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🔗 The Darién Gap

🔗 Central America 🔗 Panama 🔗 Colombia

The Darién Gap (UK: , US: , Spanish: Tapón del Darién [taˈpon del daˈɾjen], lit.'Darién plug') is a geographic region in the Isthmus of Darien or Isthmus of Panama connecting the American continents within Central America, consisting of a large watershed, forest, and mountains in Panama's Darién Province and the northern portion of Colombia's Chocó Department.

The "Gap" interrupts the Pan-American Highway. Some 106 km (66 mi) of this between Yaviza, Panama, and Turbo, Colombia, has never been built. Road-building in this area is both expensive and detrimental to the environment. Political consensus in favor of road construction collapsed after an initial attempt failed in the early 1970s, with a proposal in the early 1990s halted by environmental concerns. As of 2023, there was no active plan to build a road through the Gap, although there has been discussion of reestablishing a ferry service.

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. The Serranía del Baudó 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 home to the Embera-Wounaan and Guna people and was also home to the Cueva people who became extinct by 1535, following the Spanish invasion of Panama. Travel is often conducted with pirogues. On the Panamanian side, La Palma, the area's cultural center, is the capital of the province. Other population centers include Yaviza and El Real. The Darién Gap had a reported population of 8,000 in 1995 among five tribes. Maize, cassava, plantains, and bananas are staple crops on local farms.

There is no road, not even a primitive one, across the Darién. One can bypass it by boat, and for some years there was an underused ferry service. The remaining option is to hike from Colombia to Panama by trail, which is possible but very strenuous and dangerous. Heavy rain and flash floods are frequent, law enforcement and medical support are non-existent, rapes and robberies are common, and a broken leg can be fatal, as there is no way to reach assistance. However, this route was taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants since the 2010s, primarily Haitians and Venezuelans, to reach the Mexico–United States border. By 2021, the number was more than 130,000. In 2022, there were 250,000, and by 2023, 360,000 had crossed the Gap.

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