Flexibility – Darian Gap

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One of the most important factors in traveling economically is flexibility! It is great when we make a plan and set out to do it and everything goes accordingly. Many times though, we run into obstacles, and sometimes because of these obstacles, we may realize that the original plan is not the best option anymore, that continuing on the planned route may bring your trip costs up substantially or it may be too difficult to face this unforeseen obstacle on the current trip. While we want to fight through the obstacle, no matter what the cost, to continue on the planned route and not give up or be beaten, we must remember that flexibility is key in our travels.

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When I planned my trip from Costa Rica to South America, I had no idea what the route would look like, but I felt I was prepared to take on any obstacle in my way! I had not known about the Darian Jungle that stood between Panama and Columbia, the only gap in the Pan American highway, littered with drug lords, bandits, and a forest so thick that a machete is necessary to pass through. The photo below is one of many wanted banners hanging in the Darian, his name is Gilberto Torres “The Calf” Muñetón, a commander of the notorious Colombian FARC guerrillas. Wanted for drug trafficking, arms smuggling, kidnappings, and a bombing that killed 80 people along the border of Panama & Colombia.

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I have found many solutions to the jungle, there are many ways to get from Panama to Columbia by air and by boat, such as those listed on Overlandtraveller.com, thedariangapster.com, mamallena.com, or use google traslate for this site my Costa Rican friend found for me, viajerosustentable.com. This trip will cost anywhere from $120-$600 for anything from a flight to a leisure boat, catamaran, or sailing vessel with multiple days of sailing and visiting beautiful uninhabited island beaches to an uncertain amount of very adventurous, difficult, and often boring days of switching boats and rugged towns with nothing to do and so dirty that a person may not even want to shower.

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With all of this being said, I started my trip in Costa Rica, being able to decide which direction I want to go. I have not traveled any further in Central America than Cozumel and one town on the mainland in Mexico and have not done any in South America yet, so I decided to go South because of Peru and Brazil. I decided that I will return to Costa Rica to fly home at the end of my trip to save hundreds of dollars by traveling with Spirit airlines where flights can be purchased for a total of around $150 or less. Knowing that the trip to Columbia and back will cost at least a extra $120 each way, I have decided that I will tackle South America and the Darian Gap another day on another trip when I have prepared for it. I have not been defeated nor am I giving up, I am simply taking a step back to reevaluate the task to find the most economical solution to this obstacle. That is the point of The Travel Economist, to find the most economical solutions to usually expensive trips and obstacles!

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A young indigenous girl in the Darian

I will now spend a few days in Panama before heading back into Costa Rica and beginning my journey into Nicaragua, Honduras, and continuing North into the rest of Central America! Always remember during your travels to be extremely flexible; the original plan may not always be the best plan, so do not get too attached to the idea of it and be prepared and willing to do a complete 180 and throw away all of your plans in exchange for another adventure in the budget of your plans!

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I would like to thank the Expert Vagabond, Matthew Karsten, for giving permission to use his photos of the Darian Jungle in this blog. His full photo essay of his trip into the Darian can be found here; expertvagabond.com/darien-gap-photos/