Darien Gap Year 2018

Show map

Where the road ends, your adventure begins

The Darien Gap is a 100-mile stretch of undeveloped swamp and forest on the border of Panama and Colombia. The 19,000-mile Pan-American highway stretches from Alaska to Patagonia—with the exception of the Darien Gap. Because of the Darien Gap, you cannot drive from North to South America.

That’s about to change.

On this adventure, we will embark upon a group construction project that has eluded developers and nation-states for 100 years: we are going to build a road across the Darien Gap.

This trip will require creativity, industriousness, and self-directed learning. It will take time. And it may even take your life. Welcome to the Darien Gap Year.


Jan 15 – Nov 28, 2018


Panama & Colombia


11 stalwart youth (ages 18-21, flexible)


Blake Boles, Hero Klimek-Brooks, and Sydney Moyer




Apply by April 2nd for priority consideration!

Trip Purposes

Every Unschool Adventures trip is created with specific purposes in mind. Here’s what we’ll set out to accomplish:

Gap year self-discovery

So you’ve decided to take a gap year. Maybe you’re intent on going to college, or maybe not; no matter your path, it helps to take time away to figure out who you are. By spending a year in the virtually uninhabited jungles, mountains, and swamps of the Darien Gap, you’ll gain a deep opportunity for reflection and self-discovery.

Doesn’t service feel great?

Learning about building and construction

We’re passionate about hands-on, real-world learning projects—and this project is as hands-on and real-world as it gets. You’ll be operating heavy machinery, uprooting trees, draining swamps, laying foundations, and learning more about asphalt then you’d ever imagined. We’re bringing in the best minds in construction, including some big-name celebrities from the highway sector whose names we’re not at liberty to disclose. You’ll be learning by doing, and by “doing” we mean working 12 hours a day without pay.

Have we mentioned our perfect safety record?

Completing a real service project

During a gap year, it’s typical to teach English, help build a home, or volunteer at an orphanage. But what about building a road that bridges two continents? How’s that for service? After this trip, the next time someone suggests that you “serve the world” by volunteering at an orphanage, you can hold your head high and look down at them from the moral high ground.

Developing street smarts and negotiating skills

The Darien Gap is frequented by a colorful cast of characters including armed insurgents, drug traffickers, and paramilitary groups. The political situation is always changing so we won’t be quite sure who to expect as our special “guest instructors” on this program, but we can guarantee at least two kidnapping experiences, four extortions, and one heated armed confrontation. What other trip-leading organization would give you the chance to negotiate for your money and your life? Only Unschool Adventures.

Learn to keep your cool

Exploring local flora and fauna

Darien National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to hundreds of rare and endangered species including the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Central American Tapir, Giant Anteater, Great Green Macaw, and Harpy Eagle. It’s also home to scores of animal friends that will endanger you, including poison dart frogs, black scorpions, fire ants, fer-de-lance snakes, jaguars, bot flies (which lay eggs under your skin), wild pigs, crocodiles, caimans, and mosquitos carrying dengue fever and malaria. If you love wildlife, you’ll love the Darien Gap Year.

Self-directed exploring and relaxing

On every Unschool Adventures trip, we strike a balance between all-group activities and self-directed free time. During your free time, you’ll enjoy the chance to rest, explore, and organize your own activities, whether that means finding a great restaurant in the jungle, going on a mini-adventure with your new paramilitary friends, or taking a quiet hour to write a goodbye letter to your family and friends at home. Introverts and extraverts alike will get the opportunities they need to have a great trip.

When a caiman eats your friends, you’ll look great on Instagram

Everyday Activities

  • Group meeting and check-in
  • Road-building and construction labor (~12 hr)
  • Free time for exploring, journaling, and relaxing (~30 minutes)
  • Breakfast (rice, beans, and plantains)
  • Lunch (rice, beans, and plantains)
  • Dinner (rice, beans, and plantains)
  • First aid “happy hour”
  • Skype calls (via satellite) to ask your parents for release money

Trench foot is for complainers

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need any special equipment?

We’ll be camping in the jungle for most of this trip, so you’ll need a sturdy tent, ground pad, and sleeping bag. For construction activities bring boots, gloves, and sturdy pants. For clearing the jungle, you’ll need two sharpened machetes (pack one in your checked baggage, take the other carry-on).

What are the extra costs on this trip?

Beyond the program fee, participants are responsible for:

  • International group airfare to Panama City
  • Traveler’s insurance
  • K&R insurance
  • Souvenirs, toiletries, and other incidentals
  • Cash for extortions (typically $500-$1000 each; extortionists prefer crisp $100 bills)

Can you accommodate my special diet?

Vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free participants will thrive on our daily meals of rice, beans, and plantains.

Meat-eaters may need to think creatively.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to this.

What medical facilities are available?

None. Bring plenty of band-aids!

Is this trip real?

No. Happy April Fool’s Day!

Go top