Catamaran Sailing from Colombia to Panama

It’s the final week of my suggested travel bucket list for you ūüôĀ Not to worry though, I’ve still been traveling and I will have some more posts for you as well as some tips for how to make the most of your travel and how to get the best travel deals.

Anyway, back to the bucket list. In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about¬†sailing from Colombia to Panama on a catamaran.

Instead of flying back to Panama to wrap up my journey at the end of last year, I decided to sail there on a 52′ catamaran from Cartagena, Colombia. The journey was 5 days and took us through open ocean as well as through the San Blas islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama.

For more details and info about how to do it yourself, check out my original post about the experience and take a look at this video of the journey:

Sailing from Colombia to Panama

While I am an avid traveler and am pretty relaxed about most of traveling’s annoyances, sometimes I hit the wall and cannot deal with another airport. That’s how I felt when it was time to leave Colombia to head back to Panama so, instead of a quick flight, I opted for a 5 day sailing aboard a 52′ catamaran and stopping in the San Blas Islands.

The first time I was in Panama I heard quite a bit about San Blas but never made it out there and, as a former cruise ship worker, I love being out on the open ocean so I thought the sailing would be a great way to see the islands while giving me a welcome break from the airport.

I booked through¬†http://colombiapanamasailing.com/¬†aboard the Santana and then headed off to Cartagena to meet the ship. Now, I am not a backpacker but this was a backpackers’ sailing so it was quite a bit more rugged than I am used to but I had an amazing time. While I was sailing solo, I especially recommend it for couples as the open ocean and sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous and romantic. The living quarters are cramped and there is nothing to do but enjoy the view, swim, tan, and snorkel so be sure to bring a good book, but if you like the water you will have a fabulous time relaxing on this trip because you are completed disconnected.

You start in Cartagena and meet the boat’s captain and the other passengers the day before you set sail. Then your journey begins with 2 days of sailing before you arrive in the San Blas islands and get to swim, snorkel, and explore a number of different islands in the area as well as a ship-wreck. The last morning you’re up early and dropped off in Puerto Lindo where you can catch a bus to Panama City.

Check out the video below to get a quick taste of the ship and the sailing:


 

Panama’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Stefy Cohen

Stefy Cohen is a communication coach and the founder and CEO of Epicentro150.com, a ¬†web portal designed to connect and promote entrepreneurs and their businesses in Latin America. She’s based in Panama City and sat down with me to discuss Panama’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and how it compares to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in New York.

Take a look at the video below to hear what she has to say and then let me know what you think in the comments section!

Jungle Land Panama Tour with Captain Carl

The Jungle Land Panama tour I did with Captain Carl was the highlight of my time in Panama. I 100% recommend it to anyone visiting Panama. I was picked up by a shuttle in Panama City and taken out to the boat dock about 45 minutes away. From there we jetted out into the Panama Canal where we got to see ships, tug boats, dredges, and a host of other machines and activities related to the Canal’s operations and all pointed out and explained to us by Captain Carl – the owner of Jungle Land Panama and our tour guide for the day.

After we left the main Canal waterway we explored into the jungle learning about some of the native (and surprisingly not native) flora and fauna from Captain Carl and even stopping to feed some wild monkeys!¬†As you all know, I’ve been traveling in Latin America for quite some time now and before I took this tour with Jungle Land Panama I had been in Central America for nearly two months and was just a few days away from heading to South America. If any of you have done research on vacationing in Costa Rica or Panama you know that everyone talks about the abundant monkey population and how unafraid of humans they are. Well, with t-minus 4 days and counting until I left, I had yet to see any monkeys until I took this tour and THANK GOODNESS this tour changed all of that!

I know this video is a little bit long but that’s just because there was a ton of amazing stuff on this tour so please watch it to the end to make sure you see all of the cool animals you can meet and fun activities you can do if you ever make it to Panama and do this tour.

Eventually, we arrived at the floating lodge where we got to feed another type of monkey and then enjoyed our own tasty and satisfying local lunch including free non-alcoholic beverages and $1 beer and wine. The lodge is literally built on a dock floating in Gatun Lake but with a slightly separated area that Carl claims is free of crocodiles and other critters that might eat you alive while you’re swimming. The top floor has a host of hammocks and an area where you can lay out and enjoy the sun or take pictures of the jungle and lake. The middle floor hosts the eating area and some of the overnight rooms and the bottom floor has the bathrooms and equipment for water activities.

After lunch we were given the option of a kayaking tour, fishing in the lake, or just relaxing at the lodge – none of which cost any extra. I opted for the kayaking and we ventured deeper into the jungle and eventually made it to a secluded waterfall where we could jump off the edge into the water below. After the activities we hung out a bit more at the lodge, met a few more animals (which you’ll see in the video) and then headed back to civilization.

All in all this was an amazing tour and I would definitely do it again.

 

 

Panama’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Interview with Gregory Clark

Gregory Clark is Managing Partner of Co.Vida¬†a corporate social responsibility consulting and cause marketing firm in Panama. Greg began his journey to entrepreneurship through working in international development but when Panama’s official status was changed to middle income country and many of the international development organizations from abroad began to pull out of the country, Greg saw a gap that needed to be filled and became an entrepreneur.

“I saw this kind of niche, this hole in the market, this gap in the market,” he told me, “and I said, ‘how I can I fill that?'”¬†

So he teamed up with two Panamanian business partners and created his online platform for cause-based projects and project financing.

Interestingly enough, since he tries to connect the dots for cause-based project financing, his biggest challenge as an entrepreneur in Panama so far has been trying to attract outside investment. According to Greg, small financing is tough to find. You have to be working on a project that needs $500k plus or you have to bring the money yourself. He says,

“[In Panama], you can easily launch something as long as you’re bringing all of the money with you,”

but if you need outside investment for your idea it’s very tough to find. “There are a lot of new organizations within Panama for startups and entrepreneurs…and it’s all about trying to create this entrepreneurial environment here in Panama but, at the same time, they don’t offer any real services to help push it forward.”

At the end of the day, Greg says, Panamanian business runs on who you know. As Greg sees it,

“Everybody knows everybody and networking is really the only thing that gets anything done in this country. The Panamanian networks are very strong and it’s all based on nepotism. At the end of the day if you’re not somebody’s cousin or have somebody’s cousin on your team, you’re not going to get the deal.”

This is especially true, he says, if your innovation is going to cause problems for an already established business whose owners are connected. “If you’re going to be a threat to an already existing company and you’re not tied into a strong network system, they will shut you down before you even open,” he says.

Another challenge that he’s discovered and that he’s heard other entrepreneurs complain about is collections.¬†“Nobody pays their bills on time here,” he says, which can destroy a startup’s cash flow and put it in a precarious situation.

So, given all of these hurdles why does Greg think entrepreneurs are attracted to Panama? He has a few reasons. For one thing, Panama operates on a solid, pegged currency (they use USD)¬†so expats from the United States don’t need to worry about currency fluctuations affecting their investments. He also sees the laws as pretty favorable to aspiring entrepreneurs.

“To start your own company here is literally just the swipe of a pen,” he says. “It takes next to nothing.”

Perhaps more importantly though, Greg thinks that many people see Panama as a land of opportunity. “Especially for expats coming down as entrepreneurs,” he says, “they see what there isn’t. They’re looking at all of the holes and instead of being more pessimistic…they’re coming down and seeing the opportunity. They’re saying, ‘Wow, they don’t have this. I can do that…This sucks, oh I can improve it.” Additionally, “the infrastructure’s already so much in place where it seems like a little America, a little Miami and Panama City is the safest capital city in all of Latin America.” Given that,

“[Panama] seems really enticing because…the sense of you personally can make a difference is really strong. So many people consider it this developing country still and you want to be on the verge, you want to be in the boom. You want to be able to say, ‘I was in the boom, I was in before the rest of the world was.'”

Panama Startup Overview

I had a fabulous time in Costa Rica but I have to keep moving along on my journey through Latin America’s startup hubs so next I am headed to Panama City, Panama.

Panama is very unique within Latin America in that it is the home to the Panama Canal – key to international maritime trade because it connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the isthmus of Panama saving ships the hassle, time, and expense of traveling all the way around South America. The Canal was operated by the United States for nearly 100 years, so Panama uses the U.S. dollar – a distinct difference between it and the rest of Latin America. Additionally, the city’s feel and culture have a visible U.S. influence and the country is well-accustomed to international business people and investors. It’s also a central travel hub throughout the rest of Latin America and into the United States.

While it seems like the atmosphere is ripe for a startup hub, I honestly didn’t find all that much going on (if you feel otherwise, please respond and let me know why). Searching for meetups and activities I could only find 1 startup group and it didn’t appear to be all that active. Speaking with entrepreneurs in the space I was told that the climate is more competitive than collaborative and that nepotism is a force to be reckoned with.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor¬†(which has only kept stats on Panama since 2009), entrepreneurship was starting to tick up a bit from 2009-2011, but it’s since started declining again. Take a look at the graphs below to get a feel for what’s going on in Panama versus the United States:

Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA)
Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA): Percentage of 18-64 population who are either a nascent entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business.
Established Business Ownership Rate
Established Business Ownership Rate: Percentage of 18-64 population who are currently owner-manager of an established business, i.e., owning and managing a running business that has paid salaries, wages, or any other payments to the owners for more than 42 months.

¬†Next week we’ll jump into the interviews with entrepreneurs to hear their takes on what the entrepreneurial ecosystem is like in Panama City.