Traveling between Colombia and Panama might seem as similar to other locations in this area, but it is definitely not. Kidnappings? Armed forces? Indigenous ‘tribes’? Swastika flag? You can see here all of that and more.
Lets start with the most common connection: traveling by bus or car.
Pan-American Highway – a road between Colombia and Panama
Did you ever think how important are road connections between countries? They have even build a highway from the North all the way to South America which is nearly 48.000 km long without breaks! Or would be without, if there would be a connection between those two countries.
Darién Gap is an 160 km long highway break made by swampland, armed conflicts involving FARC, soldiers of both countries looking for drug dealers, spies and illegal immigrants, as well as a ton of animals willing to kill you, including a very high probability of getting malaria. Sounds like an adventure, I know.. but don’t forget to take your tank.
You cannot cross from Central to South America by land.
Water connection between Panama and Colombia
Now when we know what is not a good idea, lets talk about what can we do.
Many tourists are very happy with choosing boat trips between those countries. This is not the most economical way of traveling – for sure. But their point it was a great experience, involving sometimes small parties, fishing, great food and spending very nice 1-4 days. Depending on the company you can travel to Panama City, Colon or one of the smaller towns. Google shows many companies doing it and a big advantage would be visiting islands. More expensive boats take their time to show you for example stunning islands of Sun Blas. You can go there however on your own. Those boats are often around 300$ and more per trip, which if you’d like to make cheaper you could take it without a bed.
Taking a boat between South and Central America is possible, but won’t be too cheap.
Air connection between Colombia and Panama
Here we are, in the fastest and fortunately the cheapest way of doing it. The flight between Panama City and Medellin is cheap, it takes 1h 20min (usually it will be faster) and it is quite comfortable.
Two main airlines are flying between those countries: VIVA Colombia and COPA Airlines.
(Very) cheap airlines – VIVA Colombia
This is the airline most of the travelers choose due to their prices. I managed to get tickets for less than 100$ + 44$ per person, both ways for a 22kg bag. This option has however few disadvantages.
- Cheap price means bad service. The amount of stories travelers told me about this airline is unbelievable. After them I believe Ryanair is great (tips later).
- Panamanian connection is in Panama Pacifico which is cheaper to take a taxi to, but is a very small and dirty airport which our taxi driver had a problem to find.
- Emigration stuff on this airport is ridiculously rude and speaks completely no English. You can feel there how much love Panamanians have for Colombians.
Couple of tips how to deal with those problems, don’t get crazy and don’t pay for extras.
- Check your tickets online. Check it 3 times to be sure.
- Have a credit card with you or 500$ cash.
- If you fly to Panama, always be able to show your ticket of leaving the country within 6 months.
- Be 2.5-3h before the flight on the airport.
- Have cash with you. VIVA Colombia will ask you to pay 15$ per person for ‘entering Colombia’. No, there is not ATM at the airport!
- Have some food with you, there are no restaurants in Panama Pacifico.
- If you want to buy something in the plane you need pesos, they won’t take USD.
- Measure your bags few times. Hey won’t let you go with extra 2cm or 0.5 kg.
- Take socks with you if you don’t want to walk bare foot in the control.
- Put all of the liquids in plastic bags, they don’t have them and you’ll throw cosmetics away.
It was a crazy flight, stuff like “it’s not ok to keep your flip flops on you but 10 earnings and a pendant are good” is a standard. Basically think how would you try to take in a legal way money from the passengers and be prepared for it.
VIVA Colombia is cheap but a very time and energy consuming airline.
This is a normal, professional airline. You buy a ticket, you act like anywhere else, you are happy. Prices are normally between 200$ and 300$, but if you’ll book it months earlier you can do it even for 150$ round trip. I met a pilot from this company, he was talking about good conditions, happy staff and passengers.
They only issue that repeats here is because of the Panamanian law – you need to show them a return / flight out ticket. The difference is that when my friend didn’t have it in VIVA Colombia, 50min before the flight, they didn’t let him and another Spanish man buy any leaving ticket and go in, while closing the gates earlier.
The ultimate Latin American truth worked here again: you get what you pay for. With some effort, patience and luck you can take the cheaper option like I did. I don’t regret it at all. As a matter of fact I’ve been traveling later with VIVA Colombia also to Cali.
Do you have your own stories you’d like to share in a comment below?
If you found this article helpful, please share it 🙂
Have a great time in Colombia – it is really worth it to visit!
Johanny9th February 2016
Hi Igor !
I’m about (in 4 days) to fly Panama to Medellín with VivaColombia.
I’m quite worried after reading your post.
I do not have a flight out of Colombia (if it’s a requirement) but only a flight from Ecuador to Galapagos in 5 weeks. Will they ask for an onward ticket and if so will the one to Galapagos work ?
Also what is this $15 taxe about ? Being from France I should be visa free to Colombia…
Igor Garlowski14th February 2016
Sorry for this late answer. If you are still interested, this requirement is only for Panama. You just have to be able to prove in Colombia that you can afford being there. It’s enough to show them your credit card or 500$ cash (if they would ask.)
15$ is for tourist visitors, if you are longer than 10 (or 14, I’m sorry I’m not sure) they will give you this money back.
Jessie8th February 2016
Thanks for your sharing. I will take the flight from Columbia to Panama in the coming March. I am not sure when will leave Panama so no ticket is bought yet for leaving that country. I only have a ticket from Cuba back to my home country in June. Is it enough according to their law or a ticket to flight out Panama is a must??
Thanks a lot for your kind advice.
Igor Garlowski9th February 2016
Unfortunately it is not. You can for example buy the cheapest ticket from Panama to Cuba which will show that you’ll leave during first 6 months and pay extra for a free rebooking. Other option would be to buy any cheap ticket to another country and not use it. I believe you can buy bus tickets online, just remember to have them printed – just in case! 🙂
Yumi25th January 2016
Hi Igor! I just went to Medellin also! I took COPA, and bought the ticket 2-3 months ago . It was $185 (including taxes and fees) but for the flight times I wanted, plus it being a direct flight, I chose this option. I had a good experience! The crew in Medellin to board the plane back to Panama was very nice. I think we were delayed about 10 mins getting out of Panama to Medellin, but perfectly on time coming back. I heard many other people say they had a great experience with Avianca.
Igor Garlowski30th January 2016
Thanks for sharing your experience Yumi! 🙂