This is the 7th post in a series focused on riding in Colombia. A special Thanks to Colombia Moto Adventures for sponsoring this post and making it possible to bring you South American adventure content. Jeff Cremer, an award-winning wildlife photographer, and his team provide motorcycle rentals in Medellín and Colombia motorcycle tours.
Most riders heading for Ushuaia from the States choose to ride all the way. The only time they need to ship their bikes is when they reach the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. The Darien is an impassable jungle region between the two countries, and although it’s possible to cross it on foot, trying to ride a fully loaded ADV bike across is just not a great idea. It has been done, but keeping in mind that the place is swarming with people smugglers, drug traffickers, and all sorts of other unsavory characters, you’re better off avoiding it. In fact, the Panamanian border officials probably won’t even let you out of the country that way – not legally, anyway.
If you’re an engineering genius, you can do what Dylan the Boatercycler did – take your bike apart, build a boat, and use the bike’s engine to cross the Darien by sea.
If you don’t feel like floating to Colombia on a makeshift raft, however, here’s how to painlessly cross the Darien Gap on a sailboat or a container ship.
How to Get Across the Darien Gap
The most popular way to get your bike and yourself across the Darien Gap is by sailboat. There are two main sailing vessels cruising regularly between Panama and Colombia and taking bikes: Wild Card and Stahlratte. Either is a good choice. The bonus with Stahlratte is that they also offer sea journeys from Mexico to Cuba to Colombia, stopping at a bunch of Caribbean islands along the way. This way, you don’t have to ride across Central America and you get to explore Cuba on your own two wheels.
If you just want to cross the Darien, hop on either the Stahlratte or the Wild Card. Sailing across the Darien with your bike aboard an old rickety boat has become a rite of passage for a lot of riders, so you might opt for this if you’re in for the adventure. Prices usually start at $1,000 per bike (not including yourself), but check their websites for exact prices. It’s best to book in advance so you reserve your spot and can plan ahead.
A cheaper way to transport your bike across is container shipping. Usually, riders try to find a few other overlanders with bikes or cars and share container costs. Some have reported paying as little as $300 to ship their motorcycles across the Darien Gap this way. Scour internet forums to find other travelers who might want to share a container for Colombia.
Shipping from and to the US
If you don’t have the time to ride your bike to Panama and want to ship it straight to Colombia from the US, you have several options.
One of the most popular and least complicated ways to ship a motorcycle to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, is air freight. Generally, this is the most expensive option, but it’s also the fastest. If you don’t want to wait for your bike for a month or more, which is usually the case with sea freight, air freight might be your best bet.
For the best prices and deals, visit Air Canada. It is possible to fly your bike to Bogotá from North America or the other way round for less than $1,500. Airfreight is usually very fast and efficient; all you need to do is show up at the airport, pick up your bike, and ride away.
Container shipping is also a possibility. Check Moto Freight for details and ask them for a quote. However, sea freight will take weeks.
International motorcycle shipping might sound like a complicated hassle, but it’s actually quite simple. You will need your bike’s title and registration plus the Temporary Vehicle Import document. The Temporary Vehicle Import paper is a customs document which ensures that you will not sell your bike locally. You get the TVI document once your bike lands in Colombia. Your TVI is valid for 90 days, after which you and your bike must leave the country. If you overstay, you’re facing steep fines or even possibly having the bike impounded.
Once you have your TVI, you will also need to purchase local Colombian insurance called SOAT for your motorcycle. You can do this at any insurance agency in Bogotá or Cartagena (or any other Colombian city). Keep in mind that you can only get your SOAT once your bike is processed out of customs.
It’s only worth shipping your own motorcycle to Colombia if you plan to ride here for over a month, or if you will continue to explore the rest of the South American continent from here. If you just want a short, two-week motorcycle tour of Colombia, it’s much cheaper and faster to either rent or buy a bike locally.
This post was supported by Colombia Moto Adventures. Jeff Cremer, an award-winning wildlife photographer, and his team provide motorcycle rentals and breath-taking tours of Colombia.