When people plan their trip to Panama, one of the most popular places to visit is Bocas del Toro. This collection of islands is spectacular but crowded as Bocastown has become a famous party spot for backpackers. What most people don’t know about Panama is that there is another archipelago of islands that are equally as beautiful, if not more, than Bocas.
The San Blas Islands Panama are fairly close to Panama City and consist of over 300 islands inhabited by the Kuna Yala indigenous population. The Kuna people live on about forty of these islands and have full autonomy and control over the whole Kuna Yala Comerica. This means that travel and tourism within the region is controlled by the Kuna people who have graciously allowed visitors enter the Comerica to enjoy this small piece of paradise within Panama.
For travelers seeking out luxury, be forewarned that the Kuna accommodations can be quite bare bones. If you are someone who loves camping and doesn’t mind to tough it out for a couple days, than the San Blas Islands are for you. Since this was our first time, we wanted to go with a tour group so we didn’t have to worry about transportation, equipment or food. There were also random fees and taxes to the islands that we weren’t aware of, so it was easier to pay a lump sum to a tour company.
Our journey started with a two hour drive from Panama City to the boat launch where we took a boat ride to the islands.
I had never camped on an island before so I knew I was in for a real treat. The sand was pillowy soft and white and the air was fresh and crisp. Along with the stunning scenery, the San Blas water is always crystal clear, often sparkling with different shades of turquoise and blue.
There are no buildings on any of the islands, except for a hut or two, and there is no running water or electricity. The main island is Dog Island where visitors can rent a hut or lay out their tent right on the beach. Another option is allow the gentle rocking of a hammock lull you to sleep underneath a sea of stars.
The main activity in the San Blas islands is snorkeling. You can hire one of the locals to take you around on their boat to visit other islands and there are certain shallow spots to snorkel around. Near Dog Island there is a sunken boat so you can easily see huge schools of fish, lobsters, squid, sea stars and even octopus! Another popular island to visit is Pelican Island, which is about the size of one city block and home to exactly one Kuna family. The family, accustomed to visits from city folk, has been known to cook up a meal consisting of the catch of the day, including fresh lobster, crab or fish. Unfortunately the island is not open for overnight stays.
For the seafood connoisseur, the San Blas islands serve some of the freshest seafood that will ever touch your lips. You can pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner at around $7 per meal. The lunch and dinner meals are always the catch of the day (fish or lobster) so you’re guaranteed fresh seafood for a great price. The Kuna sell drinks and refreshments, such as beer and soda, at the main huton Dog Island.
Though the Kuna allow visitors to come and stay on their homeland, they do still have strict rules. Make sure not to take a coconut from the tree or the ground or they will charge you for it. You can only take pictures with them if you pay a small fee so be respectful and ask first before you start snapping photos of them. There is a fee to visit the islands so make sure to pay the driver of the boat if it’s not included in your tour package.
The San Blas islands have become one of the few places in the world that have been left untouched by globalization and it would be a terrible shame if they were ruined by the ugly footprints of tourism. The Kuna do a great job to maintain and keep the islands as clean and pure as possible but visitors need to do their part as well. Those searching for the ultimate luxury getaway should go elsewhere, the islands are a place where individuals can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of modern society and reconnect not only with nature but with themselves. To experience the beauty and charm of these islands was something I’ll never forget. I felt incredibly blessed to visit such a stunning place and will definitely be back.
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Guest Post Provided by: Samantha from My Tan Feet
Yeison and Samantha are a couple living at the beach in Costa Rica sharing their travels and adventures as they explore theworld.