Border Crossings

Panama to Colombia – to fly or not to fly?

There are no roads that connect Panama and Colombia! That is astonishing, but the thick vegetation of Darien rainforest and the Colombian guerrilla controlling narcotics trafficking makes the cross best avoided. This is a nice article regarding the Darien straight.

There are many many threads online that talk about a ferry service between the countries but they all lead to nothing. Some say that it is possible to take cargo ships, but schedules and time at sea are unknown and you could be stuck waiting for a boat that departs for days.

Other crazy posts detail a dangerous land crossing with a mixed use of buses, walking and boats right on the Atlantic coast junction between Central and South America.

Some opt for parties’ sail boats that take 5 days to reach Colombia. 3 of the 5 days are spent cruising the San Blas Archipelago in Panama and then 48 straight hours of hard core waves that will ensure very little sleep and a fair amount of bruises. All of this for USD550 per person, all included, but excluding showers. A #coupletravel we met in Belize told us all the details of how bad it was not to be able to shower for 5 days even for rinsing the sea salt that remains on your skin after bathing in the ocean. But they went through 20 something bottle of Rum among 15 travelers!?

Not for us…

Obviously there are upsides such as the fact you are practically taking part to a cruise on a large sailboat and you get to enjoy the San Blas islands! You stop at various spots, visiting some of the islands, sunbathing and swimming in the crystal clear waters.

Wingo was our choice. Wingo is a new brand name that has replaced most flights that used to be operated by COPA airlines.
Wingo operates as local low cost airline within Colombia and it has a few international destination, such as the Panama-Cartagena route, which we benefit for only SGD220 for two people including a 20KG bag allowance in the aircraft and 16KG between two pieces of hand carries.
This carry-on allowance is perfect for a backpacker, but the restrictions on size may push you to purchase additional baggage.

Our flight was scheduled to depart from the Pacifico airport out of town towards the east. This used to be a military airport and it is in operation only few hours prior to any flight departure (if any). It is a very basic airport offering free internet only since a few months.
Reaching the airport via public transport required us to take a train to the main transport terminal, look for the correct bus that goes to a junction a few KMs from the airport and then a taxi to cover the last pierce of road (or a long slog with luggage and all in the heat). Probable cost USD5, depending on the taxi part.
Normal taxi services would ask between USD20 to USD30 to do the drop, however Uber is easily available in town and can take you to the airport for approx. US 9 bucks (Uber prices always change also depending on traffic etc.)

As we were going to catch a flight from a low cost carrier that operates from a small airport in the middle of nowhere, there was to expect some catch in terms of charges, i.e what type of luggage they would allow on board, very strict on Kilos in your luggage or, as expected, but not prevented, charging you for not having printed your boarding pass or done the check in.

We had so little time in Panama we were just enjoying the places we didn’t think of spending time checking in for our flight online. We had the feeling we should have printed the boarding passes as in Europe this is a classic method to charge the travelers top dollars for not printing itineraries. Yet, we went to sleep without realizing the check in online closes 5 hours prior to departure and that we needed to print our boarding passes.

Luckily we arrived 2.5 hours prior to departure when we were told that we would need to pay USD34 for having them printing our boarding passes. You may say, why luckily? Luckily because this was not the only problem that we were phasing…
We were also asked for proof on onward travel in order to board the aircraft! The flight attendant gave us just over one hour to provide her a proof of onward travel away from Colombia. We were freaking out! How to get that done if we were planning to land cross over to Ecuador from Colombia?

We frantically start reading online about how to get around this problem. In many talk about how this inconvenience resulted in them missing the flight or like us incur unrequired charges only if we had read the fine prints.

One easy get around is to book a flight with any American carrier. Usually American carriers allow one day “grace” period and the booking can be cancelled within 24hours of purchase. The flight confirmations you will receive is the official proof of onward travel, which in the meanwhile is being processed by the airline. If you want to deal with the refund procedure and manage the process, this is non costing anything to get your proof of onward travel.

Or use a service, which books you on flights and send you flight confirmations in minutes with itinerary and all printed PDF for USD15.
Plenty to read online about this topic…

Airplane view from Panama City to Cartagena

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