Friday, April 6, 2012

Sea Legs

In the last week we’ve travelled from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia aboard a sailboat.  It was an unforgettable adventure in more ways than one.

Panama and Colombia are separated by a road-less wilderness called the Darien Gap.  We opted to make the journey via water rather than air for the unique experience and the chance to visit some of the most beautiful Caribbean islands along the way.  There are many sailboats which do this trip for backpackers, and the standard is 4-5 nights including 2-3 days in the Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands).  We had heard horror stories from some of our friends of rough seas, dangerous captains, and crowded boats, so naturally we were a little nervous beforehand.  We booked ourselves aboard the Tango, a 34 foot sloop owned by a French captain named David.

The Tango anchored in Cartagena.

From Panama City, all that was left was to ride across to the Caribbean side and wait for our boat in the town of Puerto Lindo, near Portobelo.

Old fort in Portobelo, Panama.

Much of the gold that Spain got from the Inca was shipped through Portobelo.  It attracted many pirates, including the famous Sir Francis Drake.

Destructive as ever ...

Jenn defending the town from marauding yachts.

Even the animals know how to really relax on the Caribbean.

The locals sure know how to relax here … on closer inspection this dog was not dead!

After meeting Captain David in Puerto Lindo, we set sail for Kuna Yala.  We sailed overnight, and woke up in one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen so far.

Tiny Caribbean islands in the Kuna Yala.

Kuna Yala is a collection of several hundred small islands just off the coast of Panama.

Kuna house in the Kuna Yala.

The islands are inhabited by the Kuna.  Most make a living through tourism, coconut plantations, and cocaine.

So what does one do in Kuna Yala?  Snorkel and swim of course!  The islands are surrounded by some of the best preserved coral in the Caribbean!

Caribbean time!

Dave mid-flight.

Jenn snorkeling in the clear water of the Kuna Yala. Swimming in the Kuna Yala.

Mmmm, we love the Caribbean!

Captain David also had snorkelling gear aboard the boat which we could use.  The reef was about a 15 minute swim from where we were anchored.

Crazy coral in the Kuna Yala. Schools of fish in the Kuna Yala.

Some of the crazy coral in the reef.

Snorkeling at a shipwreck in the Kuna Yala.

We also stopped by the site of an old shipwreck.  Jenn checking it out.

Snorkeling at a shipwreck in the Kuna Yala. Snorkeling at a shipwreck in the Kuna Yala.

There were so many fish that it was hard to stop taking pictures!

Sting Ray in the Kuna Yala. Firefish in the Kuna Yala.

A few of our favourite fish were the Pacific Fire-fish (right) and Stingray (left).

From the Kuna Yala it was a 45 hour sail to Cartagena.  The seas were calm and the journey was almost pleasant!

Our captain cooking up a storm in the rocking, swaying kitchen on the boat.

The best thing about having a French captain was the cooking.  Here is David cooking up a feast of fresh caught tuna, garlic butter sauce, and rice in a rocking, swaying, 20 degree slanted kitchen.

Captain David fixing the sail mid journey.

Grommet rips off the top of the sail leaving the rope at the top of the mast … no problem!  “Just hold this rope here, eh?”  David putting his life in Mike’s hands as he monkeys up the mast in order to repair the sail.

Great crew on the Tango. 

Our new friends Beck and Mike (left), and Hans.  And our old friends the bikes, packed securely away from spray and covered with plastic bags.

First view of Cartagena.

After 45 hours of sailing we made it to the beautiful city of Cartagena, Colombia.

Unloading the bikes in Cartagena.

Nervous moments unloading our babies into David’s tiny dinghy.

So what did we think overall of this trip on the Tango?  The logistics of the trip were a little confusing, and we ended up leaving Puerto Lindo a day late.  But David was an experienced captain, the boat was in great shape, and the cooking was amazing.  Also, we were very impressed with the treatment of our bikes.  Overall, would we recommend this trip to other backpackers?  Absolutely, go for it!

Now it’s time to explore Cartagena and head off into Colombia.  Hasta Luego!


  1. Ahhhh ... French cooking, a boat and snorkling .. who could ask for more! Take care ... JPP and Vikci! PS Happy Easter!!

  2. That's awesome Dave, seems like you both are having the time of your life!

    Enjoy the journey in South America


  3. WHOAAAA WAYYYYY too coool!!! me encanta sus aventuras, como siempre!!