Why should you visit San Blas, Panama

Seashell on beach in San Blas Islands

Why should you visit San Blas, Panama? San Blas ruined me for other beaches. This archipelago on the Caribbean coast of Panama is home to the famous Guna Yala indigenous people that decided to leave the land and create a community on the remote islands. Why? Mostly because of their dream of independence but also because of the absence of mosquitoes therefore the absence of Malaria or Dengue.

San Blas consists of 365 islands, some of them small enough to hold only two palm trees and a hammock. It is an absolute paradise featuring private islands, sandy beaches, coconuts, and the most beautiful seashells I have ever seen.

There are two ways of visiting the islands:
1. Day, 2-day tour departing from Panama City
2. Visit the islands on your way to/from Colombia
– With a sailing boat that you can sleep on
– With a speed boat (sleeping on the islands).

I decided to go on an adventure and chose the last option. Sleeping in hammocks on remote islands without electricity nor water wasn’t a pleasant idea at first, but honestly, it was one of the best experiences I have had so far during my travels. Here’s what we did:

The boats

Speed boats on the beach in San Blas
Speed boats on the beach in San Blas

The speed boats we used were very simple, traditional boats used by Kuna Yala. We strapped all of our luggage onto them, covered them with plastic bags and we left for 4 days on the sea.

Food

The food that provided on the trip, prepared by our guides, was always fresh and delicious! Loads of fish, vegetables, fruit, and seafood. I was traveling from Colombia to Panama and this was the best food I have had in weeks. Lobster dinner was a highlight of the trip for all of us.

Activities

We were a group of 20 people hanging out on the beach, drinking coconut water with rum, playing cards. Since there was no reception, we were completely free of our phones and we could simply relax. We also played a game called by our guides “The San Blas Killers” where you pick out of a hat: a name, a location, and a weapon and you need to “kill” as many people on the trip as possible. Sounds morbid? Nah, it was really a lot of fun.

Hotels

Hammocks on one of the islands in San Blas
Hammocks on one of the islands in San Blas

Calling them Hotels is a big overstatement. We spent three nights (each on a different island) in little huts filled with hammocks. I never thought that sleeping in a hammock can be that comfortable! I am usually picky when it comes to beds, but I slept like a baby.

Showers

Since those islands don’t have fresh water nor piping, all the showers we had were “bucket showers”. What is it? You have a big bucket of water and you use a smaller bucket or bowl to pour water on yourself. There you go, a bucket shower.

Guna Yala

Boats in Kuna Yala village, San Blas
Boats in Guna Yala village, San Blas

Thanks to one of our guides we were able to visit a traditional Guna village in the middle of the Caribbean sea. They really don’t live with much. Most of the wooden huts don’t have a floor, freshwater nor electricity. The community lives from what they catch in the sea. The village had a school, a church, and a port where the trade can be made. They showed us a simpler life, that is less material and more based on community than ours. People were smiling, kids were playing around and we were just so happy to be their guests. You can read more about the Guna, their life, and history in my next post.

Finally: the Islands

We spent 4 days hopping from one island to another, discovering the pure beauty of the Guna Yala land. The smallest island we have been to started disappearing by the end of the afternoon forcing us to either stay in the water or sit all together around one small table in the middle (no joke, the island had probably 20m2). It was absolutely astonishing!

To my knowledge the only company organizing this kind of tours by speed boat is San Blas Adventures. I definitely recommend their services. The organization was perfect, our guides super funny and the Guna crew very friendly. If you would like to visit a relaxed place full of beautiful beaches with an interesting cultural twist, San Blas should definitely be on your list.

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

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