The word paradise is thrown around quite a bit. Thailand’s islands, the Maldives, maybe Bora Bora. Most, however, come with a hefty price tag and aren’t wonderful examples of responsible tourism. The San Blas Islands, however, have managed to combine elements of all those. This is thanks, largely, to the native people, the Kuna, being fiercely independent and controlling who visits their islands, where they stay and what they do. All, while balancing an appreciation of the tourist industry.
The start of our trip was initially going to be Colombia, but before we could even get as far as working out where in Colombia to begin, we read this piece on sailing the San Blas Islands, by the wonderful This Battered Suitcase (if you don’t already read her blog, you’re missing out) and immediately had to rethink where we began our trip and what we were going to do.
Now, if, like us, you’ve never heard of the San Blas Islands or have a clue where they are, here’s a quick low down – they’re off the Caribbean coast of Panama, there are 378 of them and they look a little like this:
Now, if that hasn’t already sold you on the islands, how about this? You can not only go and sail around them and visit the Kuna people, but you can stay on the islands (big USP here for San Blas Adventures – they’re the only company that do this – all the others you sleep on the boat), play the Kuna national sport of beach volleyball and sit under the stars and just generally soak up the incredibly chilled vibe that permeates the whole island chain.
You begin your trip bright and early from Panama City (briefing the night before at Luna’s Castle) and then drive for a few hours to the other side of the country along twisting, winding and sometimes vertigo-inspiring roads before arriving at at tiny port in Carti, where you get your first glimpse of the place you’re about to spend the next four days and three nights.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that you’ll be spending very little time on the boat itself (another of the perks of doing the trip with San Blas Adventures) and it’s all done on speed boats, so no days long nausea-inducing sailing for those of you who struggle with sea sickness. Over the four days we spent about eight hours on the boat and that’s just to hop from island to island.
So, you’ve arrived at your first island. What now? Well, basically, you can do whatever you like. Go for a swim in the perfectly warm water, grab a snorkel and mask and go looking for the nearest reef or if you’re just a bit shell-shocked from the early start, maybe catch up on some sleep on the beach. Just remember your sun cream! It was day three of our trip and so we hadn’t built up a base tan and were a little over confident with what we could get away with.
This, along with some amazing food cooked up between the San Blas Adventures crew and the Kuna guides, is basically your routine for the next four days. It’s pretty tough.
That said, it’s not just that. You’ll also get the chance to visit Kuna villages, meet the people and just generally disconnect and get to know the people you’re travelling with. It’s back to basics goodness and a small dose of perspective, that is sorely missing from most of our lives. The Kuna children we met, who really had nothing, were some of the happiest, smiliest and all round most content people we’ve ever encountered.
After four days sailing, we felt relaxed, had picked up a pretty healthy tan, had made some great friends and were still smiling at how beautiful the Islands are. The trip finishes in Capurgana on the Colombian Caribbean coast, so if you’re not quite finished with the beautiful beaches and very chilled vibe, you can spend another couple of days here exploring, or, if you’re a little more pushed for time, press on to Cartagena via boat to Turbo and bus from there.
If you’re considering a trip to Central or South America, we would highly recommend doing this trip with San Blas Adventures. We’re writing this in Cusco on New Year’s Eve, shortly before we go out and party with some of the people we met on this trip over two months ago. It’s just that kind of experience.
The four-day San Blas Adventures trip costs from $425 in low season and $445 in high season. You can book online here.