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  #1  
Old 08-06-2011
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Cruising to Colombia and Panama: or should I?

My wife and I are into our third year of the cursing life (HA HA HA- Freudian Slip-I meant "cruising"- but lately the former would be more true) aboard a sailing cat.

We sailed the Bahamas the last two seasons, hanging out in the Bight of Abacos (no one goes there), the Ragged Islands (everyone goes there now-but still fun), and as many out islands as the weather permitted. Now we want to go further a sea and we have decided to not go to the crowded side of the Caribbean, but to the westside. We heard great stories from sailors coming from there back through the Bahamas to the US. "Went there to pass through and stayed for 6 years" and so on. So who wouldn't want to go? After some moderate research the plan was set- Chesapeake thru the Bahamas, between Haiti and Cuba, maybe hit north side of Jamaica and then on to either Colombia or San Blas Islands direct. Saving Bocas del toro, Providencia Island, Roatan, Honduras by passing Rio Dulce and on to Belize. Then come back for one more summer in the US or head back south to wait out the hurricanes in what we hope will be a favorite spot.

Now, as I am doing more and more research, reading blogs, looking at noonsite, etc, etc, etc. A very confusing picture is starting to materialize. A lot of cruisers blogs seem to gloss over the bad for the good- they love all the areas I mentioned, great people, beautiful everything, but if you read long enough, they have been boarded by thieves (sometimes more than once), lives threatened (sometimes more than once), injuries and the obligatory dinghy theft (theirs or the boat next to them).

Reading on the reports of thefts, everyday of houses and boats, coming out of Bocas del Toro area (under 16 you can't be prosecuted in Panama- guess what that seems to have created), the killings of Don North and the French Woman (not local killer: but the "Spanish Armada " stories have gotten my attention, the corruption in all of Panama, but especially in El Porvenir.

The list goes on- but no one source seems to reference this and the other stories I have been reading.

So- my question to anyone that HAS ACTUALLY SAILED TO ANY OF THESE PLACES, what should I expect. I know, I know, crime can happen anywhere, "take NYC or Washington DC"! But, I don't go there and if I did I know where not to go (53 and never been mugged by a thief (woman, cat-haul out yards, my nephew, yes-(that little bastard took me for thousands). Down there, except for Colon, and parts of Panama City, I won't really know where the bad spots are for sure.

So a little help please!
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Old 08-06-2011
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Have you looked at noonsite on this?

There is a MV called Panchita whith a couple on board who recently cruised that area and they are both approachable and knowledgable.
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Old 08-07-2011
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TQA-

Yes I have been to noonsite- that is where my concerns got started. Can't find MV Panchita though.

Any link to them you have would be appreciated.
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Old 08-08-2011
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We were in the San Blas in November and then went through the canal in early January. San Blas are pretty nice but not the amazing spot that people talk about although when we were there the weather was not very good with incredible rain (in the dry season). The bureaucracy in Panama is ridiculous but you just get used to it since you can't change it. Colon is not as bad as the stories. The main shopping streets and Cristobal where the canal authority and port captain are located are fine in daylight. Cabs are $1 for two people anywhere in town and worth taking because you don't know which neighbourhoods you should avoid. Panama City, at least the parts we saw is an exciting city and worth visiting - you can take a bus from Colon for a couple of bucks or from the San Blas. Enjoy
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Old 08-08-2011
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Thank you Kilarney- Did you see any problems (crime) while in San Blas?
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Old 08-11-2011
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No sense that crime was a problem in San Blas except that the local navy had seized a Colombian trading boat with 600 kg of cocaine on it. A bit of a spectacle in the village where it was being unloaded. Not sure if there could be a problem in one of the lonely anchorages nearer the Colombian border but we were in the more popular areas further west.
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Old 08-21-2011
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Winter 2010 we left Florida on to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Then on down to Roatan and Guanaha. After a couple weeks on to Providencia, San Andres and Bocas.
No problems anywhere. Watched ourselves like smart travelers. Twenty years in the military and traveling many countries guess it comes naturally. Heard about a piracy off Nicaragua while we were passing by though. Officials in Providencia boasted they have no crime. I kinda believe them, beautiful place.
We did buddy boat with another between Roatan and Bocas. Most everyone we met along the way did.
We're hoping to get on the same trip again this year after the season. Hurricane that is.
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Old 08-25-2011
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My wife and I sailed from Grenada to Cartagena and stayed three months. We could walk to bars and restaurants at night without concern. We never even heard of any tourist having trouble. Great city, great people. Like anywhere, we had some minor theft on the docks. If you left your flip flops on the dock at night they may not be there in the morning. Nothing more major than that.

From Cartagena we went to San Blas starting at the eastern most islands and working our way towards Colon. We stayed a total of four months and never had or heard of any problems with the Kuna indians. We thought the islands were great.

Colon is dangerous. Panama City is dangerous. The drive between Colon and Panama City is dangerous.

Having said that, we just paid attention and managed to move around those areas and transit the Canal without mishap.

We did not go to Bocas because the cruisers there lie about the dangers because a lot to them have bought property over the years. Don't trust anything you hear from Bocas.

I you take resonable precautions, you will enjoy yourself immensely in both Cartagena and Panama. It's a great experience.

If you are interested, follow the Cruising Quest link below where I have written a couple of articles about the area. The Red Zone about Colon and Fantasy Island about San Blas.
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