Category Archives: Colombia

Container shipping from Colombia to Panama

First of all: don’t do container shipping from Colombia to Panama!

Sail your bike with the Stahlratte sailboat or maybe fly it to Panama. But don‘t ship it in a container!
There is no road between Colombia and Panama, it’s the Darien Gap. So vehicles have to be shipped to Panama somehow.
There seems to be a RoRo (Roll-On, Roll-Off) boat (no ferry!), but you cannot secure a motorcycle enough on such a boat and the workers on those steal everything possible. With a motorcycle, the best choice is the German sailboat Stahlratte. They do all the customs paperwork and are the only sailboat from Cartagena/Colombia to Panama, which can (legally) do it! From Panama to Colombia there is the Wild Card sailing, but they can‘t do it FROM Colombia TO Panama!
There is the possibility of flying the bike from Bogota for about 1200$. But I went for the container shipping, because if you can share it with other travelers it may cost around 500$. You may register on to find other travelers to share a container. Or ask on the forums/facebook/etc. I contacted different companies and agencies and the only response and offer I got was from Ana.
Ana Rodriguez used to work for the customs (aduana) in Colombia and is now a freelance agent for container shippings. And she is praised a lot in iOverlander, Horizons Unlimited, etc. She is reachable by Whatsapp: +573014146464
But I had a very bad experience with her service!
I waited almost one month around Cartagena to get on a container! Every week Ana said there will be a possibility, but everytime she had an excuse why it didn’t work out. One time she said the car on the same container didn’t want to ship anymore (so it‘s canceled), another time I was already booked but she kicked me out, because there was no more space for my bike (although I was the customer already waiting the longest time)! Later I found out that she puts cars in the containers and kickes out the single bikes, because she makes more commission with cars!
In total she booked me for four different containers and every time she had an excuse why I could not ship with them!
And when it finally happened, there were delays with the ships. I get it, this can happen. But as an agent she knows that a week beforehand, but chooses to inform her customers just one day in advance! And then I had to wait one more week in the very expensive Cartagena! Otherwise I would have camped much cheaper somewhere else. This happened to at least two other groups/containers I know off.
I was also disappointed by her paperwork! I had to go to her office four times to sign papers, as she always forgot a form or did something wrong! I mean, she does this shit every week and still doesn’t have a routine?! Also she doesn’t speak one word English, which makes everything even more complicated. And she lacks of communication skills: sometimes even her Whatsapp messages couldn’t be understood by native Spanish speakers!
Information about Ana‘s service and the procedure:
  • One car and one motorcycle is 700$ for the bike.
  • Two cars and one motorcycle is 500$ for the bike.
  • One bike alone in the container is 1800$.
  • She makes 100$ commission for a motorcycle and 200$ for a car.
  • You must pay in Colombian pesos, not USD. Payment can be done with credit cards, but it will be 2-3% fees on top, depending on card (cheapest is mastercard debit). It‘s hard to get so much cash in Colombia, as most ATMs only give about 200$ per day with 15000 pesos/5$ fees per transaction!
  • the ship to Panama takes two days. Normally it leaves on a Saturday to unload on Monday (the harbour in Colon is closed on weekends).
  • The container can stay for 3 days in Cartagena/Colombia and 7 days in Colon/Panama without storage costs. Additional days in Cartagena are 30$ per day. So if you want to load the container earlier (i.e. if you want to take the 5 day San Blas sailing), then you may need to pay for the storage. The departure day counts too! So realistically you can load the container just two days before the departure of the ship. And if the ship is delayed, you as the customer have to pay for the storage!!!
  • Getting the bike back at the harbour in Colon/Panama costs 35$, a car is 95$ (although I heard from others 50$ and 100$!)
  • You must first get an insurance in Panama for around 25$/month before you can start the paperwork in Colon!
  • In Panama you have to give your keys to the harbour personal and they will drive your vehicles out of the container! You will not be present at the container opening! Be prepared that things are broken and missing!

Sailing to Panama

After finally loading the bike into a container (that’s another story), I took a sailboat from Cartagena, Colombia through the San Blas islands to Panama!

It was a nice five days trip, but pretty rough! Two nights I barely slept, because I got thrown all over the bed as the boat made its way through the waves. Although it was a sailboat, it basically went all the way with the motor…

Big bike service in Medellin, Colombia

my Africa Twin now has 110‘000km on it (90‘000km on this trip!) and needed a big checkup and service. I did this in Medellin, Colombia at Africa Motos. They are specialized to big adventure bikes, but not an official Honda dealership. It took 5 days for this, fortunately I could stay for free at Felipe‘s apartment! I met him down in Chile, when he was riding on his BMW GS to Ushuaia. Gracias Felipe!

Petrol station habits and information

In most of Europe the procedure at petrol stations is pretty easy: just fill it up and go into the shop to pay. But there are some differences in other countries I came along…

There‘s the standard petrol called corriente, which is about 87 octane, and the more expensive Extra (or sometimes called Premium) which is about 92 octane. Credit cards are accepted in bigger cities. The Extra/Premium petrol is not available at every station, but just in bigger cities.

In Ecuador there are two kind of petrols: Super and Extra. I always went with Super, which is 92 octane and the more expensive of the two. I don’t know how much octane the Extra has, but I think it’s less than 90. It‘s not possible to pay with credit cards at the stations.

The locals get subsidized petrol for about 4 Bolivianos/L (0.60 USD), while foreigners pay around 8.50 Bolivianos/L (1.25USD/L).
On most petrol stations outside the big cities just ask for ‘sin boleta’ or ‘sin factura’ and they’ll serve you with a random price around 6-7 Bolivianos/L.
In bigger cities they can’t serve without the ticket (due to cameras/police) and sometimes don’t have the computers to serve foreigners (you need the passport) or they don’t want to do the paperwork and just refuse to give you petrol. This happened to me in Potosi and La Paz. No credit card payment possible in Bolivia at the petrol stations, but I never had issues getting money at ATMs.

Standard petrol here is 84 octane and sometimes 90 octane. In bigger cities you’ll get 95 octane. but there are a lot of new petrol stations being built right now, so it gets easier. I didn’t have issues to get 95 every 250-300km.
in some places it’s possible to pay with credit cards, but it’s pretty rare. they calculate in gallons, right now it’s about 14.5 soles/gallon.

You have to wait to be served. It’s possible to pay by credit cards (‘tarjeta credito’, Visa and Mastercards are accepted). While paying with card it asks for a ‘clave’, that’s the PIN, NFC chips are working in Chile.
Sometimes there’s another question on the device asking ‘sin…’ or ‘con…’ Not exactly sure what this is, but I always selected ‘sin’/without…

You will  be served here, too. but slowly… there’s mostly just one guy working, even when the petrol station has ten pumps!
‘Gasolina Super’ is 95 octane.
Payments with cards are possible, but just with Visa Debit cards! (My Swiss Visa Credit card also does Debit, so no issues here).
Here it asks again for the PIN instead of the ´clave´ and you have to sign the ticket even after entering the PIN.
It’s hard to get cash at ATMs in Argentina, so I was glad to be able to pay with credit card.

Here you have to wait for a guy to enable the pump (mostly by an RFID card). Most of the time he will put the gas in, sometimes I was allowed to do it by myself.
He will the print out a receipt. Now you can pay cash or go inside the shop to pay with credit card. You’ll get three(!) other receipts: one for the payment, one for the credit card and the third one you have to hand out back to the guy outside which pumped your fuel!

Here you have to pay in advance. Which is hard if you want to fill up and don’t know how much it will cost. If they understand English or my sign language, they usually enable the pump for me to fill up and then I can pay the amount by credit card. But sometimes they just don’t want to understand and I have to guess an amount, which they will release. If you guessed too much you have to go back inside to get the change. But there seems to be always a big queue in Russia, so guess right!

You must pay in advance too. But on the bigger petrol stations you can go inside and say you want to pay by credit card and want to fill the tank. So they release the pump and you can go back inside after filling up to the rim. The following stations mostly accepted credit cards: KazMunayGas, Sinooil and Helios.
Sometimes they strictly don’t want to release the pump before you payed. Either by credit card or cash. So better estimate too high and go back inside to get the change. Its annoying, but it works.

You’ll find KazMunayGas almost everywhere, but their shops only have some bottles of water and sometimes coke. Helios seems to be the modern newcomer, mostly with big shops. But occasionally they were out of petrol…

It’s basically the same as in Kazakhstan, you have to pay in advance and be good in guessing. Sometimes they didn’t want to give back the change when I guessed too much and could not fill in all.
But I only could pay once with credit card.

It depends heavily on the province you are in!
Xinjiang: The petrol stations are enfenced and guarded by security. The locals have to scan their ID (with digital chip) to open the gate and to get petrol. As the foreigner’s temporary drivers license do not have the digital chip, the guards don’t know how to handle the situation. Show them your Chinese paperwork, sometimes even the passport, ask for their manager and finally they will open the gate and let you in. Credit cards won’t work in China at all, even if the terminals have written Visa/MasterCard on it!
Tibet: Motorcycles are not allowed on the petrol stations at all!
You have to park outside, walk to the pump and they will handle you an aluminium tea pot or can. The sizes vary from 2 litres up to 10 litres. But they are dirty and have sometimes sand in it, so use an extra filter! It’s fun to carry around some petrol at the height of 4500m!
They say it’s for security! But carry an open canister full of fuel is not? And sometimes you have to show your passport too.
Yunnan: No problems at all here! Just drive up, they will fill it up for you. No discussions at all.

They only have ‘regular’ (the red pump) and ‘Diesel’. I have no idea if regular is 90, 93 or 95 octane. And the petrol itself is also coloured red! They will pump the petrol for you and also ask for how much money you would like to tank, mostly they understand ‘full’ or some similar hand guesture. Payment is in cash directly at the pump, you won’t get a ticket. Most of the times there are girls working the pumps. And on my big bike they are too small to look into the tank to see how full it already is…

Similar to Laos, there are workers at the pump stations to do the work for you.
You can choose between 92 and 95 octane. Payment is always in US dollars with the fixed ratio of 4000 riel = 1 USD.

Same same as in Cambodia, but you have a lot of choice. There seem to be five different types of fuel and colors at the pumps. I always went for 95 (the orange one), which I guess is 95 octane with E10 (10% Ethanol).
I can recommend the PTT stations. They always have a 7-Eleven supermarket there!

Finally be able to get the petrol by myself again! Payment with credit card is also possible again, directly at the pump! Interestinly, goods in the shop have to be paid with cash, no credit cards accepted.

Pertamina seems to be the biggest and most common petrol company there. Outside of the big cities I could only see these Pertamina stations. They pump the petrol for you and it has to be paid in cash.
There are about five different petrol colors and names. But there are no octane numbers on them! you cannot go after the nosle colors, as they seem to repurpose old pumps.
The workers always sent me to the scooter pump, but this is 88 octane (which my AfricaTwin had some troubles with).

This is what I found out about the different kinds:
Premium: 88, yellow
PertaLite: 90 (officially 90. but if asked, they said it’s 88), yellow
PertaMax: 92, blue or sometimes red
PertaMax+: 95, red (only seen once…)
Bio Solar: I guess this one is with Ethanol (E10?)
DexLite: Diesel

You can pump by yourself, but the operator inside has to release the pump after you put the nosle into your tank. You MUST get off the bike, otherwise they won’t release the pump! (security reasons, they are afraid you can not run away if the station explodes…). Payment is inside the shop.

In the outback there’s the special Opal fuel, wich does not have fumes. So the Aboriginals cannot get high from it…