Rife with leftist guerillas, drug smugglers and deadly snakes, the Darién Gap is the last remaining "black zone" in the Western Hemisphere. For centuries, the lawless, roadless 10,000-square mile wilderness on the border of Colombia and Panama has attracted explorers, scientists and outlaws. Today, it is seeing an increasing number of migrants and refugees—from as near as Cuba, and as far as the Mideast and the Horn of Africa—who are flying to South America and traveling overland up the Central American isthmus to reach the United States.
The Gap is the crux of this improbable journey, claiming more lives each year. Yet greater numbers of migrants are taking their chances as traditional paths to the US get tougher and troubles deepen overseas. Right now there are more displaced people on the move worldwide than at any time in recorded history. The Darién crossing is a crucible emblematic of a global phenomenon. Pulitzer Center fellow Jason Motlagh plunges into the jungle and travels with a group of migrants to provide the first-ever look at one of the most harrowing treks on earth, a story of our time.