San Blas Islands: Welcome to Panama’s Hidden Paradise
Why you should visit San Blas Islands.
San Blas is blessed with an incredible nature and a wild beauty that will capture your eyes immediately. Every island has something different, it can be a palm kissing another palm with their coco’s blending in the sand. A reef that goes around the whole island like a protecting belt, or the sound of nature’s own music. The ocean is playing the deep bass, and the sky is filled with these amazing shiny stars. San Blas is not just something that you can see and hear, it’s something that you feel on your skin. The magic will find its way into your soul and keep these little island in your heart as you move on your journey.
The San Blas islands are a group of islands in the archipelago de San Blas, located in the Northwest of Panama facing the Caribbean Sea. There are 378 islands within the archipelago and they are scattered around in an area of about 100 square miles. The majority of the 378 islands have no inhabitants, but on the larger ones you will find the gentile native people known as the Kuna’s
How I got to the San Blas Islands?
Well I was lucky. A good friend of mine owns a sailboat, and he was on his way to Colombia. He was in Norway for a visit and we met, catching up and talking about his adventure so far. I was completely in love with the picture of sailing, so I decided to go with him. I hadn’t planned for this at all and a lot of changes needed to be made. I do feel very happy about my decision today though as I have this Island experience with me every day.
Ok, I´m going to tell you the best way how to discover San Blas. The only way to do it in my opinion. Crossing the border with Colombia. Because this trip is much safer than the trip through the border jungle also known as the Darien gap. A sailing trip from Colombia to San Blas takes around 48 hours if you don’t stop sailing. It also depend on what kind of mood mother earth is in. She is usually kind around these areas, so don’t worry about it. We started our trip in Santa Marta a town north of Cartagena. We used one day to get to Cartagena. This is the place most backpackers start when they want to go to San Blas. You can rent a ship and captain that you share with fellow travelers for around 500-700 US dollars. This trip will take you for 5 days to Panama and you will visit some San Blas Islands. It’s not hard to find a boat as you can just go to the Marinas in Cartagena and ask the people there. Say that you want to go to San Blas and they will give you the right contacts. It’s a marina and everybody knows everybody. Another option is to book the trip in advanced, you will find the information here: http://sanblas-islands.com/sailing/
On the sea.
We left Nautico Marina in Cartagena around 7pm. It was a little bit windy, so we only used the genoa sail. The waves were nice and easy, and brought us safely through the first night. I woke up to my friend screaming that he had caught a fish! I jumped out of bed and ran to the back of the boat to see what was going on. And it wasn’t just a normal tuna fish, it was a big, fat, crazy sword fish! I was like: Omg, it’s a shark, no wait a minute, this is not a shark because I could see all of the colors in the rainbow in that fish. It was really beautiful. As we tried to get this heavy thing on the boat we lost it in the sea, luckily for the fish. But means no dinner for us.
“I was like: Omg, it’s a shark”
After a few hours of morning sailing we started to see these small beautiful islands on the horizon. At that time we were a little bit tired, but with this view we woke up immediately.
Arriving at the Islands of San Blas
Your first island is El Provenir. This is the place you need to check in, usually it cost around 100 dollar, but if you are in a sailboat with other travelers and already paid the captain, so you don’t need to worry about it. Your captain will go to the office with your passport and do the check in for you. After that you are free to explore this amazing place. I spent my days swimming in the crystal clear waters, it´s actually possible to see 10m down on really sunny days. I had one of my best snorkeling experiences in this place at a little island called Dog Island. It has old ship wrecks filled with fish in all colors and sizes. You can swim in and out of doors, truly a fascinating underwater experience.
We visit islands like Chicime, Diablo, Iguana, but my favorite is Coco Bandero. That island is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life so far. Its three small islands standing in a perfect triangle with endless reef around them.
View from my favorite Island
The Kuna people are living on one of them and they are more than happy to sell you fish, take you out snorkeling, or drink your beer. They only speak Spanish, but you´d be surprised what you can say only using body language. As the days went by I found myself in a very relaxed mode, where there´s no time, date or year for that matter. It´ s like a bubble of peace and happiness. Of course you can be bored but then the key is to be creative, you have everything you need around you. Go for a swim, catch a fish, explore the island, take pictures, or write a book It´ s up to you!
Food Options on the Islands
About the food, you can´t be picky. The native people are living rustic and easy and you will not find any shops or places to buy stuff. So if you know you need stuff to survive, make sure you bring it with you. Any kind of snacks, or sunscreen, don’t forget it! You can find some small places where you can get cigarettes and beer, but it´s more expensive of course. Remember to bring only cash, keep it small in 10’s and 20’. Another tip is not to be afraid to talk to people, this is a place where everybody knows everybody again. If you are interested in good stories about the old days and pirates, jump on a boat with a bottle of rum, and you will make friends for a lifetime.
After spending almost three weeks in this paradise it was time for me to leave. I felt a little bit sad because after some time you start to feel a part of it. You know when the fish are awake and when it´s time to take your clothes inside because it´s going to rain. San Blas will put some kind of magic in you that will always make you want to go back. So I wiped my tears and put on a smile because I knew that I was coming back soon.
If you want to get to San Blas Island by car or plane. Go to http://sanblas-islands.com/getting-there/ They will give you all the information you need about how to get there in different ways, about sailing, and the islands.
You can also check out the accommodation in all the different islands here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g298434-c3-San_Blas_Islands_Guna_Yala_Region-Hotels.html
Important information if you are going with your own sailboat. Make sure that you have enough water. Fill all of your tanks, and extra if you have more people on board. Gasoline and gas. It´s possible to get it there, but it can be hard, and you don’t want to be stuck there without a motor to help you through all the reefs. Also about the reefs, don’t underestimate them. They are all over and they can sink your boat if you don’t pay attention at all time. Use this book for a safer journey: http://mdnautical.com/south-central-america-cruising-guides/238-the-panama-cruising-guide.html Don´t just think about it, you need to buy this book. Bring an extra anchor for windy nights, and a small boat with an engine.
Respect the sea, treat it well, and you will be fine. Enjoy!
Guest Author: Madelen Lingren
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