Choosing to travel overland from one country to another is something everyone should consider when planning a round the world trip. If you fly in and out of the same airport in each country you will find yourself backtracking and wasting time doing so. So maximise the value of your ticket and choose to see more countries and get more experience for your money!

Beware of risky surface sectors

Sometimes it isn’t possible to travel overland; big things like mountains can get in the way, unfriendly borders or visa requirements can all hinder your independent travel plans.

One place where overland travel is near impossible is the land border between Panama and Colombia – the Darien Gap. Forbidding mountainous jungle connects Panama to Colombia. You’d think a road would connect the two, but the Pan American Highway which stretches from Cape Horn in Chile to Alaska has just one 90km break - The Darien Gap. Even if you did want to traverse this jungle by foot, you’d be met with impenetrable swamps, guerrillas, drug traffickers, kidnappers, paranoid police, no marked trails and dangerous animals.

You might want to give the Darien Gap a miss!

So is flying Panama – Colombia really the only option?

Since it’s rather inhospitable, most people choose to fly between Central and South America, even though flights can be quite expensive. However – there is a far better way.

Here’s my idea for an itinerary that includes a special and unforgettable boat trip which maximises your experience whilst away. This trip can be done in either direction; which ever suits your travel plans the best…

Begin your trip in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the green emerald of Central America. Blessed with lush jungles playgrounds, animals galore and surf beaten beaches with golden sand and warm local people, Costa Rica is at the top of many a Central American wish list.


In Costa Rica you could start with some surfing in the chilled out hippy village of Montezuma or Santa Teresa, both on the Pacific coast where waterfalls can be found to cool off and jungles meet the surf beaches. You could then head inland to visit a cloud forest and be awed by the diversity of the wildlife, from huge blue butterflies to iridescent nippy little hummingbirds.

These forests are great for trekking, zip-lining, bridge swings and white water rafting. Next I would make a bee line for the Caribbean coast for some turtle spotting, sloth admiring, more surfing and dancing on the beaches to the reggae grooves.

Check out our Top 10 things to do in Costa Rica and Group tours in Costa Rica.

Continue into Panama

If you’re travelling down the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the border crossing with Panama brings you close to the Bocas Del Toro archipelago. These islands are definitely worth the visit - with spectacular beaches, local boats to nip between the islands and great snorkelling and diving to be had.


Next stop is Boquette a tranquil village in green mountain highlands known for their coffee plantations. There are plenty of other beaches, national parks and town to visit in Panama and don’t forget the famous Panama Canal!

Central America for cyclists - if you’re keen to see a bit more of Central America or enjoy cycling - this 16 Day trip Cycle Central America from Nicaragua, through Costa Rica and finishing in Panama could be just the thing for you.

Central America guided tour - alternatively, if you’re after the highlights of Costa Rica and Panama and fancy doing it as part of a small guided group – the Panama Experience could be right up your street. This small group tour helps you get to places otherwise difficult to get to and without any of the stress of negotiating with the local buses.

Check out our other group tours in Panama

Don’t fly – sail

The alternative to a flight is an adventure in its own right! Leaving Panama by boat, you’ll encounter indigenous culture, paradise islands, sail through an archipelago before arriving in the Caribbean villages of the Northern Colombian coast. And it makes for a softer landing than touching down in Bogota for your welcome into South America!


This trip from Panama to Colombia by boat can take 5 days and visits the San Blas islands and the native Kuna people who inhabit these tropical gems. Care is advised when choosing your vessel to make this crossing as some captains have been known to overload their boats and may not follow expected safety standards. However, as long as you seek advice from fellow travellers and do a bit of research, you will be able to secure yourself a spot on a fine boat that will take you on a trip of a life time.

The San Blas Islands

So you’ve set sail, destination paradise! This route between Panama and Colombia bring you close to 365 beautiful islands, only 49 of which are inhabited by the Kuna Indians. The Indians speak their own language, wear traditional dress and operate the biggest coconut plantation in the world. So in-between fish barbeques on the beach, snorkelling with tropical fish, wild camping and hammock-swinging, you can brush shoulders with these unique people and learn a bit about their culture!


Arriving in Colombia

After chilling on these uninhabited islands, it’s time to head for Colombia for the beginning of your South American journey. The boat from Panama arrives on the Caribbean coast of Colombia where you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the authentic Caribbean villages in beautiful white sand bays, each backed by untouched jungle.


Often there are no roads; transport is by horse and cart. To keep you busy there are waterfalls, hikes, natural jacuzzis and diving - be warned you may never want to leave! Check out our Top 10 things to see and do in Colombia and group tours in Colombia for more ideas whilst you’re there.

Interested in travelling from Panama into Colombia without flying?

The question is, why fly between Panama and Colombia when there are so many adventures to be had dodging the Darien Gap?

If you’d like to book a trip that includes both Panama and Colombia, I’d love to help you plan it! Contact Sara to start planning!

Itinerary ideas

  • London - San Jose (Costa Rica) // Bogota - London from £518 pp inc taxes
  • London - Havana - San Jose (Costa Rica) // Buenos Aires - Auckland /// Christchurch - Sydney // Cairns - Kuala Lumpur - London from £1,588 pp inc taxes


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