Do it Yourself both sides of the Panama Canal

Published 11 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Things are changing rapidly here in Panama.

Transit Arrangements

Our experience was we arrived and were measured on April 19th and given a transit date of May 5th (our advisor didn’t show on the 5th and we transited the 6th-7th). It is high season and we understand that boats are now getting through with a wait of less than a week.

There are options to using an agent and Shelter Bay. As described before (see John’s previous report here), the process of going to the Signal Station to arrange for admeasurement and paying at Citibank is easy and can be arranged from Portobello or from the F anchorage in Colon Bay (the Flats). We used Mr. Tito (507 6463 5009 [email protected]) to hire lines and tires ($15/line and $3/tire – he has line handlers available as well (don’t know the charge). He picks up his tires and lines obviating the issue of disposal. If you send a scan of your documents (boat reg and passports) he can arrange in advance for the admeasurer so you can be measured on the day you arrive in Colon.

Clearing into Panama

We checked in with Immigration in the Port area for our passport stamp and a stamp on our crew list (no charge). We had a cruising permit ($180) from an earlier visit that was still within the one-year valid dates. We were advised we were required to pay $105/visa for each crew but the requirements for documentation are onerous and we decided to wait until departing Balboa (at the suggestion of the Immigration Officer). We checked in with Port Captain (no charge).

Waiting for Transit in Colon

We waited for the transit date anchored in the Rio Chagres (about 6 miles south of Shelter Bay and fresh/brackish water and fewer bugs than the mangrove-lined Shelter Bay complex, good walking, Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth etc.).

We accessed Colon for provisioning by meeting taxis at the dam (also referred to as the Tarpon Club – an old nightclub nearby) at the head of the river (about $15 with 4 persons and bags from Cuatro Alto shopping center in Colon – free van transport from Reys supermarket with a purchase greater than $200 – not too hard when provisioning). So it is actually easy to provision and access town from a free anchorage.

Portobello is also easy access to Colon and a nice place to hang the hook although bringing large loads from the shopping centers is not so easy.

Facilities on the Pacific side of Panama

We fueled in Balboa as prices at the Playita and Flamenco Marinas are approximately $0.50 less than the fuel barge at Shelter Bay.

Access to Panama City and shopping from the Playita and Flamenco anchorages requires taxis (between $5 and $7 each way and much negotiation). The prices are about the same for most food and marine stuff as on the Colon side. However, there is much more available in food, services, and marine bits on Balboa side and the fresh markets are a real deal.

Buying at the Amador peninsula (the anchorages) is significantly more expensive than in town. Cruisers are tolerated but not really welcomed by the high-end marinas – dinghy access for Playita was $35/week for 3 persons and the dinghy access on the Brisas side is barely safe (a friend’s kid plunged through the concrete dock where it failed).

Clearing Out of Panama

We arranged for zarpes to the Marquesas and “puertos intermedios” – to cover the eventuality that we decide to pay the exorbitant rates to get into the Galapagos. Rates here for zarpes should be $13 but seem to be going for anything up to $53. Immigration (or some representatives) have claimed that a $105pp visa fee is collectible but others have been stamped out with no fee or a “propina” of between $10 and $20. It seems to be wholly dependent on which office you use and who sees you. Cruisers are keeping up to date on all the options via the morning net (vhf74 at 0800 m-sat).

John DeLong


(Editor’s Note: the $105/visa charge has now been abolished and currently there are no immigration charges in Panama.)

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