Have you ever dreamed of a desert island in the middle of clear turquoise waters with very little things to do besides negotiating the price of a coconut? Sail to the San Blas islands for an unplugged paradise experience.
Known as the Kuna Yala, this 400-plus island archipelago in the Caribbean is an independent indigenous province of Panama, at the crossroad of ancestral traditions and unavoidable Western influences. Kuna women are recognized all over Panama by their distinctive dresses. Historically a matrilocal community ( girl power! ), San Blas women continue to dress as their ancestors: red fabrics with colorful ornaments called molas. They also wrap their legs from angle to knees with long strands of tiny beads, forming beautiful geometric patterns.
Getting there: If you are staying only for a couple of days, the best way to explore the islets is by booking a round trip tour in Panama City. Panama Travel Unlimited offers different packages, all of them including transport, accommodation, food and local guides. When entering the Kuna Yala territory, your will pay a $20 fee that goes straight to the local communities. The Kuna guides will accompany you from the beginning until until the end of your journey so all you need to worry about is bringing the strongest SPF sun cream, a good book and a camera (charge it in advance as there is very little electricity on the islands). If you are not a claustrophobic and afraid of being away from any signs of civilisation, the little islands offer you great intimacy; you won’t share your “prive island” playground with more than 20 people. There is no Wifi so enjoy the freedom of not being glued to your phone. We loved it!
Stay: The islands have basic housing options. You can choose between lodges or for the adventurous ones, camping tents. If you chose the latter option, bring just a little luggage (the space is limited) and don’t forget your flashlight. If you are looking for a more luxurious experience, you can also book a catamaran cabin. San Blas Sailing and the friendly young crew from I Travel by Boat offer different attractive tours. Bonus: if you are heading to Colombia, sailing from San Blas is the most pleasant way to get there.
Eat: Since there are almost no restaurants, each lodging provides food for guests. It’s simple, it’s local, it’s delicious: fresh catch of the day or fried chicken, coconut rice and healthy salads. All islands have a good supply of fresh coconuts, so it’s a must to start your day with this natural energizing juice.
See: The only way to get around is by speed boat ($1-2 the ride). Every island has its own local guides that will suggest you different tour options: from discovering a new restaurant to snorkeling activities or taking a dip in “la piscina”, a turquoise swimming spot in the middle of the ocean. We encourage you to stay away from the “backpack” activities and immerse yourself into a completely different life routine: watch the pelicans plunge for their evening catch, the happy Kuna kids playing at sunset and listen to the surrounding nature. These are priceless “slow” moments that, in a world that is often going too fast, should be fully appreciated.
More information: http://sanblas-islands.com/
Photo credits: Livia, Antoine Helou, Angel Di Bilio; Video credits: I Travel by Boat.