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San Blas Islands | A tropical paradise

De world knows few places that have not been overrun by mass tourism. The San Blas Islands is one of those places. You will not find all-inclusive hotels, swimming pools or cruise ships here. This island group on the Panamanian coast is inhabited by the Kuna Indians† Imagine yourself on snow-white beaches full of swaying palm trees, surrounded by a clear blue sea.

Also read: Backpacking Panama | Practical information
Also read: Discover the highlights of Panama
Also read: Travel Guide Bocas del Toro | A paradise piece of Panama

How do you get to the San Blas Islands?

San Blas is an archipelago located on the Caribbean coast of Panama† The archipelago consists of 357 islands of which about 40 are inhabited. There are a number of ways to get to the outlying islands.

Organized

Many travelers choose to take an organized tour to the San Blas Islands from Panama City. Transport is arranged between your hostel/hotel in Panama City to San Blas by 4×4 jeep and a water taxi. Depending on your preference, you will spend a few days on one or more islands.

Flying or a sailing trip

If you have a large budget you can also fly to the San Blas Islands or opt for a multi-day sailing trip around the islands. This seems to be a really great experience! For the sailing trip you quickly pay a few hundred dollars, so unfortunately this was not an option for us.

Tropical Paradise San Blas
Tropical Paradise San Blas

Public transport

If, like us, you have a small budget, it is also possible to reach the 'port' of Puerto Carti by public transport. However, this is not easy. From Panama City you can take a local chicken bus to the intersection at Delta Llano Carti, which can be recognized by the gas station. The bus ride takes about 1.5 hours.

From here it is still very far to Puerto Carti, the only option is to hitchhike. That was a bit more difficult than expected, but after 45 minutes we had finally scored a lift. The journey continued on bumpy paths before finally reaching the harbour. Here was a small local agency that provided the boat trips to the San Blas islands.

We hadn't read up on the different islands so when we saw a list of options where the water taxi could drop us off, we just picked a random island. There were very few people in the harbor so we ended up having a private boat trip of about an hour to our chosen island.

boat transport
The boat transport between the islands

Where to stay

So where did we come from? On a small beautiful island 50 meters long and 300 meters wide, with about 20 inhabitants. Because we had large backpacks with us, the islanders assumed that we had camping gear with us. This was not the case, oops. Our captain had already left. In addition, we were able to exchange few words with the Kuna's, who spoke a Spanish dialect.

In the middle of nowhere

There you are on an island in the middle-of-nowhere, where you literally can't go anywhere because there were no boats present. After a small island deliberation, one of the residents came to us and told us (with all hands and feet) that we could sleep in a hammock in the cooking hut. How incredibly hospitable! 

You have to imagine that the island only consists of two self-made huts. One in which the whole family slept, and one in which the meals were prepared. 

Because we were the only visitors on this island, we learned a lot about the customs of the Kuna's. For example, the lobster became fresh captives. The only tools used for this consisted of a snorkel set and a pair of water gloves. And so the lobsters just turned up, unbelievable!

We really enjoyed our time on this island, the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten.

palm trees
swaying palm trees

Dog Island

The next morning we were picked up by our captain from the previous day. Luckily he hadn't forgotten us, because to be honest sleeping in a hammock sounds more fun than it is?

This time he took us to a 'touristy' island called Isla Perro. Here we had the comfort of a cabaña with a bed and there was even a small restaurant on the island. Isla Perro is known for the shipwreck that lies there, it is an excellent place for snorkeling. Many Panamanians from the city also come here for a nice day out.

Also read: Staying calm and positive during your World Trip | 6 Tips

Islands tour around San Blas

From Isla Perro we did a tour to some surrounding islands, all of which were beautiful. You can't stop staring at this tropical paradise. Although there are also many turtles and dolphins around San Blas, unfortunately we did not spot them. For this you probably have to go a little further out to sea, this is possible with various (sailboat) tours.

Fresh lobster San Blas
Freshly caught meal

Visit the San Blas Islands or not?

Are you still in doubt about a visit to San Blas? Then my advice is: just go! We spent about 100 euros per person for 3 days, which includes transport, accommodation and meals. In my opinion a great price for a few days in tropical paradise! 

Keep in mind that San Blas is very remote and you have no telephone connection or electricity here. Secretly also nice, because that way you can shut yourself off from the world for a while.

Also read: Backpacking Panama | Practical information
Also read: Discover the highlights of Panama
Also read: Travel Guide Bocas del Toro | A paradise piece of Panama

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Lieke Thijssen

?️ Latin America lover
??‍? Travel & hospitality copywriter
? Next: West Coast Mexico

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