Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | December 28, 2012

Emerald Seas: South from Cartagena

N 9 11.13 W 77 58.62
Mamitupu, Kuna Yala (Panama)

We arrived in the easternmost San Blas Islands, or Kuna Yala as it is called here, on 12/17. Cruising boats often prefer the western San Blas with its clearer waters and picture postcard beaches, but we wanted to see this part too. This “National Geographic Tour” area is dotted with small Kuna Indian settlements. It’s a fascinating world from the past. We found a few bars of cellular wireless here in Mamitupu-the first since leaving Cartagena. We’ll catch you up on our story little by little as internet permits and the pictures will have to wait for a better connection.

We had fallen in love with Cartagena but our customs and immigrations permits would expire on 12/18. Unless we extended our permissions, requiring more time and fees, we needed to exit the country. The windy winter season loomed and it seemed best to get this long passage (roughly 150 nautical miles) behind us. Much of the San Blas offered the protection of a large reef system. Blessedly, the weather presented a good travel opportunity in this exact timeframe. We got our zarpe – a quick process through David, our Cartagena agent with the Romovela Agency – and said goodbye to the beautiful city with its gleaming white towers, restored Spanish Colonial buildings and many walls and forts.

We planned a stop at the Rosarios, a group of islands 25 miles south of Cartagena that provide a more remote seaside experience for Cartagena visitors. From there we initially plotted a direct route to the San Blas. After talking with Lee Miles, he suggested we stop at the San Bernardos and Isla Fuerte then make a 17-hour overnight trip to Sapzurro, Colombia near the Panamanian border. These areas were considered safe, offered a more protected course as we traveled along the coast and presented a chance to visit some less-frequented Colombian destinations. One more stop between Isla Fuerte and Sapzurro and we could make the entire passage in daytime segments but Lee said to absolutely avoid that area – considered lawless land. No problem!

In hindsight if we had allocated more time for the area south of Cartagena it would have added a different dimension to our Colombian experience. We had been told that we shouldn’t expect a problem overstaying our permit as a vessel in transit but preferred not to do so. We also wanted to get to the San Blas while the weather window held. It was a hurried trip along this coast which others have more carefully explored and found delightful. Cruising readers considering this route might enjoy the accounts of these more daring voyagers: Constance Elson, published in the Caribbean Compass – October, November and December of 2011 and the Bernons, whose blog is available at

We said goodbye to Club de Pesca around 10 am on Saturday 12/15, ships stores overflowing with provisions, and exited the harbor through the narrow Boca Chica shipping channel. We made the 4 hour trip to the Rosarios, a smooth passage, and anchored with some difficulty at Isla Grande. Boat vendors abounded, reminiscent of the Grenadines, selling small lobsters and large crabs. I was happy to have their help getting a large rock free from Mar Azul’s anchor after our first try to set the hook failed. I enjoyed my only Colombian swim in the cool, clear green waters while Bob worked to clean the residue from Mar Azul’s bottom that had accumulated in three weeks in the nutrient rich Cartagena harbor.

On Sunday we scrapped the idea of dividing the passage into multiple days. The smoothest seas for the long crossing were to occur that evening. The plan was to see as much of the coast as we could during the daytime, passing the San Bernardos. We would stay in coastal waters until making the overnight passage between Isla Fuerte and Sapzurro.

What a beautiful day it was – calm, smooth, little wind. I decided to skip the seasickness meds, which I sorely regretted when the seas rose later in the day. In the San Bernardos we saw one sailboat anchored in the sparkling green waters with snorkelers exploring the nearby reef. There were villas along the biggest island with large hut-like roofs. We miscalculated and did not make it to Isla Fuerte by dusk, so did not see much of that island. I was just as happy not to overnight in these remote locations. It is hard to shake the “Colombian perception” even if there have been no recent problems reporte
d in these places.

We arrived at Sapzurro at the base of the Darien rainforest at 10 am on 12/17. It marked the Mar Azul’s southernmost point on its 2 year voyage at 8 degrees 30 minutes north. The harbor of this Colombian outpost was crowded with mostly sad looking cruising boats and there was no calm place left to anchor.  Disappointed, we decided to move on to Puerto Perme, and hoped it too was not crowded. I had run out of passage food and we were getting tired.

3/6/13 update/photos:



The smoothest Colombian seas we found, en route south from the Rosarios


Passed by a pretty anchorage at the San Bernadinos anxious to catch the calmest weather for the overnight to the Colombian-Panamanian border


Dolphins skillfully cavorted along our bow at sunrise as though they had practiced every day. We only saw one other boat on radar along this stretch of desolate territory.


Approaching the Darien rainforest. The Colombian courtesy flag has faded with three full and windy months of use and is soon to be retired.


This was as close as we got to touching the ground at Sapzurro





  1. Happy New Year from the Motivator crew! Enjoy your postings.

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