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Darién Gap

Coordinates: 7°54′N 77°28′W / 7.90°N 77.46°W / 7.90; -77.46
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Darién Gap (UK: /ˈdɛəriən, ˈdær-/,[1][2] US: /ˌdɛəriˈɛn, ˌdɑːr-, dɑːrˈjɛn/,[1][3][4] Spanish: Tapón del Darién [taˈpon del daˈɾjen], lit.'Darién plug')[5] is a geographic region that connects the American continents, stretching across southern Panama's Darién Province and the northern portion of Colombia's Chocó Department. Consisting of a large watershed, dense rainforest, and mountains, it is known for its remoteness, difficult terrain, and extreme environment,[6] with a reputation as one of the most inhospitable regions in the world.[7] Nevertheless, as the only land bridge between North and South America, the Darién Gap has historically served as a major route for both humans and wildlife.

The Darién Gap at the Colombia–Panama border
Map of the Darién Gap and the break in the Pan-American Highway between Yaviza, Panama, and Turbo, Colombia
Embera girl

The geography of the Darién Gap is highly diverse. 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. The Tanela River, which flows toward Atrato, was Hispanicized to Darién by 16th Century European conquistadors. The Serranía del Baudó mountain range extends along Colombia's Pacific coast and into Panama. The Panamanian side, in stark 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.

The Darién Gap is inhabited mostly by the indigenous Embera-Wounaan and Guna peoples; in 1995, it had a reported population of 8,000 among five tribes.[8] The only sizable settlement in the region is La Palma, the capital of Darién Province, with roughly 4,200 residents; other population centers include Yaviza and El Real, both on the Panamanian side.

Owing to its isolation and harsh geography, the Darién Gap is largely undeveloped, with most economic activity consisting of small-scale farming, cattle ranching, and lumber.[7] Criminal enterprises such as human and drug trafficking are widespread.[9] There is no road, not even a primitive one, across the Darién: Colombia and Panama are the only countries in the Americas that share a land border but lack even a rudimentary link. The "Gap" interrupts the Pan-American Highway, which breaks at Yaviza, Panama and resumes at Turbo, Colombia roughly 106 km (66 mi) away. Infrastructure development has long been constrained by logistical challenges, financial costs, and environmental concerns; attempts failed in the 1970s and 1990s.[10] As of 2024, there is no active plan to build a road through the Gap, although there is discussion of reestablishing a ferry service and building a rail link.

Consequently, travel within and across Darién Gap is often conducted with small boats or traditional watercraft such as pirogues. Otherwise, hiking is the only remaining option, and it is strenuous and dangerous. Aside from natural threats such as deadly wildlife, tropical diseases, and frequent heavy rains and flash floods, law enforcement and medical support are nonexistent, resulting in rampant violent crime, and causing otherwise minor injuries to ultimately become fatal.[11]

Despite its perilous conditions, since the 2010s, the Darién Gap has become one of the heaviest migration routes in the world, with hundreds of thousands of migrants, primarily Haitians and Venezuelans, traversing north to the Mexico–United States border.[12][13] In 2022, there were 250,000 crossings, compared to only 24,000 in 2019.[14] In 2023, the number of migrants who had passed through the Gap more than doubled to 520,000.[15]

Pan-American Highway[edit]

The Pan-American Highway is a system of roads measuring about 30,000 km (19,000 mi)[16] in length that runs north–south through the entirety of North, Central and South America, with the sole exception of a 106 km (66 mi) stretch of marshland and mountains between Panama and Colombia known as the Darién Gap. On the South American side, the Highway terminates at Turbo, Colombia, near 8°6′N 76°40′W / 8.100°N 76.667°W / 8.100; -76.667. On the Panamanian side, the road terminus, for many years in Chepo, Panama Province, is since 2010[citation needed] in the town of Yaviza at 8°9′N 77°41′W / 8.150°N 77.683°W / 8.150; -77.683.

Many people, including local indigenous populations, groups and governments are opposed to completing the Darién portion of the highway.[10] Reasons for opposition include protecting the rainforest, containing the spread of tropical diseases, protecting the livelihood of indigenous peoples in the area, preventing drug trafficking[17] and 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.[18]

Efforts were made for decades to fill this sole gap in the Pan-American Highway. Planning began in 1971 with the help of American funding, but was halted in 1974 after concerns were raised by environmentalists.[10] US support was further blocked by the US Department of Agriculture in 1978, from its desire to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.[10] 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.[19][20] The Embera-Wounaan and Guna are among five tribes, comprising 8,000 people, who have expressed concern that the road would bring about the potential erosion of their cultures by destroying their food sources.[10]

An alternative to the Darién Gap highway would be a river ferry service between Turbo or Necoclí, Colombia and one of several sites along Panama's Caribbean coast.[10] Ferry services such as Crucero Express and Ferry Xpress operated to link the gap, but closed because the service was not profitable. As of 2023, nothing has come of this idea.[21]

Another idea is to use a combination of bridges and tunnels to avoid the environmentally sensitive regions.[22]


Pre-Columbian history[edit]

Major areas of pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas:

Archaeological knowledge of this area has received relatively little attention compared to its neighbors to the north and south, although in the early 20th century, scholars such as Max Uhle, William Henry Holmes, C. V. Hartman and George Grant MacCurdy undertook studies of archaeological sites and collections that were augmented by further research by Samuel Kirkland Lothrop, John Alden Mason, Doris Zemurray Stone, William Duncan Strong, Gordon Willey and others. There are a large number of sites with impressive platform mounds, plazas, paved roads, stone sculpture and artifacts made from jade, gold and ceramic materials.[citation needed]

The Guna people lived in what is now Northern Colombia and the Darién Province of Panama at the time of the Spanish conquest, and they subsequently began to move westward due to a conflict with the Spanish and other indigenous groups. Centuries before the conquest, the Gunas arrived in South America as part of a Chibchan migration that moved east from Central America. At the time of the Spanish invasion, they were living in the region of Uraba, near the borders of what are now Antioquia and Caldas. The Guna themselves attribute their several migrations to conflicts with other chiefdoms, and their migration to nearby islands in particular to escape malarial mosquito populations on the mainland.[23]

European settlement[edit]

"A New Map of the Isthmus of Darién in America, The Bay of Panama, The Gulph of Vallona or St. Michael, with its Islands and Countries Adjacent". In A letter giving a description of the Isthmus of Darien, Edinburgh: 1699
Vasco Núñez de Balboa's travel route to the South Sea, 1513

Vasco Núñez de Balboa and Alonso de Ojeda explored the coast of Colombia in 1500 and 1501. They spent the most time in the Gulf of Urabá, where they made contact with the Gunas. The regional border was initially created in 1508 after royal decree to separate the colonial governorships of Castilla de Oro and Nueva Andalucía, using the River Atrato as the boundary between the two governorships.[24][25]

Balboa heard of the "South Sea" from locals while sailing along the Caribbean coast. On 25 September 1513, he saw the Pacific.[26]

In 1519, the town of Panamá was founded near a small indigenous settlement on the Pacific coast. After the Spaniards entered what is now Peru, it developed into an important transshipment port as well as an administrative center.[citation needed]

In 1671, the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan crossed the Isthmus of Panama from the Caribbean side and destroyed the city; the town was subsequently relocated a few kilometers to the west on a small peninsula. The ruins of the old town, Panamá Viejo, are preserved and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.[27]

Silver and gold from the viceroyalty of Peru was taken across the isthmus by Spanish Silver Train to Porto Bello, where Spanish treasure fleets shipped them to Seville and Cádiz from 1707. Lionel Wafer spent four years between 1680 and 1684 among the Gunas.

In 1698, the Kingdom of Scotland tried to establish a settlement in a project known as the Darién scheme, intending to tame, occupy and administer the non-traversable land of the Darién Gap, and use it as a gateway to trade between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans,[28] as was later achieved successfully by the Panama Railroad and then the Panama Canal. The first expedition of five ships (Saint Andrew, Caledonia, Unicorn, Dolphin and Endeavour) set sail from Leith on 14 July 1698, with around 1,200 people on board.[29] Their orders were "to proceed to the Bay of Darién, and make the Isle called the Golden Island ... some few leagues to the leeward of the mouth of the great River of Darién ... and there make a settlement on the mainland".[30] After calling at Madeira and the West Indies, the fleet made landfall off the coast of Darién on 2 November. The settlers christened their new home "New Caledonia".[31]

The aim was for the colony to have an overland route that connected the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Since its inception, it has been said that the undertaking was beset by poor planning and provisioning, divided leadership, a poor choice of trade goods, devastating epidemics of disease, reported attempts by the East India Company to frustrate it, and a failure to anticipate the Spanish Empire's military response. It was finally abandoned in March 1700 after a siege and harbor blockade by Spanish forces.[32]

As the Company of Scotland was backed by approximately 20% of all the money circulating in Scotland, its failure left the Scottish Lowlands in substantial financial ruin; in fact, English financial incentives are thought to have been a factor in persuading those in power to support the 1707 union with England.[32] According to this argument, the Scottish establishment of landed aristocracy and mercantile elites considered that their best chance of being part of a major power would be to share the benefits of England's international trade and the growth of the English overseas possessions, so its future would have to lie in unity with England. Furthermore, Scotland's nobles were almost bankrupted by the Darién fiasco.[32]

Panamanian independence[edit]

Most of Panama was part of Colombia until it declared its independence in 1903, with encouragement and support from the United States. The geography of Darién, through which no troops could pass, made its Departamento of Panamá harder to defend and control.

The current border is regulated by the Victoria-Velez Treaty [es], signed in Bogotá on 20 August 1924 by the Foreign Ministers of Panama, Nicolás Victoria [es], and Colombia, Jorge Vélez.[33] This treaty is officially registered in the Register No. 814 of the Treaty League of Nations, on 17 August 1925; said border was based on the same Colombian law of 9 June 1855.[34]

Natural resources[edit]

A Ceiba tree makes Darien Gap crosser Gustavo Ross look tiny in comparison. Ceibas were considered sacred trees by ancient Mayan cultures.
A Ceiba tree in the Darién Gap

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 until many of these trees were removed by loggers.[35]

Darién National Park in Panama, the largest national park in Central America, covers roughly 5,790 km2 (2,240 sq mi) of land, and was established in 1980. The property includes a stretch of the Pacific Coast and almost the entire border with neighbouring Colombia.[35]

Copa Airlines Flight 201[edit]

On 6 June 1992, Copa Airlines Flight 201, a Boeing 737 jet airplane covering a flight between Panama City and Cali, Colombia, crashed in the Darién Gap, killing all 47 people on board.[36]

Adventure travelers[edit]

To travel between the continents through the Darién Gap has long been a challenge for adventure travelers.

The Gap can be transited by off-road vehicles attempting intercontinental journeys. The first post-colonial expedition to the Darién was the Marsh Darién Expedition in 1924–25, supported by several major sponsors, including the Smithsonian Institution, the American Museum of Natural History and the government of Panama.[37]

The first vehicular crossing of the Gap was made by three Brazilians in two Ford Model T cars. They left Rio de Janeiro in 1928 and arrived in the United States in 1938. The expedition intended to bring attention for the Panamerican highway, after an International Conference in Chile, in 1923. The participants were 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 of Augusto Sandino, who received them in Nicaragua, and were received by Henry Ford and Franklin Roosevelt in the United States. Their story is available with photos from the book O Brasil através das três Américas (Brazil Across the Three Americas) written by Beto Braga.[citation needed]

Another crossing 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).[38] They left Chepo, Panama, on 2 February 1960 and reached Quibdó, Colombia, on 17 June 1960, averaging 201 m (220 yd) per hour over 136 days. They traveled a great deal of the distance up the vast Atrato River.[citation needed]

The Pan-American Highway from Prudhoe Bay, United States, to Quellón, Chile, and Ushuaia, Argentina, with official and unofficial routes shown in Mexico and Central and South America. A few selected unofficial routes shown through the United States and Canada as they existed in the early 1960s. In 1966, the new US Interstate highway system brought official status to most previously unofficial routes in the lower 48 states.

In December 1960, on a motorcycle trip from Alaska to Argentina, adventurer Danny Liska[39][better source needed] attempted to transit the Darién Gap from Panama to Colombia.[40] 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. 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) and in Road & Track.[41][42]

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 Darién, a book written by Russell Braddon in 1974, also chronicles this expedition. In addition to the book, a video exists that was filmed by two Vancouver, BC–based cameramen, Alan Bibby and Eric Rankin. These cameramen were mentioned in the book several times and can be seen in some of the still photos in the book.[43]

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 to Alaska.[44]

Ed Culberson's "Amigo" (a BMW R80G/S motorcycle) was the first motor vehicle to fully navigate the Pan-American Highway by land.

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. They drove the 400 km (250 mi) stretch of the gap in 30 days using five stock Jeep CJ-7s, traveling many kilometres up the Atrato River on barges.[45]

The first all-land auto crossing was in 1985–1987 by Loren Upton and Patty Mercier in a CJ-5 Jeep, taking 741 days to travel 200 kilometers (125 miles). 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 went solo just before Pucuru, hiring his own guides.[46]

In the 1990s, the gap was briefly joined by ferry service, provided by Crucero Express, until it ceased operations in 1997.

A number of notable crossings have been made 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 1996 book One River. 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.[citation needed]

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. On the night of 28 July, they survived 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 metres (9.8 ft) that night.[citation needed]

First Mexican by-foot crossers take a rest by the "Lost Corvair" abandoned in 1961 by a failed caravan from Chicago.
The first Mexican by-foot crossers take a rest by the "Lost Corvair", abandoned in 1961 by a caravan from Chicago.

In 1979, evangelist Arthur Blessitt traversed the gap while carrying a 3.7-meter (12 ft) 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 with the same title.[47][48][49][50]

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 the San Blas Islands. The trip across the Darién was by banana boat, piragua 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.[51]

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.[52] 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.[citation needed]

Between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, Encounter Overland, a British adventure travel company, organized two- to three-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 walking, with travelers carrying their own supplies. Experienced trekkers guided mixed-sex groups of any nationality. One individual led 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 Darién, which screened on BBC in 1990–1991.[citation needed]

Complete overland crossings 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.[citation needed]

In 2017, a group of four retired US soldiers — Wayne Mitchell, Simon Edwards, Rich Doering, and Mike Eastham — led by Kuna guide Isaac Pizarro and assisted by villagers from the Kuna village of Paya, crossed the Darién in eight days with four Kawasaki KLR motorcycles. The group was accompanied by filmmaker Jake Hamby and photographer Alex Manne, who documented the entire motorcycle trip from Alaska to Argentina in the 2022 documentary film "Where the Road Ends" on Youtube.

In 2023, British Youtuber Bald and Bankrupt filmed the experience crossing the Darién Gap with YouTuber Timmy Karter.[53]

Migrants traveling northward[edit]

Venezuelan migrants being processed in Ecuador in preparation to make the long journey north to New York City, including crossing the Darién Gap

While the Darién Gap has been considered to be essentially impassable, the 21st century has seen thousands of migrants, primarily Haitian during the 2010s and Venezuelan during the 2020s, cross the Darién Gap to reach the United States. By 2021, the number was more than 130,000,[13] and 2023 is on pace for 500,000 migrants for the now more organized 2 ½ day trek, which used to take a week.[54] Of the 334,000 migrants that made the trek over the first eight months of 2023, 60% were Venezuelan, motivating the Biden administration to provide foreign assistance to help Panama deport migrants.[55]

The hike, which involves crossing rivers which flood frequently, is unpleasant, demanding, and dangerous, with rape and robbery common, and there are numerous fatalities.[12]

By 2013, the coastal route on the east side of the Darién Isthmus became relatively safe, by taking a motorboat across the Gulf of Uraba from Turbo to Capurganá and then hopping the coast to Sapzurro and hiking from there to La Miel, Panama. All inland routes through the Darién remain highly dangerous.[56] In June 2017, CBS journalist Adam Yamaguchi filmed smugglers leading refugees on a nine-day journey from Colombia to Panama through the Darién.[57]

Migrants from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and China[58] 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.[59] 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.[60] Journalists Nadja Drost and Bruno Federico were interviewed by Nick Schifrin about their work following migrants through the Darién Gap in mid-2019 and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic a year later, as part of a series on migration to the United States for PBS NewsHour.[61][62][63]

In 2023, people fleeing China travelled to Ecuador, then to Necoclí in Colombia, with the intention of crossing the Darién Gap on foot.[64][58] The number of Chinese people crossing the Darién Gap increased with each passing month in 2023.[65]

The route in the 21st century[edit]

Several video teams have traveled with migrants and thus the conditions of the route have become better known. It is possible, although arduous, dangerous, and seriously rainy, to hike from Colombia to Panama.

By boat[edit]

At various times scheduled boats, including sailboats, have sailed between the Colombian ports of Cartagena, Turbo, Necoclî and Capurganá and the Panamanian ports of El Porvenir and Colón. Chartering a small boat is also an option. Sea conditions make it a sometimes hazardous trip, and schedules can change frequently. Any of these options are more expensive than flying.[citation needed]

By land[edit]

It is possible to cross the Gap on foot, but the conditions are very difficult and often underestimated. It is one of the rainiest and most dangerous places on the planet, a lawless, unpoliced region, with many drug smugglers and sometimes political rebels. Records are not kept, but it is known that many migrants die on this trip.[66]

The hiking trail ascends abruptly over a mountain; the four-day hike is a challenge even for a person in good physical shape. Most migrants are in mediocre physical shape or worse, and without equipment for hiking and camping. Women who are carrying babies or pregnant make the attempt.[67] Three migrant women bore babies in the Darién between 2013 and 2021, with no medical help or supplies available.[citation needed]

The Darién Gap is one of the rainiest places on the planet. The rainfall produces flash floods that can carry sleepers to their deaths. Several rivers with neither bridges nor boats must be crossed. No services of any kind are available; food, a tent and water purification materials sufficient for a hike of several days must be carried. Bodies of migrants are often found; dead, too exhausted to continue, or with problems such as blisters that require treatment. There is no medical help and no way to evacuate someone ill, injured, or simply exhausted. A broken leg is usually fatal. There are many insects, snakes, and carnivorous animals. Many migrants are robbed or raped. There is no police presence and no cell phone signal.[citation needed]

In Capurganá, Colombia, and Yaviza, Panama, many young men offer, for a fee, to serve as guides and to provide "protection". There is no easy way to determine if those who offer these services are knowledgeable and trustworthy, or criminals looking for victims.[citation needed]

Armed conflict[edit]

FARC insurgents in 1998

The Darién Gap was subject to the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which led an insurgency against the Colombian government.[68] FARC rebels were present on both the Colombian and Panamanian sides of the border.[69]

In 2000, two British travelers, Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder, were kidnapped by FARC in the Darién Gap while hunting for exotic orchids; they 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.[citation needed]

Other non-political victims include three New Tribes missionaries, who died after disappearing from the Panamanian side in 1993.[70]

In 2003, Robert Young Pelton, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure magazine, and two traveling companions, Mark Wedeven and Megan Smaker, were detained for a week by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a far-right paramilitary organization, in a highly publicized incident.[71][72]

In May 2013, Swedish backpacker Jan Philip Braunisch disappeared in the area after leaving the Colombian town of Riosucio to attempt crossing on foot to Panama via the Cuenca Cacarica. The FARC admitted to killing him, having mistaken him for a foreign spy.[73]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Darien". CollinsDictionary.com. HarperCollins. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  2. ^ "Darien". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 22 March 2020.
  3. ^ "Darién". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). HarperCollins. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Darién". Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  5. ^ "El infierno de cruzar el Tapón del Darién, la región más intransitable y peligrosa de América Latina (que corta en dos la ruta Panamericana)". 31 January 2018. Archived from the original on 4 April 2023 – via www.bbc.com.
  6. ^ McKinnon, Sara (13 March 2024). "What is the Darien Gap? And why are more migrants risking this Latin American route to get to the US?". The Conversation. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  7. ^ a b Youkee, Mat. "The Darien Gap's Fearsome Reputation Has Been Centuries in the Making". Americas Quarterly. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  8. ^ Ward, Logan (20 August 1995). "Colombia-Panama Plan to Build Rain Forest Road Draws Fire : Latin America: Controversial project would span the 60-mile Darien Gap, the only missing segment in the 16,000-mile Pan-American Highway linking Alaska to Chile. Environmentalists and native peoples object". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2 October 2021. Retrieved 24 August 2021. Plans were suspended, however, because of pressure from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
  9. ^ Staff (3 January 2024). "Record half million people crossed the treacherous Darién Gap in 2023". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Ward, Logan (20 August 1995). "Colombia-Panama Plan to Build Rain Forest Road Draws Fire : Latin America: Controversial project would span the 60-mile Darien Gap, the only missing segment in the 16,000-mile Pan-American Highway linking Alaska to Chile. Environmentalists and native peoples object". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2 October 2021. Retrieved 24 August 2021. Plans were suspended, however, because of pressure from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
  11. ^ Taylor, Luke (21 November 2023). "Rapists and kidnappers increasingly targeting migrants crossing Darién Gap". The Guardian.
  12. ^ a b Fernández, Belén (27 October 2022). "The Darién Gap: A deadly extension of the US border". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on 30 September 2023.
  13. ^ a b Turkewitz, Julie (7 October 2022). "In Record Numbers, Venezuelans Risk a Deadly Trek to Reach the U.S. Border". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 7 October 2022. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  14. ^ Graham, Thomas (18 April 2024). "Panama's presidential frontrunner vows to 'close' Darién Gap". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  15. ^ Staff (3 January 2024). "Record half million people crossed the treacherous Darién Gap in 2023". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  16. ^ "A Gap in the Andes". Earth Observatory. NASA. 27 June 2016. Archived from the original on 28 March 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2017.
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Further reading (most recent first)[edit]

External links[edit]

7°54′N 77°28′W / 7.90°N 77.46°W / 7.90; -77.46