Vagabonding Across The Darien Gap

Matthew Karsten

Welcome back to our Earth Day series focusing on the most inspiring landscapes across the globe.

In this edition adventurous photographer Matthew Karsten takes us vagabonding across the Darien Gap; a vast forested stretch of terrain bridging Central and South America. One of the most inspiring locations he’s explored, the Darien is renowned for the lawless activities that take place deep within its borders.

Having spent 6 months living in Central America I can empathise with the desire to explore one of its most remote landscapes. The vibrancy of life and lush surroundings instil a thirst for adventure and the desire to live a simplified existence away from the hustle and bustle of life back home.

But would I venture into the lion’s den to satisfy my desire for understanding and unique experiences? After glimpsing the world inside this tropical No Man’s Land I think perhaps I might.

Intro authored by Benjamin Jones


My trek through Darien National Park

It’s not easy for me to pick a favourite place on Earth, as they’re all special for different reasons. But I can certainly share my most memorable location!

A small stretch of very remote jungle linking Panama and Colombia called The Darien Gap.

The Darien doesn’t have roads. Transportation is by foot or river in long dugout canoes called Piraguas. I wanted to visit due to it’s notorious reputation as a place no one goes. In fact you need special permission from the government because of heavy drug smuggling and paramilitary activity in the area. But once you’re inside, it’s a magical place full of wildlife, nature, and 3 different indigenous groups who call it home. This combination makes for some great photography of course!

I felt like a true explorer when I was travelling through the Darien, and these photos bring back those memories.

Kuna Indian Women
Darien National Park
A Scorpion Blocks My Path in Darien National Park
An Embera Indian House
Wounaan Girl
Floating Down the Darein River on a Piragua

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Would you head off the beaten path and into uncharted territory in search of adventure?

  1. I’m quite surprised.

    All I had heard was that people shouldn’t go to Dariens gap and that the few who tried often didn’t come out again.

    I’m very glad to hear this was not the case for you!

    1. That’s what I heard usually too, even from locals in Panama City. This is why it’s important to talk with people who have actually experience in an area, rather than rely on popular rumors. While it can be dangerous, it can also be relatively safe if you take the right precautions, like not going in too deep by yourself. Reliable information is tough to find though, so it’s not always easy.

  2. I’ve read about the Darian Gap, if it wasn’t for this region you could actually drive from Alaska to Argentina…as I understand it you can only get past it taking the ferry across to Colombia. So a really remote stretch and quite a few adventure books have been written about it.
    The photos are great and really reflect the isolation. Great shot of the scorpion.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  3. This is the first time i have heard about the Darien Gap and i also went through the picture gallery in the Vagabond account. It’s so raw that it actually gave me chills.

  4. I am doing a bike trip around the world and the Darien Gap is a stretch I must cross with my bicycle. I know that people have done it in the past and while I do not want to simply ever take the easy road (in fact, I love the hardest road possible at times), I do not want to be stupid and risk my life. I agree that checking with people to instill confidence and distill conjecture is super important. I hope I can achieve my goal of crossing the curious stretch of beautiful flora and fauna.

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