I share this because every backpacker that has time, has the interest to travel between Panama and Colombia. I have not made this trip and will not be doing so, but I watched a lot of travelers research and book passage.
The flights are around $500 as are the commercial sailing boats. The sailing experience be excellent or, like some travellers tell me, your captain can fail to being enough food and water or can be high or drunk on the voyage.
Every hostel in Panama City, and Captain Jack’s in Portobelo (and maybe hostels in Bocas del Toro) can provide information about several of the approximately 30 boats that now make this trip. Jeff at Captian Jack’s is a sailor and told me that several years ago there were only 10. This voyage is a popular thing for people with boats to do in order to make money. Jeff and Jack also expressed concern for many travelers who make this voyage in the newer, unknown, unproven boats. Before opting for any vessel on this passage, ask around and get boat/captain recommendations. Jeff also gives his hostel guests a checklist for those going on unproven boats. To do this trip, one pretty much comes to a hostel, learns about which boasts are going, then visits Panama until it is time for his/her boat’s departure.
Many travelers come to the port towns expecting to hitch a free ride with sailors. That is a rare possibility. Many think the “commercial” boats will gratefully accept your offer to help and travel for free. Chances are, you are not that good a sailor to earn that and they get $450-$550 for the space you would take so don’t count on this.
Here is an article from Tropical Daily that I share with all those wanting to travel between Panama and Colombia a different way: “How to Cross into Panama from Colombia Like a Pro” (Original Article Text From Columbia Reports: From Colombia to Panama by Land and Sea).
Tropical Daily is an excellent website for anyone thinking of traveling or moving to Mexico, Central America or South America. Its Editor brings you stories from around the web, summarizing them for you and providing a link to the original story.