33 responses

  1. djoelt1
    May 13, 2014

    Good times.

    Bicycled through in 1992 with a buddy. Went overland from Yaviza to near El Real, took piraguas to pucuro, then went overland to paya (or the reverse – names are fuzzy after so many years). From paya it was 2.5 days of pushing, crawling, bushwhacking, and wading to get to Cristales. Took a piragua to Traviza and caught a motor boat to Turbo.

  2. Mark
    May 12, 2014

    I know how it feels – i made it 4 walking days into the gap (initially intending to hike all the way to Colombia, it was legal provided one had a valid Colombian visa, and i did) only to be escorted (politely, with lots of intriguing stories told by the campfire and offers of weird herbal concoctions, but unequivocally) all the way back and kicked out to Yaviza… Will try it again one day.

  3. Charlie Clark
    October 7, 2013

    Great chronicle !
    In time, soon, I would like to pass thru the Gap.
    May be it’d be cleaner, safer then.If they ever decide to make this Pass a controlled area of transit to the Americas.
    Well done.
    Thanks.

    • Matthew Karsten
      October 12, 2013

      Hiking through the whole thing is still a bit dangerous at the moment. Maybe one day it won’t be!

  4. Jim Crowl
    September 7, 2013

    Wonderful articles. Was communication difficult? I’m assuming they have their own tribal language and don’t speak Spanish. Do the kids ask many questions about life outside their culture?

  5. Babylon Slim
    September 7, 2013

    I went through the Darien in 1976. There were three of us. We met in Panama City and just decided to do it. We spent the night in La Playa hitched a ride in a piragua up to a small tinned roof, generator powered village Named? spent the night there then hitched another ride in another smaller piragua which let us out in in the village of Paya (pop. about 200) where we spent the night with the Panamanian guard who had a force of 10 men (who just happened to be being visited by 2 Colombian Guard from across the border. The next morning we hiked with the Colombian guys across the border up a hill but couldn’t keep up with them, So we spent the night on the Colombian side in the jungle near a waterfall and “just followed the trail” until we ended up at the Colombian’s headquarters in some nameless backwater village. Then we hopped a ride in a boat to Turbo, spent the night in a public building where there was a dead infant in a tiny casket and its family holding vigil. Then it was on to Medellin. I went to the American Consulate there to call home to let ‘em know their 19 year old son was O.K. I recall the American consulate insisting that I leave there immediately if not sooner. He filled my head with stories of how cheap life was there, he didn’t want me to get killed on his watch. He was a kook.
    A week later I was staying in Huaorani village for a month. I was the first gringo they had seen. They were a trip. They blew Yopo up my nose with a blow gun, I drank a bitter psychedelic brew with them that was WAY stronger than the Orange Sunshine we got back in Georgia. The the next morning went hunting with them. I swam with fresh water dolphins that I never knew existed. They were the best people I have ever known.
    I am 58 now and have wondered about the people I met along that trip, if they are still there and if they would still be so welcoming. I had an 8mm Bolex, shot 30 or so rolls of film but it was confiscated and thrown in the water by The Colombian guard on my way back to Bogota from Cuzco. A real shame that.
    Cheers—Philip

    • Matthew Karsten
      September 8, 2013

      Wow! What an excellent Darien journey you had Philip! Thanks so much for sharing. :D

    • Ye Pirate
      December 12, 2013

      Hi Mathew – wonderful blog…your journey so well described, and great photos. Babylon Slim, your recount was a great read also. I went through in 1987, and both reads brought back wonderful days. Stayed with the Kuna Indians in Paya. Just wonderful times.

  6. Ernst Aebi
    September 1, 2013

    Hi Matthew,
    How can I get your guide?

    • Matthew Karsten
      September 4, 2013

      I still haven’t put it together Ernst. But I’ll send you an email.

  7. Chris Glover Kapiti coast NZ
    January 22, 2013

    Darien Gap Highway should be built. It will help to improve security on the Panama / Colombia border.

  8. wandering educators
    December 17, 2012

    The trip there was adventurous, but then a whole new dimension opened up. WOW! what an experience! do you think the drug runners will ever stop? I guess not – too much money to be made.

  9. Rebecca Harned
    October 23, 2012

    Love this blog! One of the best travel blogs Ive come across. Thank you for sharing the stories of your adventures. Keep them coming. :)

  10. Andy
    August 19, 2012

    “Younger guys with fancy clothes & jewelry that didn’t quite fit this poor & remote jungle town…
    didn’t feel comfortable asking them what they did for work.”

    Well, just working in the Import & Export business, I guess. ;)

  11. Suzy
    August 15, 2012

    Yours is my favorite travel blog by far. And this is just the sort of story I love reading about so that I don’t need to experience it first hand. What an adventure!! Kudos to you.

    • Matthew Karsten
      August 16, 2012

      Thanks Suzy! You just made my day. :D

  12. Tom
    July 18, 2012

    Sounds like a serious adventure, Matt! Not everyone has the courage to do this kind of traveling.

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 20, 2012

      Hey Tom, I had an amazing time trying to get out there. It may sound a bit crazy, but I think everyone can enjoy this type of experience. Sure bad stuff has happened out there, but bad stuff happens everywhere. :D

  13. David Bennett
    July 18, 2012

    Great story – and the top photo of the Wounaan Children of Vista Alegre posing for the camera is terrific with the one younger kid off to one side looking on.

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 20, 2012

      Thanks David. Those kids saved all my gear too. :)

  14. edgy_mph
    July 17, 2012

    Scary but awesome adventure!

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 20, 2012

      In truth it never felt that scary at the time, which is why I was so disappointed to get kicked out. Maybe the soldiers had good reasons — but I felt like they were overreacting a bit..

  15. stephen snyder aka estaban….haahaha
    July 17, 2012

    good travel blog. I am planning on being in the area this coming january/february or so. Last year, i was in Yaviza where i got to spend the day with an ‘escort’ and a ‘free’ meal of rice with my ‘escort’, at the military compound in Yaviza until i passed muster…. then let go fter about 5 or 6 hours. They didnt speak any english, but i could hear english spoken well from down a hallway later, and then saw an anglo in sharp military fatigues later walking thru compound. I suspect a U.S., military special advisor.

    I’d be interested in how you found guide, and where , and how much and all. I’d like to try what you have done, and more …..

    Thanks for the ariticle and any info.

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 17, 2012

      Hi Stephen, I’ll let you know when the guide is complete (hopefully later this summer). There is a lot of information!

      I wouldn’t be surprised about the guy from the US military, they have a special working relationship. The US supplies Senafront with training and equipment to help stop the smugglers.

  16. Ava Apollo
    July 11, 2012

    Dude, I’d be just a littttle annoyed after making that trek. I suppose they were only fearing for your safety, though!

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 13, 2012

      Yeah, I guess you’re right…

  17. Stephanie – The Travel Chica
    July 10, 2012

    Have I told you that you’re crazy :-)

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 11, 2012

      Repeatedly. :D

  18. Lawrence Michaels
    July 10, 2012

    What an amazing little adventure you had, and a story that you’ll be able to tell for the rest of your life.

  19. TammyOnTheMove
    July 10, 2012

    What an adventure! I’d love to do a trip like that. How did you get your permission? Was it part of an organized tour?

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 10, 2012

      Hi Tammy! To get permission I had to write a letter to Senafront explaining exactly what I was doing, where I was going, when I’d be leaving, etc. and deliver it to their base in Panama City for approval. It was not an organized tour, we just went down there and found a local guy to show us around. It’s a bit more complicated than that though, which is why I’m putting together a guide for others.

  20. Kahn
    July 9, 2012

    Hey man that’s a great article. I hope to return to central America next year and have wild adventures of my own!

    • Matthew Karsten
      July 9, 2012

      Hi Kahn! Thanks. As I’m sure you remember, you’ll find yourself in all sorts of crazy situations traveling through Central America. :D

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