Booking Your Sailboat to the San Blas Islands

Backpackers and Overlanders Alike

For those of you actually sailing (and especially for those of you shipping your car to Colombia), here are the details + our personal experience:

There are so many companies you can use to book the sailboat. Don't stress, just pick one. They all deal with the same boats and the same captains and they all seem to cost between $500-550 for the whole trip ($600 for New Year’s). Or $400 for the speedboat company where you’ll sleep on the islands and won’t experience 30 straight hours at sea (thereby avoiding seasickness, but it looks a little cramped for $400).

We used Blue Sailing and the agents that book the boats are really responsive. After that however, it’s all a little less clear. The whole experience can be likened to learning how to surf with Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (SUPER relaxed). If you don’t enjoy the words tranquilo and rum, this is not for you.

The $25 shuttle we requested was set to arrive on Thursday 6:30am but it was about an hour late (get used to this) so we arrived to the 8am “orientation” around 9. All other 12 passengers were already there. We quickly realized there had been no reason to rush, because the 14 of us waited another 2 hours for our captain to arrive and the orientation to start… we still have no idea what we were waiting on but we assume she was prepping the boat.

Our captain pulls up on a dingy for our first of many “briefing sessions” and she was super cute (in fact, I was mentally aspiring to be just like her). But then she leads with “we’re overbooked” which made sense considering there were 14 of us plus 2 crew members and 1 captain (17 total) on a boat that held 10-12 comfortably…

She collects $550 from all 14 people and asks for everyone’s passports so she can handle immigration. By about 1pm we are on the boat and they serve us pasta for lunch. They’ve taken our luggage and stowed it under the boat (I’m now holding two large zip lock bags in my hands, one with toiletries and the other with 2 swimsuits, a pair of shorts, one book, our GoPro, my phone, and the clothes on my back). Note: you will not get your passport back for 6-10 hours AFTER you dock in Colombia (yet another setback for the car-shipper).

Luckily on the boat, the captain addressed Tyler and I first. I guess we looked as old as we felt next to all the cool 21-year-olds because we were assigned to our own private cabin with one of the 3 working bathrooms on the boat (score!). The pillows were dirty and the bed was shaped like a V (a little larger than a twin). Not trying to be negative, just telling it like it is...

It’s important to let you know these two things when deciding to book the boat or when emailing the agents for information:

1.     It’s not a luxurious trip (even if $550 is a lot of money to you)

Keep in mind that $550 pays for 5 nights of lodging, a sailing tour through the San Blas islands, transportation to another continent + 3 meals/day.

2.     I promise the agents will eventually email you with A LOT of detailed information before the departure date, but

3.     It will probably never be as much information as you want, the details will always be vague, and the schedule will not go according to plan.

Tranquillo, remember? And if you’re a backpacker, with no car to pick up on the other side and no deadline to meet, you will be FINE. You’ll likely still deal with a few delays and setbacks but you won’t be stressed about perfect sailing conditions or maintaining a strict schedule, and you'll leave with an amazing story to tell (if you haven't read about our shipwreck, CLICK HERE).

We realize it was our mistake to think the ocean was predictable. 

CAR SHIPPERS

Coordinating the sailboat was a logistical nightmare if I’m being totally honest.

The agents who work for these companies are really responsive and helpful. HOWEVER, the boats book up very quickly and you are at the mercy of your car shipment, so booking the boat in advance is not really an option.

Because we failed to book the boat in advance, we had to scramble to find space on boats that left on the dates we needed. 

We also chose to share a car-shipping container with another couple to save money, and we needed to consider their travel plans in selecting our sailboat dates. BOTH parties have to be present to unload the vehicles from the port in Cartagena so our travel partners could not unload their car without us there. If we were stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, this would be a real inconvenience for them and their trip.  So we needed to leave on the 9th, but by the time we had confirmation for our car’s exact shipping and arrival dates, all boats sailing on the 9th were booked. The only boat remaining was run by a captain who had a reputation for stealing your rum and getting a little too drunk himself...

Our only option was to leave on the 10th but that BARELY put us in Colombia in time to unload the car (especially if you end up shipwrecked and have to spend an extra day in San Blas). Again, if you haven't read 5 Things to Prepare for before Sailing the San Blas, check it out. We missed getting a head start on our car's paperwork and were SO lucky to have the travel partners we did.

If you can afford it, you can ship the car in your own container. In that case, the only downside to arriving late would be an additional fee ($32/day) for leaving your car at the port. 3 days are included in the shipping fee (but keep in mind, these 3 ‘freebies’ include the days you spend completing your paperwork in Cartagena).

All in all, we had a blast despite the stress we felt from delaying our shipping partners. We laughed a lot (both with the passengers on the boat, and at our own terrible misfortune). We can also confidently say we REALLY sailed... and that although we're very proud of ourselves, we definitely don’t want to live life on a boat. 

See you down the road!
Meg (+ Tyler)

Related Posts