Sandwiched in between our stays in Panama City, was our visit to San Blas, or Guna Yala. These Caribbean Sea islands that make up San Blas are inhabited by the Kuna people who use the islands for coconut farming and tourism to support their community.
My general view is that the islands are beautiful and I enjoyed getting my camera out to take pictures. The pure white coral beaches were a stark difference from the volcanic black sand on the pacific side of Panama.
Each wave washed up broken coral and shells, grinding them up and replenishing the white sand on the island shores.
The island was only the size of my office building’s floor, one side was violently windy and the other side was tranquil and sunny.
We shared our island with people from all over the world. It was nice to get to meet new people and spend time getting to know more about each other’s countries. This isn’t something I’ve really done before on vacation since I’ve normally kept with my friends, but the little island encourages you to talk to others since everything is shared.
Ok, I’m now going to get into the nitty-gritty about the trip to San Blas.
Keep in mind that I’m writing this from a 30-year old perspective and I did not want to be on an island with a bunch of drunk 19 year-olds. Based on the online descriptions of the islands, I was expecting a secluded island experience where I’d get to sleep in, listen to the waves, lounge in a beach chair or hammock, read, get day-drunk off of coco loco, and hang out with fellow travellers at night.
We decided to book our trip when we arrived in Panama City. Others we met on the island booked online. We tried to figure out how much this trip actually cost since it seems that for the same lodgings the price was anywhere from $200 to $400 per person for two nights. We were all on the same island, eating the same food and the lodgings were the same (three types: tents, single cabins and dorm cabins).
If you’re planning to go, look into doing a luxury stay at one of the larger islands with private lodges like Yandup Island Lodge or Coral Lodge. I don’t necessarily recommend these places, but we went to a similar island for a visit and it was much more of what I was expecting in terms of amenities on the island (i.e. coco loco $1 drinks, sports equipment, lounge chairs, meal selection, etc.) This is one of those things where you don’t really know what you’re going to get until you’re there.
Now, the trip over land to get to San Blas was insane! Rolling hills/mountains, washed out roads, 4 Runners (some lucky people got Suburbans), and people getting sick. It was crazy, but so much fun! Note: you do NOT want to be stuck in the back seat of a 4Runner for the entire drive, so when your vehicle picks you up, make sure to grab the front seat or middle.
The boat ride from the drop point on the mainland to the islands was indeed a fun ride as well. It was particularly windy that day and we jumped some pretty awesome waves!
The day trips were pretty underwhelming, but we did get to see some cool things like the large sand bar in the middle of the sea, other islands (which had way better amenities than ours), and we got to surf a wave in the boat.
Food and Amenities
Coco Loco – As I mentioned, I really just wanted coco loco which is what is plastered all over the websites for these tours. They are fresh coconuts with a shot of rum for $1. The island we stayed at didn’t offer this, but the island that we visited on a day trip did. I don’t know! Whatever.
Food – Also, I wanted to sleep in. We were woken up at 7 am for breakfast every morning. When I had read the description I thought we could go get breakfast any time between 7 am and 9 am (lunch 11 am to 1 pm, dinner 4 pm to 6 pm), not the case, you eat when the bell rings or you don’t eat.
Hut – The hut was fine, but we had a lot of ants coming in from the previous tenants food, we made sure to keep ours out of the hut.
Sports – Not really, there was an under-inflated volley ball and net, similar basketball situation…we were lucky a friend brought a frisbee.
Beach Comfort – there were two hammocks for the entire island and maybe one bench. Bring your own chair, but don’t bring too much or else it won’t fit in the 4 Runner.
We booked the tranquil island (which was supposed to be called Iguana Island but I don’t think it was…) through Cacique Cruiser for two nights and three days for $205 USD. The staff at CC was really good and it was easy to book. The tranquil island was perfect in terms of the people we got to meet. We met people our age and even a couple in their mid 50s. The people were honestly the best part and we did have fun in the evenings with everyone, especially that night we bought two bottles of rum for the 6 of us (but minus the Kuna guy who wanted to marry me, it got kinda creepy).
To be totally honest with you, I didn’t thoroughly enjoy San Blas. I have no idea if your trip will vary simply based on luck-of-the-draw which is what really disappoints me because you don’t really know what you’re going to get.
Would I recommend it? Probably not. I think there are much nicer (and less expensive) places to see in Panama. For example, where we were just outside of David was incredible and I next time I go I’d like to visit Pedasi and even drive over to Costa Rica for a couple of nights.