There’s no one around me, except for a star fish lying just a few feet away and my sail boat in the far distance. I sit on the fine sand, dipping my feet into the warm crystal water, enjoying the tiny island all to myself.
I am sailing in the San Blas Islands, Panama. And this is the closest place to paradise.
The 375 islands that make up San Blas Panama are pristine and well-protected some of them are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people, but most are deserted. The islands are still relatively undiscovered by mass tourism. Getting here is not easy, but that’s exactly its appeal.
Why Travel San Blas Islands?
The answer is simple: San Blas Islands are some of the most pristine and untouched places in the world. I’ve been to many island nations like Mauritius, Maldives and Fiji, and San Blas is right up there on a list of world’s top islands.
But it’s not going to stay this way for long. Even though island life here is still relatively basic and primitive, technology is slowly being introduced to the islands. Things here will change soon enough.
San Blas Islands, Panama, are home to the indigenous Kuna people (sometimes spelled “Guna”), who has maintained political autonomy from the mainland since a revolution in 1925. They control tourism on their own terms and benefit directly from the money earned from tourism. But their agreement terms with the Panamanian government are constantly changing, so nobody really knows what the future is like for San Blas.
Things to Know about the San Blas Islands
If you’re looking for all-inclusive resorts, jet skiing, and air conditioning, San Blas Panama is not for you. San Blas is a quiet, pristine area with empty castaway islands that usually have nothing more than a few huts and coconut trees.
The islands can get packed with day-trippers, but after they leave in the afternoon, you’ll often find that you have whole stretches of beaches to yourself. Apart from snorkeling, laying on the sand and napping on the hammocks, there’s not much to do.
Traveling Panama with kids is generally very easy, but at San Blas it can be abit trickier because of the lack of facilities (our daughter still enjoyed it). Electricity and running water are rare on San Blas Islands. Places that have them use it sparingly at night, and try to keep electrical consumption to a minimum. You might find a restaurant and bar at the lodges, but don’t expect shops or WiFi anywhere.
People on San Blas Islands
Out of the 375 islands in San Blas, 49 of them are inhabited by different Kuna communities. There are around 300,000 Kunas in total. The Kuna mainly rely on tourism, fishing and harvesting coconuts for a living.
One of the most important islands in San Blas is Acuadup (translates to mean “Rock Island”) where the Kuna elders and leaders live. The leaders on this island make all the main decisions for the other island and they help in trades and marriages with other Kuna communities.
The Kuna are quite friendly to young kids and they are very protective. They definitely make sure that you have the best Panama family vacation possible and that your kids are well taken care of.
How Long to Travel San Blas Islands?
This depends on whether you’re planning to sail around the islands, sailing onwards to Colombia or just staying in a hut on the islands. I will cover more on those in my next point.
In general, three to four days would be enough to get a good feel of the San Blas Islands. We booked a two-night sailing trip and visited four islands, but still wished we had more time on the boat.
If you’re planning to sail from Panama to Colombia, those trips take at least five days, with two of them spent sailing in the open ocean. For those who plan to stay on the islands, you can easily hire lanchas to bring you island-hopping. If budget permits, I recommend booking at least three nights.