Crossing the Darien Gap

This is a special gallery page detailing the process of air-freighting the bikes from Panama City, Panama to Bogota, Colombia.  The photos show the prepping, packing and unpacking of the bikes.  At the bottom is a detailed write-up of the whole process of getting ourselves and our bikes from Panama to Colombia, discussing freight, airline tickets, costs, Aduana and Migracion, and insurance in Colombia.

We originally posted this on the ADVrider and Horizons Unlimited websites, two terrific sources of information for the world traveler.

Shipping went well! It was, however, another border crossing now, wasn't it? And it had it's own set of pain-in-the-ass factors, as one has to expect.

We took the bikes to ServiCarga in Panama City at Tocumen Airport (cargo terminal) on Tuesday morning (March 15) for packing. We rolled up a ramp and through a doorway, and with the help of two men very experienced in this, palletized the bikes after removing boxes, mirrors, and turning windshields upside down (or removing them). We loaded all our gear onto the pallets, retaining only as much as would be needed for ourselves to fly to Bogota the next day. We will have lots of photos of the process on our website within the next few days (waiting for good internet) - southonabike.com

After the bikes were palletized and shrink wrapped, the volume was determined and we paid accordingly. Averaged ~US$750 per bike for 3 F650GSs and one 800GSA. We paid up in cash to avoid a credit card surcharge. As all 4 bikes were done at once, and went on a SINGLE AIRWAY BILL, so we only paid one packing charge, one dangerous goods charge, and one customs handling charge, saving us about US$650. So get together with others if you can!

The last thing as we left the airport was to get our Aduana papers closed out, and get the bikes stamped out of our Passports. Go slow on this, and make sure everything is correct!

We flew ourselves out on Viva Colombia airlines (Panama Pacific airport). CAUTION - we bought our one-way tickets online, but when we checked in at the airport in Panama City, we were told that there was NO WAY we could fly to Colombia without a ticket out of the country - "Sorry, Colombian law". We talked to all kinds of people, managers, and officials, but in the end we had to knuckle under so we bought the cheapest ticket out, to Quito, about US$120. Hanging our heads a little, we boarded the plane and flew to Bogota.

We arrived all fine and dandy, and when we showed our passports and ticket out of Colombia to the Migration guy, he barely glanced at the ticket out of the country before stamping our Passports. Really??!! Please do check thoroughly into this rule if you decide to ship by air.

NOTE: We paid everything in US dollars in Panama, but in Colombia, everything is done in Colombian Pesos (COP). At this time (March 2016) the exchange is 3200 COP per US dollar. So get some COP as soon as you enter Colombia - ATMs and cambio (exchange) offices at the airport. Pay attention to the exchange rates being offered if you use a cambio.


We picked up the bikes on Thursday morning at the DHL office at the Bogota airport cargo terminal. High security - have your Passport, Airway Bill, and all your papers handy. Once we paid DHL for their handling fee (about US$25 per bike, I think), we were given papers to take to DIAN (Aduana in Colombia), and sat on our butts for two hours after filling out a form while everything was processed. The agent took me downstairs while he made copies of everything and I paid the equivalent of about 75 cents for them. Then, papers in hand, we went back over to DHL and were given our packages! After an hour of cutting the bikes free and assembling them, we rode down a makeshift ramp and were free to go. The folks at DHL were really great, and we had fun with them - we were the circus come to town! After photos and handshakes all 'round, we went looking for insurance.

Insurance is compulsory in Colombia. One must have SOAT, which is third-party liability insurance. You can buy it at most gas stations, however you will likely have to pay for a year of it, about US$130 for us (all over 400cc). We only wanted 3 months worth. So the lady at the station gave us the address of the main office, and we Ubered into downtown the next morning with all our papers, and were able to buy it for 3 months no problem, about US$34 each.

After that, we were all legal and free to roam about the country. At least for 3 months until our visas run out, and then it's Ecuador for us.

Would I do the air method again? The decision depends on a few things:
1 - Air flies you into Bogota, by sea takes you to Cartegena. So if you want avoid circling around to see the country, you might consider that. We have all the time in the world, so we don't particularly care.
2 - Air is more expensive than by sea, but faster. Make sure you factor in the waiting if considering a container, and the costs of hotels, taxis, food, etc. For us, it pencilled out better to take the plane.
3 - How much time and/or patience do you have? The plane process is three days total, some riders have done it in two, and customs for air freight goes much faster than it does in a sea port (I'm told). We chose to get it all over with in as short a time as possible. Kind of like getting a tooth pulled, I guess.

Right now we are chilling over the Easter holiday in Barichara, a beautiful little town near some stupendous canyon riding. I've explored the dirt way down, and tomorrow I'm looking forward to seeing what I think is the paved way down.

I hope this is of good help to folks traveling down. Please let me know if there are more details I can provide - I know there will be tons of questions, I sure had them. But it's all doable, so just keep stepping ahead and you'll be fine. If not poorer in the wallet, you'll be richer in the experience!

Whichever way you go, container or air, good luck, ride safe, and I hope to see you on the road somewhere!

Keith and Jalene
southonabike.com