San Blas Islands, An Idyllic Place In The Caribbean

San Blas Islands, an idyllic place in the Caribbean

The San Blas or Kuna Yala Islands, in the aboriginal language, are a place in the Caribbean where time seems to have stopped. If someone has in mind to visit a primitive paradise, then they have to travel to this place on the east coast of Panama.

The white sand beaches, the coconut trees and the Guna Indians that inhabit them make the visitor feel that they have not only traveled in space, but also in time.

The San Blas Islands, the most authentic Caribbean

The islands have an airport for domestic flights. In 20 minutes you land from the capital of Panama, a short time for such a long trip, since it is practically a trip to another civilization.

In fact, the San Blas islands are managed by the Guna Indians, the first settlers of this archipelago. They continue to live on coconuts, fishing and now tourism in their territory, since they do not allow foreign companies to establish themselves here.

Beach in the San Blas Islands
Beach on San Blas Island – Hugo Brizard

That is the great charm of these islands. In practice, they are an autonomous province of Panama, so the Guna impose their rules, speak their language, wear their traditional clothes, live in their typical houses and even make tourists pay a toll for staying on their islands. However, including that toll, a vacation to the San Blas Islands is a relatively cheap luxury.

What to do on the island of San Blas

Obviously you can tour the islands of the archipelago. There are 365, so if someone lucky enough to take a gap year, they can visit one each day. Not all of them are inhabited, in fact only between 60 and 80 have inhabitants. Possibly the most interesting are those of Achuputu, Yandup, Kagantapu and Coco Blanco.

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands – DC_Aperture

In all those that offer accommodation, the lodging is in the traditional houses of the Guna. That is, some huts with thatched roofs, sandy floors and bamboo walls.

That is one more of the cultural expressions that are discovered during this trip, since everything in the San Blas Islands is imbued with the ancestral traditions of the Guna Indians. From its cuisine based on fish, shellfish and rice to its handicrafts.

Dress of the Guna Indians
Clothing of the Guna Indians – Rita Willaert /

The Guna are famous for their typical clothes. Of many colors and with decorations of tropical animals that are a good souvenir of the trip. As it is also memorable to attend their dances on the beach or watch them fish in rudimentary but effective canoes, just as they have done for centuries.

Snorkel in the San Blas Islands

Another attraction of this trip is snorkeling to discover the seabed near the islands. Some of the underwater areas that are contemplated are among the oldest coral reefs in the world. It is advisable to take your snorkeling equipment there, because there are not many things on the islands.

You can snorkel but, on the other hand, diving is prohibited. Something that is not an impediment to discovering some very beautiful and unique coral formations, since the cleanliness of these waters is absolute.

Beach in San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands – Michel Piccaya

In addition to your snorkeling equipment, it  is interesting to also take a flashlight, matches, candles, well-charged batteries for electronic devices and cash. Even a food reserve, because on uninhabited islands it is impossible to find it.

Life on the beaches of the San Blas Islands

All the time that you spend in this archipelago of Panama will be either by the sea or submerged in its waters. Life unfolds on the beach. The lodgings are there, the small restaurants where meals are also served, the night parties are held around a bonfire on the sand.

Hut in San Blas Islands
Hut in San Blas Islands – rj lerich

The hours are spent very quietly sunbathing, taking a dip in the most primitive Caribbean, taking photographs of paradisiacal landscapes and seascapes, paddling in the local canoes or making small dives among corals.

In short, knowing the San Blas Islands, or Kuna Yala as its inhabitants like to say, is an unforgettable and unique trip. You will enjoy a natural Eden and an ancestral culture rich and proud of its traditions.

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