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Boating to Colombia

As Colombia opens up as a tourism destination, boat trips from Panama to Cartagena (including a stop on the San Blas islands) are becoming increasingly popular. Unfortunately, this trend has not gone unnoticed by the operators that arrange these passages — the price has jumped from $250 to a standard $350 over the past two years. As of July 2008, some captains have even begun pushing the price up to an outrageous $400. With flights from Panama City to Cartagena available for less than half that amount, many travelers are questioning whether the boat trip is worthwhile anymore. It's almost cheaper to do the whole thing by plane and save yourself the seasickness pills.

Generally speaking, the trips have received good reviews, but a lot depends on your captain and your group. If you're the only American stuck with a group of non-English speaking Russians, you're not going to enjoy your time at sea. Make sure you meet the group you’re going with first, especially if you're a solo traveler. While it's not always possible to meet the captain and see the boat, a search online should reveal the reputation. As with most things travel-related, personal references and recommendations are best.

The trip itself should last five days (though some skinflint captains will push it to four). The first day you'll depart from somewhere on the Caribbean coast, most commonly Portobello or Colon, and sail to the San Blas, where you'll spend the next two to three days cruising the islands before embarking on the two-day trip to Cartagena. Trips can include fishing and will almost certainly include heavy drinking. If you've got a weak stomach, inquire as to how rough the sea is before you go — you won't have fun if you're spending the whole trip vomiting.

By Mike Karanicolas

Michael Karanicolas is awesome.

22 Jul 2008

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