Rich culture, sandy beaches and luscious jungles; these are some of the things to look forward to when visiting San Blas Islands. Located just off the Caribbean coast of Eastern Panama, this group of islands is known to be part of the self-governing territory of the indigenous tribe of Guna Yala.
Because the Guna people’s old customs and traditions continue to flourish, San Blas makes a fascinating unspoiled cultural destination. The archipelago is spread out in the Gulf of San Blas, and is made up of more than 300 islands, but less than 50 are completely inhabited. The ways of the Guna Indians have not drastically changed over the years, so a visit to the island like a cherished visit to the past.
The islands are known to be a backpacker’s haven because of its affordable accommodation and reasonably priced seafood meals. The islands only have few and simple tourists facilities. Another drawback in staying here is the limit in electric power. Some hotels and lodging facilities run their own generator. But it is common that evenings on the island are generally dark except for the light emitted by the moon and the stars. If you are a true blue backpacker, you will find that the simple lifestyle in San Blas is part of its charm. Because it is not yet dominated by mass tourism, it is an explorer’s dream.
When you reach San Blas, hop on the boat to visit the different islands. The surrounding waters are generally calm so boats can smoothly navigate around. Because most of the islands are uninhabited, you will most likely see a wide range of wildlife. Snorkeling and swimming are the most common tourist activities. Almost each island in San Blas has a lovely beach, where you can find a comfortable spacious spot to sunbathe.
Snorkeling is incredible here because the archipelago is surrounded by some of the world’s oldest well-preserved reefs. The best period for snorkeling is from April to June. Isla Perro (Dog Island) is one the favorite destinations for snorkeling enthusiasts. If you like it a lot, it is possible to spend a couple of nights on this island.
Despite the bountiful marine life and gorgeous coral reef formation, diving is currently not allowed in San Blas. Aside from enjoying the outdoors, make sure to find some time to enjoy the artistry of the Guna people. The women in particular make exquisite fabrics with colorful geometric designs as well as animal patterns.
Some of the most popular islands to visit in San Blas include Coco Blanco, Kagantupu, Yandup and Achutupu. Acuadup is a politically significant island and is the home of the Guna tribe leaders. Another interesting island to visit is Chichime, which is known for its cheap accommodation choices mostly run by the Guna Indians.
If you are really on a tight budget, you can even rent a hammock for about 10 US dollars. Some of the San Blas Islands regularly facilitate direct small plane flights from Panama City. Another way to reach the archipelago is by going on a Guna merchant ship that usually sail from Colon. Aside from staying in lodges and hotels, another accommodation option is stay in a local Guna village to spend time with the locals.