Crossing from one country to another by land is nowadays a common thing to do. Border controls usually provide the required inspection and humans have managed, with modern technology, to build a good enough road system to provide connection between bordering countries.
There’s one particular stretch of land though, between South and Central America, where all this doesn’t apply: the Darien Gap. It seems though, that this little 80 mile long piece of land connecting Panama to Colombia is the most complicated terrain that humans have ever encountered in their history, since somehow we haven’t managed to be able to build a road on top of it.
So, regardless of the reasons behind this “failure” of modern civilization, the option to cross it, for motorcyclists, are only four.
1st Method: Cargo Airplane
You can fly from Bogota to Panama city (and vice versa) in basically one hour and some change, and ride off the very same day you land on the new country.

It usually works this way. You need to contact the shipping agency (you’ll find plenty in both of the two countries), they get your papers (passport, registration, driver license, temporary import permit), you pay, you ride to the cargo area of the airport the day before the flight, and airport security inspects your bike. They wrap it up, strap it down and put it on a metal pallet. Then you go home and fly the day after on a different plane. You will have to meet the bike back at the destination airport, in the cargo section, (using a different flight) and process your paperwork at the customs office. Done. 2 days, and mostly painless procedure. The cost varies from $1100 to $1500 USD depending on airline, agency, and logistics. 

2nd Method: Cargo Ship
This seems to be the cheapest and most common way to do it. The downside is that you may have to find other people to share the container with (since a single motorcycle occupies only a small section of it) and pray that the paperwork of all other vehicles are in perfect conditions and ready to be delivered to the officials, at destination. If something is not okay with even one, all the content of the container is held until all the documents are provided. This may hold you back few days (or weeks) depending on the circumstance.

It is cheaper indeed to go this way, but it may take you a week or more to process the whole thing, and you definitely have to bring your bike few days before the departure date and wait for it to be released few days after the arrival. You will also have to synchronize the pick up with all the other people you shared the container with so,ย in a sense, you depend a lot on other people for the processing of the whole thing.

 

3rd Method: Sailing Boat
Since this “gap” is giving a lot of work to air freight and cargo companies, some people had the brilliant idea to offer a different kind of service to people willing to put their motorcycle on a sailing boat or catamaran and hit the caribbean sea. You can in fact find different unofficial companies providing this service (the most famous one is the Stahlratte) which will take you from Cartagena to Carti, and vice versa, and will even process your passport stamp too. The only thing you have to do, once landed on the other shore, is to drive to the Customs Office (in Cartagena or Panama) and process your temporary import permit for your motorcycle.

These people will also take you exploring some of the beautiful islands of the archipelago of the San Blas, in the caribbean sea. They will take you fishing, snorkeling, and they will even feed you. Most of these boats and captain have a reputation, and they will take you and your bike safely to the other side, but, of course, there’s no insurance and no guarantee.

The costs of this 5 days vacation/shipping experience is from $700 to $1200 USD for one person and one motorcycle, depending on the boat. Again, it’s not an official service, so it may vary per season and it may depend on the marine authorities too.

4th Method: Fishermen Boat
In the realm of cheap travelling, you can never top the “free version” of course, and I did actually met somebody that managed to spend 2 weeks becoming friends with the fishermen and cross the gap for free. If there’s a will there’s a way!
But If it’s not in your plans to spend 4 weeks trying to cross the gap, you can go to Turbo (Colombia) or Carti (Panama) and ask some fishermen to take your bike on the other side while you hop from island to island with little speedboats.

This process usually takes 3 to 5 days and it has a variable cost, obviously, but it’s around $500-600 USD for you and the bike. Obviously, no guarantees and a high exposure to salt for your bike.

 

5th (THE SECRET) Method: Ride through the gap
Wait a minute! I thought there were only 4 ways to cross! I know right?! I lied.
There’s another way, which is actually to go through the gap itself, since THERE IS land to ride on, but there may be some obstacles on the way, like drug dealers, rivers, mud, and a thick vegetation.
Some people managed to cross it, but it looked nothing like a fun adventure. It’s an project called “Where the road ends” and it’s about 4 Army Veterans making their way through the 80 miles stretch that separate Panama to Colombia.
Not a fun ride, but indeed an option if you particularly like to push your 500 pounds motorcycle through stuff.
6th (THE INSANE) Method: Turning your Motorcycle into a Boat
I know, I know, I said there were 4 methods. Then I put a 5th, and now a 6th! Crazy right?! Well, not crazy like this guy I’m going to tell you about in a second!
Dylan, after living in Switzerland for few years and riding around the world on his BMW 1150, had to face “the gap” and decided to convert his motorcycle into a raft and cross to Colombia this way.

Obviously the story that came out of it it’s just incredible and I recommend you to go check it out, if you have some time. I met him in person a couple of years ago and I got mesmerized by his tale.
But definitely don’t try this at home, kids. Hopefully he’ll make his story into a movie.

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