After we watched this YouTube clip of three New Zealanders crossing the Darien Gap by bicycle in 1977, we agreed that sailing from Panama to Colombia through the San Blas islands was the way forward!
Pirates Of Portobelo
We decided to sail from Portobelo, which is easier to reach to by bicycle than Carti and, not to mention, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The history behind Portobelo is fascinating. It was the backdrop for the real life Pirates of the Caribbean. Modern Portebelo still exudes a pirate vibe and might seem a little rough at first glance, but after a few days we really warmed to the place.
Interesting Facts About Portobelo
- Captain Henry Morgan (the privateer whose name appears on the popular dark rum sold around the world) conquered Portobelo in 1668 with 450 men. They had a two-week bender of rape, pillage and murder.
- Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery at sea in 1596. Allegedly, he was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay, still yet to be found.
- Portobello Road in London was named after Portobelo, Panama
The Sail Boat: ‘Luka’
We chose Luka, a 56 ft yacht that sails back and forth between Portobelo and Cartagena, Colombia. The trip involved three days sailing through the San Blas islands followed by a thirty hour stretch through open sea to Cartagena. Luka has the capacity to sleep up to 14 people including the crew. The price of $550 per person includes three meals a day, tea, coffee, an abundance of fresh fruit to snack on throughout the day plus quick noodles for the extra hungry; the food on this boat was of high quantity and exceptional quality. One morning they made scrambled eggs for 12 people using 50 eggs! Captain Bea had even imported jars of Vegemite!
Bea is everything you want from a captain. She is authoritative, so you feel safe (this comes across nicely with her Polish accent) and she is easy to get along with. Her first mate is a very experienced sailor from Panama called Ulices. Her boat is kept in immaculate condition. It is one of only three boats registered as an official chartering sail boat for passengers.
Luka was built to last and this was tested by her late husband Tomek in 2008. Tomek circumnavigated the world on a solo, record-breaking mission sailing against the wind for 13 months with only the company of Wacek, their jack russell.
What an experience! I doubt we will ever see islands more idylic, sand as white, or sea so crystal clear again. Don’t be cheap and go with the ferry; experience travel the way you are supposed to! It’s the journey to the destination that is the adventure!
We booked our trip with Captain Jacks hostel based in Portobelo. They offer one free night if you book with them. We stayed three nights because we arrived cautiously early. For $13 per night, we found the hostel over-priced compared to the standards and amenities of Luna’s Castle in Panama City (same price). However, the people watching at Captain Jacks and Portobello in general is quite interesting, so you will be entertained. If you don’t plan to stay the night then book directly with Captain Bea on her website SkipTheDarienGap.com.
Sailing With Bicycles
Updated Feb 2015: I finally recorded the song I was writing on deck! Caribbean Dream