I am cycling from the Alaska to Patagonia next year. At the moment, I am planning my route. As it looks now I will be taking the Great Divide and reach Mexico at Antelope Wells, NM (close to Juarez). Can someone advice me on the best route to take from there?
1. Is it safe to cross the border at Antelope Wells? Can you advice me on a potentially safer border crossing? And what areas to avoid while cycling in Mexico?
2. Can I cross the border of Panama/Colombia? I heard it is FARC territory there? Can it nevertheless still be done (in a semi- safe way ???)
Hope to hear from you guys!
My husband and I did that ride and finished 2 years ago. We did not cross at Antelope Wells because there is not an official place to cross there and get your visa stamped. We crossed at Palomus, NM which is about 100 miles east of Antelope Wells. They have a real nice campground at Columbus, NM and a great pancake breakfast before you cross the border. We had Mountain bikes and were glad to have them on the roads in Latin American countries!
From Panama to Colombia you have to either fly or take a sailboat, which we did the later. There are not roads from Panama to Colombia, it is all swampland and a very dangerous area. FARC had pretty much dissolved by the time we got there, so felt pretty safe. We avoided the coastal areas and the lower eastern part of Colombia and stayed in the Mountains. Colombia turned out to be the friendliest country we went through!
Our advice is to check with other bikers as you get close to those countries and see what is advisable for that time. We checked other current biker blogs before going into any country and to find out where not to go in each country.
You can look at our blogs and website at ralphandpat.wordpress.com.
Hope this helps!
Colombia is a changing situation from day to day so ask people which roads are safe and at what times. Traveling by land I had to change plans as some roads would change hands at different times form being controlled by paramilitares to the military or guerrillas (or the other way around) some areas can be safe for a while and change some time later. So ask. The safety insured by Colombians government plan is temporary and superficial so things can change quick. That said I have always felt relatively safe riding in Colombia. Las FARC have NOT dissolved at all they just have lost control of some territories. That control might have been transferred to paramilitary groups.
I am not sure where you would end up if you cross from panama but if you end up in the Turbo area there will be some serious (brutal) climbing if you head to Medellin. There will be a lot of temperature changes as you climb and descent. I am most familiar with riding from Santa Fe de Antioquia to Medellin. From San Jeronimo to Medellin you will need to use the old road which means some serious climbing but almost no traffic at all. If you use the new road it is faster but there is a tunnel that does not allow bikes. I guess you can hitch a ride to the other side somehow. From Medellin south is not as volatile situation until much farther south into the Cauca departments.
I am less familiar with roads and conditions in La Costa (landing farther north say)
There is a huge and strong cycling scene in Colombia so seeing riders on the road is normal and usually are heavily respected by drivers.
I will ask my cousins to see if I can find more and current information... at least one of my cousins is a former racer there.
First thing you should do is get yourself on the Panam Riders Google Group, a group with about 60 of us, currently somewhere between Alaska & Argentina. You'll get the most up-to-date information here. There are 2 main groups, it seems: those that started in 2009 who are now between Ecuador & Argentina; & those of us who started in 2010 & are between Mexico & El Salvador / Nicaragua. I am currently in Belize & will explain my experiences & that of others re. Mexico.
To join 1. Go to www.google.com 2. Do a general search for 'Panam Riders' & you'll get to the group. 3. Go to the 'Join Group' & write a small resume about yourself & your journey 4. Wait for Paul, the administrator to accept you (always very quick). Then surf the pages & ask questions. There is an incredible amount of knowledge on there, including from Jeff Kruys, who recently returned to Canada, Dec 2010, after 4 years of cycling, it seems everywhere, in North, Central & South America. Jeff regularly contributes to questions & his blog is at www.crazyguyonabike.com (type in his name in the search).
Several other very good sources that I use - when I say I use, I've read lots but these ones discuss distances, climbing, places to stay etc - are:
1. Christian Bomio Also on Crazy Guy
2. Nuno Brilhante http://www.ontheroad.eu.com
3. Randy & Nancy Administrators on this site www.hobobiker.com
Personally, a whole group of us has just crossed or are in the south of Mexico. I spent 3.5 months getting from the US border to Belize. I don't know of anyone who crossed over where you are, but I know of nobody who had any problems in northern Mexico. There is a guy in a car who drives the Durango-Zacatecas route warning cyclists about the dangers but nobody has let the group know that they've had a problem there. One cyclist had an armed attempt made against him on Highway 15D north of Guadalajara but others have gone through before or since without problems. That is the only incident that I know of in Mexico in the last 2 years. I crossed in Tijuana & most others cross over this way. Several have crossed in Central Mexico to go through the Copper Canyon, I don't know where. Personally, the only crossing I know to avoid is Ciudad Juarez. To be honest, the US State Department's advisory on Mexico is shameful; read another country's like the UK Foreign Office which correctly sums up the problem like this - there is a drug war going on up north which has cost thousands of lives, many innocent, so take all precautions if you intend to travel in this region; however, the vast majority of problems that we still deal with are lost or stolen passports - the same for lots of parts of the world.
As another respondent said, there is no road through the Darien Gap between Panama & Colombia. As Colombia pushes the FARC further & further to the margins, they have moved into this area, joining everybody else who has made this area a no-go zone. I have read & heard about the few who have tried it & failed ... turned back by the Panamanian Army or another group. If you want an idea of what it might be like read Ian Hibbell's fascinating/wacky book 'Cycling The Darien' about cycling through The Gap or, at least, lugging it through in the late '60s / '70s.
Before I put down a resume of the options available from Panama to Colombia, re. safety in Colombia, nobody I know has had any problems either on the main routes to Venezuela or Ecuador; or on the lesser travelled route off the cargo boats / speedboats from Turbo to either Cartagena or Medellin.
This is something I just finished from numerous sources for getting from Panama to Colombia. All of this information is from cycling blogs, all of whom has crossed in either 2009 or 2010. If you'd prefer, send me a personal email ([email protected]) & I'll attach it as a word document, where it may read better.
FROM PANAMA TO COLOMBIA
• Fly to Cartagena
• Travel by sailing boat through the islands of San Blas, in some sort of ‘mini-cruise’ of 4 or 5 days
• Speedboats along the coast to Turbo (Colombia)
• Hitchhike cargo boats along the Caribbean cost of the Comarca de Kula Yala, via San Blas, Puerto Albadia & Turbo (Colombia)
• Identical crossing but on the Pacific side, via La Palma & God knows where on the Colombian side
• Darién Gap crossing
FLYING TO CARTAGENA
Toll road forbidding bikes from Panama City to the airport but nobody stops anyone
Aires Air www.aires.aero $150
1 piece of extra luggage (for bicycles) $25 U$ but at the airport it cost $100
No longer any direct flights to Cartagena (September 2010)
Avianca Both charge $100 per bike
GETTING TO WHERE THE BOATS LEAVE FROM
At the airport turnoff is the highway to Darién
Great new 2-lane highway for maybe 10km, then a narrow concrete slab 2-lane highway
Not much traffic through alternating cleared ranchland & thick forest
Chepo (58km from Panama City)
Last town of any size on the highway 1km off the highway
Small, sleepy town of about 5000 inhabitants, mainly black
Atmosphere not the friendliest
Pensión Calderón ($10 )
Mi Ranchito GH (8 balboas) Just outside of local hospital
Final chance to hit a grocery store for a trip of 1 to 3 days as there could be lots of walking up the ridiculously steep hills
Take lots of water & you may need to filter
Canoe / boat at the end of the airstrip / road to get to the island of Cartí Yandup ($5)
Good, flat quiet road for 18km to the turn off at El Llano
Lots of howler monkeys
Loudest animal in New World whose sounds can travel for 5km through dense forest
Not a single vestige of human presence – pasture, hut or an electrical pole on the gravel road
Cartí (40km from Chepo)
Cartí Yandup or Cartí Suitupo (22km from El Llano)
Island is so overpopulated that it hardly has any spare place for vegetation
Trails are sometimes so narrow that my loaded bike couldn’t go trough
800 meters long & 600 meters wide
Population of more than 2000 people.
Huts with a hammock ($25) Includes 3 basic meals, such as fish & rice
Boat tours of the islands & beaches & drop you off on an uninhabited island if you want
Motor boat over to El Porvenir where the Panama immigration office is
The Kuna Yala lives along the coast between here & the Colombian border on 37 inhabited islands of the 365 that dot the coastal area
Own political leaders, laws & decision making, the Kuna are the indigenous group with the greatest autonomy in all of Latin America
Live in their ancestral land & still preserve their culture & traditions
BY SAILING BOAT FROM PORTOBELO OR CARTI (?)
$385, including a few days in San Blas Is, food & water (prepared by Roli with help of
passengers) & customs formalities but $50 extra for bikes
Get there first & sign up for kitchen duty on the first day when it is not a 3-meal day
Soft drinks & beer for sale - $1 per drink & you can bring your own
Biggest sailing boat doing the trip
Captain Ludwig from Germany and his Austrian mate, Roli – very professional
Private 2-person cabins
Warm water shower & a cold shower
Bikes safely below deck
Old fishing boat from Maine so you motor across rather than sail saving about 20 hours so more time in the San Blas Islands
10 metre sailing boat From shore to boat in a dingy
With Colombian Fabian Arcila from Portobelo (www.tour.tk) [$375] + 6 passengers
Water included ?
Stinking hot on the open sea
Very little or no cover from the sun on deck
Day 1 Sailing
Day 2 Arrive Chichimin Island (San Blas)
(Spend a couple of days there)
Zao Sailboat AVOID ? Doesn’t sound as the captain or the boat is that great
Ketch, double-mast sailboat
$275 for 5-day, 6-night trip
Drinking water is included; food not, but can use the kitchen
Day 1 Isla Linton Monkeys to be seen
Days 2 & 3 San Blas Islands
Days 4 & 5 Sailing across the open sea & into Cartagena
Sailboat The Plastic Mouse (www.theplasticmouse.wordpress.com)
boat is in bad condition
Too small for the number of people on it
Captain Raúl & the SANTA MARIA AVOID
Raúl is very rude & inhospitable
Doesn’t like backpackers
Boat is dirty & cluttered & the rigging is poorly maintained
Diesel engine overheated at least a half-a-dozen times during the 2-day trip
Day 1 Leave Portobelo / Cartí early morning
Stop for breakfast at one of San Blas Islands
Wait at a different island to get passports processed
Camp on the beach of another island
Day 2 To an uninhabited island to snorkel & swim
Camp on the beach of another Kuna island
Day 3 Time at another island for swimming & lunch
To Zapzurro (Colombia) by dusk for free camping at the hostel (included in the price)
Day 4 To Capurganá to spend the night as the immigration office in there opens after the
ferry leaves at 7:30am
Could be a problem getting on the boat with the bikes due to space
Also a charge of 500 pesos per kilo above 10kg (agree price of 50,000 total)
Immigration officers come aboard in Cartagena & then take the passports off for stamping
Crew bring them to Hotel Holiday at 6pm that evening
Some boats charge extra for the immigration paperwork in Colombia
Know what your payment covers
Tips on the Crossing
SPEEDBOATS TO TURBO along the coast
Speedboat / Water taxi from Cartí to Puerto Obaldía (Arrange through Hospedaje owner)
$100 (or alternatively, $50 to Caledonia > then another to Puerto Obaldía)
8-9 hours with o/n on the captain’s island about an hour away
The speedboat was kind of like a water
Get your exit stamp in Puerto Obaldía
Boat from Puerto Obaldía to Carpurganá (Colombia)
Get you entry stamp in Carpurgana
Stay the night > lots of hotel / food options
Speedboat from Carpurgana to Turbo
Leaves every morning at 7:15 & takes 2 hours
$50 (or $25 + $15 per bike)
Cycle to Medellín (5-6 days)
Alternative Darien Gapster Portobelo to Sapzurro
$175 + $30 for the bike including 4 out of about 8 meals (or for whole trip?)
Bring groceries & have your stove handy
Cooler with pop, juice & beer for $1 each
Small lancha to Capurgana
Larger lancha to Turbo
(But have to pack bikes / brake levers worn down from bumps)
CARGO BOATS along the coast
By Kuna merchant boat, the Purtugandí, from Cartí Suitupo to Istupo, another island before Puerto Obaldía, near the Colombian border ($9 for 2-day journey)
Passed dozens of small islands & stopped at others to unload passengers & merchandise
The products are bought in the ‘Zona libre’ in Colón
Kuna women verify the merchandise, help with the unload, check the invoices, pay & make new orders
Each stop can take something between 10 minutes and a few hours
Boat docks on another Kuna island, Playon Chico, for the night
Connected to the mainland by a bridge
On the mainland there is a school, a Mormon church & a small landing strip
Changed boats on 1 of the islands as another boat was going to Puerto Obaldía more quickly
Boat to Puerto Obaldía Panamanian customs
2 or 3 days to get there $5 per day including food
Crew from Colón & buy coconuts from the Kuna to sell in Colombia
Spend night on a paradise island
Some of those islands used by Colombian narcotraffickers & smugglers
Kuna Yala statute, prohibits the Panamanian navy or the American DEA from patrolling its waters
Spend night on Isla Ballena, in shape of a whale
Boat to Acandi, Colombia
Boat to Turbo Where road begins again
THE DARIEN GAP
The Pan-American Highway finishes somewhere in the middle of the jungle at Yaviza
It restarts again 80 km later in Colombian territory.
This gap between Central & South America is known as ‘Tampón del Darién’, or Darien gap.
Hope this helps?
Very best wishes & safe cycling
Many thanks to all of you providing me with this information. It is very usefull in preparing my trip! I guess I will just pass the border at El Paso and cycle as quick as possible ;) What do you think is saver? Cycling along the main highways/roads or going inlands via local trails/roads?
Cocncerning Colombia, I guess I will take the boat to Turbo and forget about crossing the border with Panama!
Once again many thanks! I appreciate your help highly.