Into Colombia & Cartagena

I originally toyed with the idea of sailing from Panama to Colombia through the San Blas Islands, a stunningly beautiful trip by all accounts.
A number things made it not work out that way:

  1. Sailing is about $375-$400 and takes 3 – 5 days.
  2. We couldn’t leave Panama City until the ship with our container departed allowing us to collect our “original” Bill of Lading. This makes timing difficult and we would have to pay for container storage if it sat in Colombia more seven days after arrival.
  3. Sticking with Vince and Marie wasn’t 100% necessary, though it kept things a lot simpler.
  4. We got plane tickets for $150 each (inc. taxes), see

Late in the afternoon we catch a city bus for two and a half hours through downtown Panama City rush hour traffic. It’s obvious everyone else on the bus makes this trip daily and they zone out after no more than two minutes. Security at the airport is similar to elsewhere I’ve been in the world, and we soon find ourselves loaded into a little dash-8. I haven’t been in a plane with a propeller for a long time and I somehow feel like I’m back in small town Australia.

The flight itself feels like it’s over before it even begins, barely an hour in total. I step off the plane onto the tarmac with an enormous grin on my face as do Vince and Marie. We’ve made it to South America and couldn’t be happier.
The guy at customs is very friendly, simply asks if I am on vacation and happily stamps my passport and waves me through.

cartagena old city 640x480

The old "walled" city of Cartagena

We find a cheap hotel in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartegena and head out to explore. Immediately things feel different than in Central America – it’s very busy and more motorcycles and tuk-tuks give an Asian/Indian feel. Wandering into the old walled city is really cool, the whole area is very clean, well patrolled and heavily touristed making it feel very safe. Outside the old city is a lot more raw and dirty, though I have no reason not to feel safe and quickly get the hang of things.
Cartagena is a very beautiful city.

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Buildings in Cartagena

When my friend Mike’s trip to South America was unexpectedly cut short his ‘wish list’ of activities sat uncompleted – until now.
I’m not going to make this the focus of my journey, though it will be fun to see how many I can complete along the way:

  • Bathe in the Amazon (but do not get a parasite).
  • Have a fresh cup of Colombian coffee.
  • Go to Carnival in Rio.
  • Go to a soccer game in Brazil (but do not die in a riot).
  • Visit the ancient ruins of the Incan city Machu Picchu.
  • Stand on the Equator.
  • Find penguins at the southern tip of Argentina.
  • Ride an alpaca.
  • Shear an alpaca.
  • Eat chili in Chile.
  • Learn five new swear words and say them to people.
  • Spelunking.
  • Go to a beach in Argentina.
  • Helicopter tour of the Nazca Lines.
  • Go to Lake Titicaca.
  • Visit the Galapagos Islands (swim with iguanas).
  • Visit Iguaçu Falls, if possible kayak or barrel roll down them.
  • Visit the Patagonia glaciers.
  • Meet a gaucho.
  • Eat a guinea pig (Jess Baran highly disapproves of this).
  • Eat world’s hottest pepper from Chile.

Feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestions simple smile

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Castillo do San Felipe in Cartagena


18 Responses

  1. Brian12566 says:

    Thanks for taking us on your journey with you! Great pics as always…(you know I dig the Jeep pics)

  2. Oscar says:

    Hello Dan !
    I just found your website, it looks great.
    I will be taking this trip sometime this summer, Leaving from Austin, Texas all the way to venezuela,
    that’s where I come from.
    I need some more information about transfering my truck from panama into Colombia,
    I am not quiet sure what company You decide to use and how much you really paid.
    here is my website:
    check it out and send me an email.
    If you decide to stop in venezuela where you can find the cheapest gas in this planet,
    let me know I have some relatives there, they will take of you while you are there

    thanks and keep the good work

    • Dan says:

      Hey Oscar,
      Good luck on your trip, you’ll have such a good time!
      My next post sums up shipping the car around the Darien and has all the information you are looking for.
      Thanks so much for the offer assistance, though I’ve decided not to go to Venezuela for the moment.

  3. Ron Parker says:

    Guinea pigs,Thats just another name for a RAT,except thay are a little larger.No need to go to South America to find them.Every pet shop in the world will have a few for sale,i am sure.It is protein,but do you want to go their.Personally I would be trying to find a T Bone.

    • Dan says:

      A good steak would be amazing right now. I’ve been eating steak like cardboard for a long time now. I’m told Argentina has amazing steak though, so I’m looking forward to that :)

  4. David says:

    Machu Picchu is amazing – if you have the days, take the trek in, it’s 3 nights and 4 days (a short day on each end) although I’ve been reading that the train is not working so that might hamper things. Cui (guniea pig) is tasty enough, I had it at an outdoor market in Cuzco. They’re essentially rats you know, but I was hungry so I didn’t hold that against them! :)

    At a campsite I was at in Peru, there was a house, I assume the owners cared for the camping area. The house had a high threshold on it – on the inside lived a family of 4 or 5, their sleeping area on one side, a wood burning stove on the other, no electricity or running water. And running amok inside this home were countless cui – now I know the reason for the high threshold. I don’t know about you Dan, but it would seriously freak me out sleeping in that situation however the family seemed entirely oblivious.



    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the great advice David.
      The train at Machu Picchu is washed out, although it’s scheduled to re-open tomorrow. I’ll get there.
      I’ve been told the Inca Trail costs $500 to hike, and there is a very very similar trail next to it that’s around $200. I think it very likely I’ll do the cheaper one.
      I suppose living in a house like that would not be crazy if that is all you have ever known.

  5. Pete 'n' Al says:

    Hey Dan,
    I remember reading about a ‘lost city’ in Colombia which was only discovered in the 1970’s, name of it is Ciudad Perdida which is close to Santa Marta, might be worth a Capt Cook. Keep up the good work.
    Best Regards Pete

    • Dan says:

      Hey Pete,
      You’re dead right on all counts. I met lots of people that made the hike and said it was amazing. A 5 day trip runs about $250 USD and I decided to take a pass.
      Hope you guys are well.

  6. Rejeana in Alabama says:

    While you’re along the Amazon, try to spot the dinosaurs that are allegedly still there.

  7. koren says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m considering continuing my travels and Colombia is high on the list. . .Thanks to you I’ve found the airline within my price range. One question, the airline gave a message that you can’t purchase a one-way ticket unless you have a return ticket on another airline. Was this an issue for you? I have a return ticket from PTY but am going to change the reservation to an unknown time in the future.

    Was this an issue for you? It seems you got through customs fine, but do you have a return ticket?



    • Dan says:

      Hey Koren – the whole return ticket thing was not an issue for me or anyone else I spoke to about it. Customs did not care at all.

  8. Mike says:

    ummm, Dan – you’re gonna want to go ahead and focus on these challenges. Just kidding…..keep an eye open for those wild llamas. I saw that you may have spotted one of them in a more recent post.

    Keep up the good life.


  9. pj says:

    hi dan,
    Thanks for the info regarding the shipping of your car. We are in Panama City as we speak and are debating whether to ship or sell the car and backpack. How is the driving over there? Are you going to Brasil? Do they have decent roads? Any input you can give is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Dan says:


      The driving in South America is great – not too different than Central, everything is just bigger and navigation is harder. I did OK without a GPS.
      I highly recommend it!

      I did not go to Brazil myself, though many people do, and they have fantastic roads.

  10. Mellissa Holman says:

    I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your site. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme?

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