This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Panama.
Every year, thousands of tourists come here, to explore the famous San Blas archipelago, consisting of 365 islands.
Most of them are completely virgin islands, uninhabited by humans. Only 49 are populated by the Guna Yala tribe.
Tourists have access to less than twenty.
The island is ruled by members of Guna Yala. They decide who can stay on the island; they charge the entrance fees and make their own rules.
How to get to the islands:
If you are going to San Blas from Panama City, the road should take maximum of 3h.
The tour packages usually include door to door transportation.
However, you can get to the port alone if you have a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle.
The road itself is not the most pleasant one. It leads through mountainous slopes of the jungle and is full of bends and hills.
If you have queasy stomach, you will surely remember this ride for a long time.
The road ends right next to one of two ports, from where the boats leave for the islands. Here you will find benches and cardboard sign with the names of islands and boat operators.
Just check the name of your destination island and the name of the person who will take you there.
One of the workers will pack your baggage on the boat, and the trip starts when the whole group of tourists shows up.
What to expect:
The tours vary depending on how many days you decide to stay. However, all offers have the same base.
Let’s say that like me, you decided to be in San Blas for two days.
ou will be picked up from your accommodation around 05:30 am.
Some drivers stop on the way for breakfast, others don’t – you have to ask the driver about this.
You will arrive at the port about 9:30 a.m. boats depart around 10:00 a.m.
Depending on which island you are accommodated on, the ‚cruise’ will take 15-30 minutes (can be more).
When you get to the island, you’ll get the keys to your cabin.
You can choose whether you want; a double or multi-person house (usually up to 9 people) it it is wise to coordinate this before your trip date. However, a surcharge for a private cabin does not always mean that you will actually receive it.
Guna Yala have a bad habit of doing whatever they want to do.
The toilets/shower are shared by all persons on the island.
The price of the trip always includes several meals.
These are three meals a day: a simple breakfast at 7:00 a.m. (e.g. omelet with onion, tortillas, pineapple slices and coffee), lunch at 12:00 p.m. (fish, rice, vegetables, sometimes seafood), and dinner at 7:00 p.m. (fish, vegetables and patacones or rice).
One day is usually spent relaxing on the island. On the other one you will be taken on a tour.
In 90% of cases it takes about 3 hours and includes:
- A visit to one of the neighboring islands
- Snorkeling spot
- Natural pool in the middle of the ocean; the water reaches only to the waist and it is a really cool experience.
After this trip, you will be taken back to the port, where a return transport to your accommodation in Panama city will be waiting for you.
*Meal hours vary from island to island. However, the dishes are very similar.
What to take?
On the island you won’t be able to buy anything but beer, coke and (sometimes) rum. That’s why I recommend packing snacks, ice (in most supermarkets in Panama you can buy cheap Styrofoam coolers and fill them with ice), alcoholic and/or non-alcoholic beverages and most importantly – water!!
- Bug Spray
- Bed linen (islands unfortunately are not the cleanest)
- Basic hygienic products (shower gel, soap, toothbrush, etc.)
- Flip flops
- Watertight document/telephone case
- Passport (you will not be admitted to the territory of San Blas without a valid passport)
- Power bank and chargers (on some islands there is a possibility of charging electric devices).
- A book or something to keep you entertained.
Is it worth going to San Blas?
Personally, I find San Blas quite overrated.
If you believe Jorge’s words, a few years ago the whole adventure looked much better.
I was upset by the garbage on the island. and monotonous food (and yet $160 per person is not so little…)
I’ve heard that a lot depends on which island you’ll be accommodated in, because some of them do look like what you see on the covers of expensive magazines.
I think it’s worth going to San Blas to make your own opinion about this place. However, if you are unsure between San Blas or Bocas del Toro – I truly recommend Bocas!