The Darién Gap is a break in the Pan-American Highway consisting of a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest within Panama's Darién Province in Central America and the northern portion of Colombia's Chocó Department in South America. The gap begins in Yaviza, Panama and ends in Turbo, Colombia, and is 106 km (66 miles) long. Roadbuilding through this area is expensive and the environmental cost is high. Political consensus in favor of road construction has not emerged.
The Pan-American Highway is a network of roads stretching across the American continents and measuring about 30,000 kilometres (19,000 mi) in total length. Except for a rainforest break of approximately 160 km (100 mi), called the Darién Gap, the roads link almost all of the Pacific coastal countries of the Americas in a connected highway system. According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the world's longest "motorable road". However, because of the Darién Gap, it is not possible to cross between South America and Central America with conventional highway vehicles. Without an all-terrain vehicle, it is necessary to circumnavigate this terrestrial stretch by sea.
A swamp is a wetland that is forested. Many swamps occur along large rivers where they are critically dependent upon natural water level fluctuations. Other swamps occur on the shores of large lakes. Some swamps have hammocks, or dry-land protrusions, covered by aquatic vegetation, or vegetation that tolerates periodic inundation or soil saturation. The two main types of swamp are "true" or swamp forests and "transitional" or shrub swamps. In the boreal regions of Canada, the word swamp is colloquially used for what is more correctly termed a bog, fen, or muskeg. The water of a swamp may be fresh water, brackish water or seawater. Some of the world's largest swamps are found along major rivers such as the Amazon, the Mississippi, and the Congo.
Panama, officially the Republic of Panama, is a country in Central America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the country's 4 million people.
The geography of the Darién Gap on the Colombian side is dominated primarily by the river delta of the Atrato River, which creates a flat marshland at least 80 km (50 mi) wide, half of this being swampland. The Serranía del Baudó range extends along Colombia's Pacific coast and extends into Panama. The Panamanian side, in sharp contrast, is a mountainous rainforest, with terrain reaching from 60 m (197 ft) in the valley floors to 1,845 m (6,053 ft) at the tallest peak (Cerro Tacarcuna, in the Serranía del Darién).
A river delta is a landform created by deposition of sediment that is carried by a river as the flow leaves its mouth and enters slower-moving or stagnant water. This occurs where a river enters an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, or another river that cannot carry away the supplied sediment. The size and shape of a delta is controlled by the balance between watershed processes that supply sediment, and receiving basin processes that redistribute, sequester, and export that sediment. The size, geometry, and location of the receiving basin also plays an important role in delta evolution. River deltas are important in human civilization, as they are major agricultural production centers and population centers. They can provide coastline defense and can impact drinking water supply. They are also ecologically important, with different species' assemblages depending on their landscape position.
The Atrato River is a river of northwestern Colombia. It rises in the slopes of the Western Cordillera and flows almost due north to the Gulf of Urabá, where it forms a large, swampy delta. Its course crosses the department of Chocó, forming that department's border with neighbouring Antioquia on two occasions. Its total length is about 650 km (400 mi), and it is navigable as far as Quibdó.
A marsh is a wetland that is dominated by herbaceous rather than woody plant species. Marshes can often be found at the edges of lakes and streams, where they form a transition between the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They are often dominated by grasses, rushes or reeds. If woody plants are present they tend to be low-growing shrubs. This form of vegetation is what differentiates marshes from other types of wetland such as swamps, which are dominated by trees, and mires, which are wetlands that have accumulated deposits of acidic peat.
The Pan-American Highway is a system of roads measuring about 30,000 km (19,000 mi) long that crosses through the entirety of North, Central, and South America, with the sole exception of the Darién Gap. On the South American side, the Highway terminates at Turbo, Colombia near . On the Panamanian side, the road terminus is the town of Yaviza at . This marks a straight-line separation of about 100 km (60 mi). In between are marshland and forest.
Turbo is a port city in Antioquia Department, Colombia. It is located on the coast of Gulf of Urabá, 340 km north of Medellín. This port city is the capital of the Urabá region of Antioquia. The place where Turbo is today was known as Pisisí, but by 1741 people were already talking about Turbo. By a decree on May 11, 1839, the central government spent one thousand pesos for military service barracks in Turbo. In 1840 the republican president assigned one thousand fanegas of uncultivated lands for the new population. It was established as a municipality in 1847.
Yaviza is a town and corregimiento in Pinogana District, Darién Province, Panama with a population of 4,441 as of 2010. The town marks the southeastern end of the northern half of the Pan-American Highway, at the north end of the Darién Gap. Its population as of 1990 was 8,452; its population as of 2000 was 3,117.
Efforts have been made for decades to remedy this missing link in the Pan-American Highway. Planning began in 1971 with the help of United States funding, but this was halted in 1974 after concerns were raised by environmentalists. Another effort to build the road began in 1992, but by 1994 a United Nations agency reported that the road, and the subsequent development, would cause extensive environmental damage. Cited reasons include evidence that the Darién Gap has prevented the spread of diseased cattle into Central and North America, which have not seen foot-and-mouth disease since 1954, and since at least the 1970s this has been a substantial factor in preventing a road link through the Darién Gap.The Embera-Wounaan and Guna have also expressed concern that the road would bring about the potential erosion of their cultures.
The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that was tasked to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international co-operation and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. The headquarters of the UN is in Manhattan, New York City, and is subject to extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. In 24 October 1945, at the end of World War II, the organization was established with the aim of preventing future wars. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The UN is the successor of the ineffective League of Nations.
Foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for between two and six days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness.
The Embera–Wounaan are a semi-nomadic indigenous people in Panama living in Darién Province on the shores of the Chucunaque, Sambú, Tuira Rivers and its water ways. The Embera-Wounaan were formerly and widely known by the name Chocó, and they speak the Embera and Wounaan languages, part of the Choco language family.
Many people, groups, indigenous populations, and governments are opposed to completing the Darién portion of the highway. Reasons for opposition include protecting the rain forest, containing the spread of tropical diseases, protecting the livelihood of indigenous peoples in the area, preventing drug traffickingand its associated violence, and preventing foot-and-mouth disease from entering North America. The extension of the highway as far as Yaviza resulted in severe deforestation alongside the highway route within a decade.
One option proposed, in a study by Bio-Pacifico, is a short ferry link from Colombia to a new ferry port in Panama, with an extension of the existing Panama highway that would complete the highway without violating these environmental concerns. Another idea is to use a combination of bridges and tunnels to avoid the environmentally sensitive regions.
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The Darién Gap is home to the Embera-Wounaan and Kuna (and the former home of the Cueva people before their extermination in the 16th century). Travel is often by dugout canoe (piragua). On the Panamanian side, La Palma is the capital of the province and the main cultural centre. Other mestizo population centers include Yaviza and El Real. The Darién Gap had a reported population of 1,700 in 1980. Corn, cassava, plantains, and bananas are staple crops wherever land is developed.
Two major national parks exist in the Darién Gap: Darién National Park in Panama and Los Katíos National Park in Colombia. The Darién Gap forests had extensive cedrela and mahogany cover at one time, but many of these trees were removed by loggers.
Darién National Park covers around 5,790 square kilometres of land and was established in 1980. It is the largest national park in Central America.
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The Gap can be transited by off-road vehicles attempting intercontinental journeys. The first post-colonial expedition to the Darién was the Marsh Darien Expeditionin 1924–25, supported by several major sponsors, including the Smithsonian Institution.
The first vehicular crossing of the Gap was made by 3 Brazilians in two Ford Model Ts. They left Rio de Janeiro in 1928 and arrived in USA in 1938. The expedition intended to claim attention for the Panamerican highway, after an International Conference in Chile, in 1923. Leonidas Borges de Oliveira a lieutenant from Brazilian army, Francisco Lopez da Cruz from Brazilian air force and Mário Fava a young mechanic. They took what appears to be the last photo from Augusto Sandino, who received them in Nicaragua, and was received by Henry Ford and Franklin Roosevelt in USA. Their story is available with plenty of photos from the book O Brasil através das três Américas written by Beto Braga. Another pass was completed by the Land Rover La Cucaracha Cariñosa (The Affectionate Cockroach) and a Jeep of the Trans-Darién Expedition of 1959–60, crewed by Amado Araúz (Panama), his wife Reina Torres de Araúz, former Special Air Service man Richard E. Bevir (UK), and engineer Terence John Whitfield (Australia). m (220 yd) per hour over 136 days. They traveled a great deal of the distance up the vast Atrato River.They left Chepo, Panama, on 2 February 1960 and reached Quibdó, Colombia, on 17 June 1960, averaging 201
In December 1960, on a motorcycle trip from Alaska to Argentina, adventurer Danny Liskaattempted to transit the Darién Gap from Panama to Colombia. Liska was forced to abandon his motorcycle and proceed across the Gap by boat and foot. In 1961, a team of three 1961 Chevrolet Corvairs and several support vehicles departed from Panama. The group was sponsored by Dick Doane Chevrolet (a Chicago Chevrolet dealer) and the Chevrolet division of General Motors. After 109 days they reached the Colombia Border with two Corvairs, the third having been abandoned in the jungle. This was the first crossing by a standard two wheel drive passenger car. It has been documented by a Jam Handy Productions film along with an article in Automobile Quarterly magazine (Volume 1 number 3, from the fall of 1962).
A pair of Range Rovers was used on the British Trans-Americas Expedition in 1972 led by John Blashford-Snell, which is claimed to be the first vehicle-based expedition to traverse both American continents north to south through the Darién Gap. The Expedition crossed the Atrato Swamp in Colombia with the cars on special inflatable rafts that were carried in the backs of the vehicles. However, they received substantial support from the British Army. Blashford-Snell's book, Something Lost Behind the Ranges (Harper Collins) has several chapters on the Darién expedition. The Hundred Days of Darien, a book written by Russell Braddon in 1974, also chronicles this expedition.
The first fully overland wheeled crossing (others used boats for some sections) of the Gap was that of British cyclist Ian Hibell, who rode from Cape Horn to Alaska between 1971 and 1973. Hibell took the "direct" overland south-to-north route, including an overland crossing of the Atrato Swamp in Colombia. Hibell completed his crossing of the Gap accompanied by two New Zealand cycling companions who had ridden with him from Cape Horn, but neither of these continued with Hibell on to Alaska. Hibell's "Cape Horn to Alaska" expedition forms part of his 1984 book Into the Remote Places.
The first motorcycle crossing was by Robert L. Webb in March 1975. Another four-wheel drive crossing was in 1978–1979 by Mark A. Smith and his team. Smith and his team drove the 400 km (250 mi) stretch of the gap in 30 days using five stock Jeep CJ-7s. They travelled many miles up the Atrato River on barges. Smith has released his book, Driven by a Dream, which documents the crossing.
The first all-land auto crossing was in 1985–87 by Loren Upton and Patty Mercier in a CJ-5 Jeep, taking 741 days to travel 125 miles (201 km). This crossing is documented in the 1992 Guinness Book of Records. Ed Culberson was the first one to follow the entire Pan-American highway including the Darién Gap proposed route on a motorcycle, a BMW R80G/S. From Yaviza he first followed the Loren Upton team but would go solo just before Pucuru, hiring his own guides.
In the 1990s, the gap was briefly joined by ferry service, provided by Crucero Express, but this company ceased operations in 1997.
There have been several notable crossings on foot. Sebastian Snow crossed the Gap with Wade Davis in 1975 as part of his unbroken walk from Tierra del Fuego to Costa Rica. The trip is documented in his 1976 book The Rucksack Man and in Wade Davis's 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow . In 1981, George Meegan crossed the gap on a similar journey. He too started in Tierra del Fuego and eventually ended in Alaska. His 1988 biography, The Longest Walk, describes the trip and includes a 25-page chapter on his foray through the Gap. In 2001, as a part of his Goliath Expedition—a trek to forge an unbroken footpath from the tip of South America to the Bering Strait and back to his home in England—Karl Bushby (UK) crossed the gap on foot, using no transport or boats, from Colombia to Panama.
In July 1996, as part of their hitchhiking trip to Ushuaia through 17 Latin American countries, Walter Bläs, Ana Cravioto, Albrecht von der Recke and Gustavo Ross crossed from Panama to Colombia, becoming the first Mexicans to cross the Gap on foot, according to the visitors log kept since 1946 in Púcuro. The night of 28 July they survived the Hurricane Cesar–Douglas in the jungle somewhere between Paya and Palo de las Letras. Accompanied by 11 and 13-year-old Lico and Juan from Paya, the survivors reported several big trees falling around them and river levels rising up to 3 meters that night.
In 1979, evangelist Arthur Blessitt traversed the gap while carrying a 12-foot wooden cross, a trek confirmed by Guinness World Records as part of "the longest round the world pilgrimage" for Christ. Traveling alone with a machete plus one backpack crammed with water bottles, a hammock, Bible, notepad, lemon drops, and Blessitt's signature Jesus stickers saying "Smile! God Loves you", Blessitt describes his experience in a book, The Cross, and in a full-length movie of the same name.
Most crossings of the Darién Gap region have been from Panama to Colombia. In July 1961, three college students, Carl Adler, James Wirth, and Joseph Bellina, crossed from the Bay of San Miguel to Puerto Obaldia on the Gulf of Parita (near Colombia) and ultimately to Mulatupu in what was then known as San Blas and now identified as Kuna Yala. The trip across the Darién was by banana boat, piraqua, and foot via the Tuira river (La Palma and El Real de Santa Maria), Río Chucunaque (Yaviza), Rio Tuquesa (Chaua's (General Choco Chief) Trading Post—Choco Indian village) and Serranía del Darién.
In 1985, Project Raleigh, which evolved from Project Drake in 1984 and in 1989 became Raleigh International, sponsored an expedition which also crossed the Darién coast to coast.Their path was similar to the 1961 route above, but in reverse. The expedition started in the Bay of Caledonia at the Serranía del Darién, following the Río Membrillo ultimately to the Río Chucunaque and Yaviza, roughly following the route taken by Balboa in 1513.
Between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, Encounter Overland, a British adventure travel company, organized 2–3 week trekking trips through the Darién Gap from Panama to Colombia or vice versa. These trips used a combination of whatever transport was available: jeeps, bus, boats, and plenty of walking, with travelers carrying their own supplies. These groups were made up of male and female participants from any number of nationalities and age groups, and were led by experienced trek leaders. One leader went on to do nine Darién Gap trips and later acted as a logistics guide and coordinator for the BBC Natural History Unit during the production of a documentary called A Tramp in the Darien, which screened on BBC in 1990–91.
A complete overland crossing of the Darién rainforest on foot and riverboat (i.e., from the last road in Panama to the first road in Colombia) became more dangerous in the 1990s because of the Colombian conflict. The Colombian portion of the Darién rainforest in the Katios Park region eventually fell under control of armed groups. Furthermore, combatants from Colombia even entered Panama, occupied some Panamanian jungle villages and kidnapped or killed inhabitants and travelers. Just as hostilities were starting to worsen, 18-year-old Andrew Egan traversed the Darién Rainforest, detailing the excursion in the book Crossing the Darien Gap.
As of 2013, the coastal route on the east side of the Darién Isthmus has become relatively safe. This is by motorboat across the Gulf of Uraba from Turbo to Capurganá, and then hopping the coast to Sapzurro and hike from there to La Miel, Panama. Any inland routes through the Darién remain highly dangerous.In June 2017, CBS journalist Adam Yamaguchi filmed smugglers leading refugees on a nine-day journey from Colombia to Panama through the Darién.
Migrants from Africa have been known to cross the Darién Gap as a method of migrating to the United States. This route may entail flying to Ecuador (taking advantage of that nation's liberal visa policy), and attempting to cross the gap on foot.The journalist Jason Motlagh was interviewed by Sacha Pfeiffer on NPR's nationally syndicated radio show On Point in 2016 concerning his work following migrants through the Darién Gap.
The Darién Gap was subject to the presence and activities of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has committed assassinations, kidnappings and human rights violations during its decades-long insurgency against the Colombian government.FARC rebels were present on both the Colombian and Panamanian sides of the border. In 2000, two British travelers, Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder, were kidnapped by suspected FARC guerillas in the Darién Gap while hunting for rare orchids, a plant for which Dyke has a particular passion. The two were held captive for nine months and threatened with death before eventually being released unharmed and without a ransom being paid. Dyke and Winder later documented their experience in the book The Cloud Garden and in an episode of Locked Up Abroad .
Other political victims of the Darién Gap include three New Tribes missionaries, who disappeared from Pucuro on the Panamanian side in 1993.
In 2003, Robert Young Pelton, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure magazine, and two traveling companions, Mark Wedeven and Megan Smaker, were detained for one week by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a far-right paramilitary organization, in a highly publicized incident.
From May 2013, Colombian neo-paramilitary forces were reported to be very active in the Darién around Los Katios National Park and the Cuenca Cacarica.In 2013, Swedish backpacker Jan Philip Braunisch disappeared in the area after leaving the Colombian town of Riosucio with the intention of attempting a crossing on foot to Panama, via the Cuenca Cacarica. His skeletal remains were recovered in June 2015 with evidence he had been killed with a shot to the head. The FARC admitted to killing him, having confused him for a foreign spy.
Darién is a province in Panama whose capital city is La Palma. With an area of 11,896.5 km2 (4,593.3 sq mi), it is located at the eastern end of the country and bordered to the north by the province of Panamá and the region of Kuna Yala. To the south, it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Colombia. To the east, it borders Colombia; to the west, it borders the Pacific Ocean and the province of Panama.
Chocó Department is a department of Colombia known for its large Afro-Colombian population. It is in the west of the country, and is the only Colombian department to have coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. It contains all of Colombia's border with Panama. Its capital is Quibdó.
Darién National Park is a world heritage site in Panama. It is about 325 kilometers from Panama City, and is the most extensive of all national parks of Panama and is one of the most important world heritage sites in Central America.
The Gulf of Urabá is a gulf on the northern coast of Colombia. It is part of the Caribbean Sea. It is a long, wide inlet located on the coast of Colombia, close to the connection of the continent to the Isthmus of Panama. The town of Turbo, Colombia, lies at the mid eastern side naturally sheltered by the Turbo Bay part of the Gulf. The Atrato River flows into the Gulf of Urabá.
The Bojayá massacre was a massacre that occurred on May 2, 2002 in the Colombian town of Bojayá, in Chocó department. FARC guerrillas seized the town in an attempt to take control of the Atrato River region from AUC paramilitaries, in the process killing approximately 119 civilians in an apparently indiscriminate attack with an improvised homemade mortar assembled with gas cylinders parts.
Los Katíos National Natural Park is a protected area located in northwest Colombia which covers about 720 km2 (280 sq mi). The elevation ranges between 50 and 600 m. It is a part of the Darién Gap, a densely forested area shared by Panama and Colombia, and is contiguous with the Darién National Park in Panama. The Pan-American Highway, when completed as proposed, would pass near or through Los Katíos. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1994 due to the extraordinary diversity of plant and animal species represented. The park contains over 25% of the bird species reported for Colombia in an area less than 1% of the total Colombian territory.
The Choco tinamou or Chocó tinamou is a type of tinamou found in lowland forest and montane forest in subtropical and tropical regions of Colombia and Panama.
The Pacific/Chocó natural region is one of the five major natural regions of Colombia. Ecologically, this region belongs entirely to the Chocó Biogeographic Region and is considered a biodiversity hotspot. It also has areas with the highest rainfall in the world, with areas near Quibdo, Chocó reaching up to 13,000 mm (510 in) annually.
Riosucio is a municipality and town in the Department of Chocó, Colombia. The municipality and town are located in the Atrato River basin, on the Chocoan side of Urabá, a region spanning the departments Chocó and Antioquia.
The Serranía del Darién is a small mountain range on the border between Colombia and Panamá in the area called the Darién Gap. It is located in the southeastern part of the Darién Province of Panamá and the northwestern part of the Chocó Department of Colombia. There are two major protected areas here: Darién National Park in Panamá and Los Katíos National Park in Colombia. Serranía del Darién range's average elevation above sea level is 437 metres (1,434 ft). These mountains have sparse settlements, with just two people living in every square kilometer. This dearth of human settlements is reflected in the fact that the nearest town with a population of 50,000 is over 12 hours by road.
Sapzurro is a small town on the Caribbean Sea located in the northwest corner of the Republic of Colombia. It is part of the Municipality of Acandí, in the Chocó Department of the Darién region. The closest city is Capurganá, a semi-popular port town, and it is across the international boundary from the Panamanian town of La Miel.
The Colombia–Panama border is the 225 km (139-mile) long international boundary between Colombia and Panama. It is also the border between South America and Central America. It includes the Darién Gap, a 106 km long swath of undeveloped swampland and forest that begins in Yaviza, Panama and ends in Turbo, Colombia.
The Chocó-Darién moist forests (NT0115) is an ecoregion in the west of Colombia and east of Panama. The region has extremely high rainfall, and the forests hold great biodiversity. The northern and southern parts of the ecoregion have been considerably modified for ranching and farming, and there are threats from logging for paper pulp, uncontrolled gold mining, coca growing and industrialisation, but the central part of the ecoregion is relatively intact.
The Eastern Panamanian montane forests (NT0122) is an ecoregion in the east of Panama and the extreme northwest of Colombia. It contains diverse flora and fauna, with considerable endemism. The ecoregion is largely intact due to its inaccessibility, although the opening of an extension of the Pan-American Highway has introduced threats from human activity.
The Unguía Fault is an oblique dextral thrust fault in the department of Chocó in northwestern Colombia and continuing offshore Panama in the Caribbean Sea. The fault has a total length of 139.9 kilometres (86.9 mi) and is arcuate, running along a strike of 356.3 ± 30.
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