Friday, March 22, 2013

Cruising Colombia

Cruising and boating in Colombia is becoming more and more popular. Many Marinas have been built in the last few years and new ones are in construction. Earthling was docked at Santa Marta Marina (IGY) for 11 days, which is too long for us being tied at a dock, but we had a great experience. STM Marina is located perfectly by the city and is one of the nicer marinas in the area. It’s just a couple years old and getting more completed; a marine store, restaurant, bar and haul out facility will be available at Santa Marta Marina in the near future.
In order to promote boating tourism, the Ministry of Tourism of Colombia recently published a “Cruising Guide to Colombia” in English. The book contains detailed marine charts of the Atlantic and Pacific coast of Colombia including all the Colombian Islands, anchorages, and many additional information. It’s not written by a cruiser or a boater so it might not be as comprehending as other cruising books, but is definitely a great source for sailing these waters! As of yet the book is not available to purchase anywhere, but you can get a free issue in Santa Marta Marina if you are nice to Diana at the front desk. They do as much as they can to help and provide a good experience for sailors, but Colombia is still developing and boating is a pretty new culture!  
Santa Marta Marina

One challenging issue for cruisers to visit Colombia is the check in & out procedure. Since Earthling landed here, there has been confusion on how much we have to pay for what! All the different agents we interacted with, have been nice but I don’t speak Spanish and although my crew Hector is fluent in the language, it still has been really hazy to understand the rules and costs. The laws and rules for cruising boats are still the same as cargo ships. Every time you come in or leave a marina or anchorage, you have to check in and out through an agent. The price to hire an agent in Santa Marta is $100US, and in Cartagena between $60 to $100. If you stay in the country more than a week, you have to apply for a 90 day temporary importation of your vessel, a fee which could be included in the total $100 or the agent might charge you an additional fee of $103 (185,000Pesos). Furthermore, in Cartagena you might need to pay for a cruising permit if you are staying more than 10 days. All these rules make visiting Colombia relatively difficult for cruisers; it’s expensive, confusing, and too much of a hassle. Additionally, your agent might tell you it’s easier to take a bus to Cartagena, costing less than sailing there and going through the check in procedure. My understanding is that “Samarians” (people from Santa Marta) would like you to stay in their home town! If you want to visit Cartagena, sail your boat down and view the city entering it from water, pay the additional $60 to check in with the port captain and you are all set. The Authorities are working on making laws easier for pleasure crafts to visit Colombia, but in this country as with many other developing countries in the world, it will take time to enforce new laws and regulations.
All that said, small vessels like Earthling fall into a grey area. Sometimes we have to find an anchorage because of the weather, or on occasions, we want to anchor in the next bay or an island nearby! I have not heard of anyone getting in trouble and locals move around all the time without checking in and out. If there are no agents or offices close by, you are ok! In Santa Marta we hired Rafael from Agencia Maritima, whom speaks very little English and in Cartagena we hired Manfred, whom is fluent in English. We payed $100 to Rafael to check in the crew and the boat including temporarily importation and in Cartagena $60 to check the boat in with the port captain.  
The key is to be patient and not get frustrated. It is easier said than done but with kindness and patience you will get much further for less price! 

Once in Colombia, you will encounter and see many police, coast guard, and security. This is one of the solutions to reduce the crime in the country. Colombia is much more secure than it use to be 5-10 years ago, but crime still exists and a traveler must keep a low profile so as to not stand out.   

Colombia is a beautiful country that has much to offer and well worth the visit. In Santa Marta we were able to visit Minca, which is in the mountains 45 min from the city. Adventurous travelers can stay in Minca for a few days and hike up to the lost city, visit the coffee plantation, the Indian village, or my most favorite attraction, waterfalls. Furthermore, on the northern part of the country you can visit Tyrona National Park, where if you climb high enough (+20,000ft) you will step in snow. We didn’t get to do that during this trip but it’s on the list of things to do next time Earthling visits Santa Marta. 

Upper Water Fall in Minca 
Lower Waterfall
Beautiful Flowers

Love from Colombia


  1. Really enjoy following your journey, George. Very insightful post.

    Hopefully our friends in Colombia will make the needed changes to improve cruiser-friendliness. It is tough enough to overcome the brisk sailing weather in that part of the world plus the safety perception issues to encourage cruising visitors. Add the fees and complex rules and folks tend to either skip or minimize their time there, which is a shame. We were in Colombia long enough to have to do the “permanencia” importation and it took almost three months for the paperwork to be processed in Bogota. Finding now in San Andres that the one year permit is not good here since we stopped in Panama. So we start the process again. We told them about the easy internet cafe check-ins in the French islands and they found that unbelievable. Very different culture.

    Glad your agents were helpful. We found Rafeal to be knowledgeable and honest and he seemed to be well respected by the officials. He does need to keep working on his English . . . but he was most patient and spent time helping me with my Spanish. His boss Ana studied in the US and speaks good English. We were told it is very difficult for Colombians who are not in the upper class to afford English tutoring (average income something like $250/mo?).

    Save your pennies for Panama, which likewise is complex and confusing with cruisers reporting different charges being assessed in different places. It was one of our more expensive destinations ($193 cruising permit, $50 pp immigration, plus monthly $25 San Blas fees, additional Kuna anchorage fees and Panama port fees depending on itinerary).

    Good luck and continued safe travels!!!

    1. Elaine, I really like Colombia and I think it has lots of potential for growth. You don't see many cruisers here, which is sad!
      So it's going to cost me a fortune to check in Panama now :-( Most likely I'll haul out in Panama. Say hello to Bob
      Fair Winds

  2. The $193 cruising permit seems excessive, doesn't it! Only good part if you are storing your boat there is that it covers a one year period. We heard there was a lot of variability in immigration fees depending upon where you check in/out. So you might query the local cruisers for the latest scoop. If you have SSB access the Panama Connection Net on Ch 8107 at 8:30 am is often a good source of local knowledge. Good luck!!

  3. It's sure a little tricky to check in these developing countries. I read your post about different classes in Colombia, very interesting and eye opening fact. Thanks for the scoop Elaine.

  4. I'm glad you enjoy it, thanks for following