Travelling To The San Blas Islands, Panama

San Blas Islands, Panama

It’s time to travel to the San Blas Islands in Panama – a highlight of my time in Central America.

“The most content people on the planet”.

That’s what the article in Wanderlust magazine said. It was talking about the Guna Yala – the indigenous people living on the San Blas Islands just off the east coast of Panama. My plan? To capture some of that happiness to take home!

The draw of this archipelago is more than just spending a day lazing on a deserted beach; it’s to witness the Guna Yala culture first hand. These indigenous people live in a handful of places in Panama and Columbia, with the islands of San Blas being the most densely populated. It’s fair to say, this Guna Yala region is particularly special.

San Blas Islands, Panama
San Blas Islands, Panama

Panama’s government has tried to control and change these communities against their will. After a few revolutions, there is now a treaty in place, which permits them to have a certain degree of autonomy. Some islands are tiny, with little more than a dusting of sand and a few palm trees, others have small shacks or basic hotels, while a few are more developed and home to large communities with their own schools and churches.

How To Get To The San Blas Islands

First things first, this San Blas Islands map will help you get your head around where the islands are…

If you research how to visit, you’ll find a lot of websites offering expensive package deals. They collect you early in the morning from Panama City, transport you by 4×4 to the water taxi port where you then take a boat to the island you’re visiting.

If you want to stay overnight, that can be arranged, otherwise you return in the evening. These San Blas islands tours are pricey and you’re restricted to a rigid itinerary, not to mention travelling with a bus-load of tourists.

We looked at other ways to get there, but felt nervous about the options. Many forums said that you could be stopped from going along the road to the port, and that some of the roads were in such bad condition they might be difficult to navigate even in a 4×4. Add to that, the main road wasn’t even listed on Google Maps!

Misty views on the way from Panama City to the departure dock for the San Blas Islands, Panama
Misty views on the way from Panama City to the departure dock for the San Blas Islands, Panama

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Panama: Top Places To Visit

There’s plenty more to Panama than the canal! Find out the best places to visit including Bocas Del Toro, Boquete and the stunning San Blas Islands.

How much do you know about the Central American country of Panama? Before I went, I knew there was a famous canal and they had their own type of hat. However, what I found was a country with breathtakingly diverse landscape, friendly people, buzzing cities and relaxed desert islands. The climate was tropical with high temperatures all year round on the coast, and some welcome cooler temperatures in the mountains.

With two weeks, you can cover a lot of ground. A few months ago I fell in love with Guatemala, and didn’t expect another country to come close, but Panama really won me over. If you’re not convinced yet, perhaps this will help…

Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro is an archipelago of nine main islands and over 50 smaller islets in the Caribbean. They are beautiful and it’s very easy to settle into the relaxed pace of ‘island life’. On the main island Colon you’ll find several hotels, restaurants, bars and shops, but venture away from here and you’ll have a more authentic Panamanian experience.

I stayed on Isla Bastimentos (the second largest island) at the family-run Hotel Caribbean View. It was all hands on deck – parents in the kitchen cooking, the son driving the water taxi, small kids running around helping rent out kayaks. It was a really local experience! Other great places to stay in Bocas del Toro include overwater bungalows on Isla Colon where you can snorkel right from your own deck.

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