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Miles 315, Days total 12, Days off 6, Total Accumulative Ascent 4500m
The red line is our cycle route and the dotted blue line is a trip to Colon by bus with a return along the Panama Canal working as line handlers on a sailing yacht. Much of the western part of our journey was through sparsely inhabited areas with few services until Santiago. The road continues passed Panama City but ends short of Darien from where there is an expanse of some 150km before another road starts in Columbia. This is know as the 'Darien Gap'. Many travellers we met spoke of the possibility of catching rides with boats passing through the Panama Canal and on to Columbia but after a few days in Panama it became clear that few boats head east to Columbia at this time of year and thus a flight would be necessary.
This raised the possibility of taking a flight either to Cartagena, Columbia or to Caracas, Venezuela and with this the option to avoid Columbia altogether as so many people we have met had recommended.
The Columbia Route
Given the difficulty of our decision as to how to travel from Panama to South America we felt we should explain our thoughts on this route. Ideally we would have liked to cycle the entire distance without break. In the past some people have travelled through the jungles of Darien Province into Columbia but this has been made dangerous by the presence of Colombian guerrillas and smugglers in the area. The border can also be crossed at the Caribbean Coast but this is essentially a boating route.
We had originally intended to take a flight to Caracas in Venezuela from Panama City and our decision to cycle through Columbia was not one we took lightly. The main reason for our decision was an aspiration to keep the route as complete as possible but there was also a degree of curiosity to see some of a country which it seems most people have strong opinions about, regardless of whether or not they have been there themselves.
Our general thoughts on our Colombian route were that the risk of kidnapping whilst travelling on the main roads during the day and avoiding camping were low, although the risk of robbery remains higher than in other countries but probably not higher than in some of the more problematic areas that we have passed through including such places as Mexico City and Managua.
On arrival in Cartagena we continued to gather information about our route. The locals did not believe any problems existed on the roads we were taking and indeed they were well patrolled by police. We have met three other cyclists who cycled through Colombia from south to north. All three spoke very enthusiastically about their journeys through the Country. Two of these had no problems at all. The third had had his bicycle and cameras stolen at a guerrilla check point whilst cycling away from the main highway in a known guerrilla area that he had decided to risk cycling through.
Our own experience was without any unpleasant event. The roads we travelled were perhaps the best we have cycled in terms of wide shoulders and little traffic. The people we met were very friendly and the scenery attractive. Clearly a cautious approach is appropriate but it would be a shame to be put off travelling in Colombia based on the volume of negative comments from those with limited knowledge of the true situation in the relevant areas.
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