Colombian citizens must pay to enter Canada. Just be happy that you will be the only ones on you boat getting a Gold Pass into Colombia
– We do not own nor operate any of the boats that we have listed. Each captain is responsible for his/her own trip and standards may vary from trip to trip. We do our best to keep our information up to date, but things can change and trips can be different than advertised. If you have complaints then come to us and we will take up the matter with the captain. If you had a bad trip for whatever reason then we will inform future passengers as well. Again, travel insurance…………….
– This is a great trip, a once in a lifetime voyage and adventure. It might seem expensive, but for a sailing trip that you will never have the opportunity to do again, its well worth it. Don’t think about it too much, you’ll only kick yourself later.
Ok, so you’ve actually read all this information. We have to reward you. So, what we’re going to do is offer you a free night in each of our new hostels, one in Panama and one in Colombia. If you´d like to take us up on these offers then you have to tell us, we’re not going to offer any more, see the details below.
You must inform us at the time of booking your boat that you intend to take advantage of these offers and which dates you would like to book
Panama – Mamallena Eco Lodge
Mamallena Eco Lodge is set in the mountains 1.5 hours from Panama City and is a great place to kick back and enjoy the serenity. Whenever you book for 2 nights we will give you the third totally FREE of charge.
Colombia – Mamallena Rincon Del Mar
In Colombia we have an even better deal. Mamallena on the beach is 2.5 hours from Cartagena in the little fishing village of Rincon del Mar. The hostel is set right on the beach and is a great place to kick back in a hammock with barely another tourist in sight. Book any one night here an get the second totally free of charge.
Ok, so you’d like some more information? Send an email to us at email@example.com We will send you our fact sheet featuring all the current boats to Panama or Cartagena so you can take a look and see what you think. It will have all the latest departure dates plus more information about how a typical trip works. Most of the information is here on our site but via email you’ll have all the current dates as well as more precise information.
After that simply let us know which boat you are interested in and we will contact the captain direct to reserve a space. We will arrange for the payment of a small deposit and give you all the information you will need to meet the boat and captain, either in San Blas, Portobelo or Cartagena.
5 day trips from $500 to $650
Contact us for more information about the boats, departure dates and availability
Over 10 years ago Hostel Mamallena was the first hostel to start booking boats between Panama and Colombia. We have now grown to include FIVE hostels plus two specialist travel agencies in Panama and Colombia different countries. In that time we’ve gained a lot of experience and you can be assured that we’ll give you first hand, unbiased information about each of these boats.
There are two ways to make a booking on one of the sailing boats between San Blas and Cartagena. You can either contact us by email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a fact sheet or you can come directly to Hostel Mamallena in Panama City or Hostel Mamallena in Cartagena We can tell you all you need to know. If you’re in Panama City or Cartagena come stay with us, or just come and check us out, and we can probably make a reservation straight away.
You are going to be staying in Cartagena for a few days either before or after your sailboat trip. Even if you choose not to stay at Hostel Mamallena, feel free to drop by us to check out our bar and have a few drinks, we can also arrange all the local tours for you. The shuttle bus to Playa Blanca is very popular, as is the Totumo mud volcano tour.
Contact us for a more detailed list of the Captains we work with, a fact sheet and an updated departure schedule.