San Blas 1 Day Adventure
Real Deal Team Personal Experience in San Blas Islands, Panama
If you follow our blog, you already know that as Real Deal Team members we are required to report back on our adventures so that you the reader, and our team can learn first hand about the places we are visiting and adventures we are bringing to you. When given the opportunity to visit the San Blas Islands, I absolutely jumped at the chance. While I thoroughly loved the history, culture, and intricate politics of Panama City, I was excited for a chance to explore the remote Kuna Yala Comarca (or district). To better understand what makes this area of Panama so interesting, it is important to reflect on the history of the Kuna Yala people.
A Brief History of Panama's Indigenous Kuna Yala (AKA Guna Yala)
Once the Spanish conquistadors arrived to Central America, they drove the indigenous tribes from their homes on Panama proper. The Kuna Yala scattered to the approximately 360 islands that make up the San Blas islands (which are East of the Panama Canal). With dense jungles and white sandy beaches, only about 50 of those 360 islands are inhabited today. The Kuna Yala worship a god named Erragon, who they believe died specifically for them. They wear little clothing, and are known for the intricate “molas” that they create. Originally the Mola designs were very intricate colorful patterns and designs hand-stitched over many hours, but today's patterns traditionally represent animal figures that are more appealing to tourists. These incredible pieces of art are still created today, and make for a wonderful souvenir to bring back home. You may also note that in recent years the Kuna Yala are called Guna Yala. This is because the letter G actually is closer to the sound they would use to describe their tribe in their own language, so they have officially changed it. Quick Panama fun fact for you!
The Kuna Yala are kind, helpful & humble people. They have done an amazing job of maintaining their own culture while adapting to the changes that society, specifically tourism, have brought to Panama. After visiting a Embera-Wounaan tribe on our Monkey Island and Indian Village Combo Tour, I was fascinated by the indigenous cultures in Panama and wanted to see and learn more.
My Personal San Blas One Day Tour Experience
An early morning departure is imperative as the traffic in Panama City is completely unpredictable (Actually, in Panama City you can pretty much count on something to cause a back-up). Our guide picked us up at 5:00 am and we made a quick stop at the local grocery store before heading out as we wanted to pick up bottled water and snacks for the road. Our 4x4 van was air-conditioned and comfortable, with lots of room for suitcases on top. The family I was on the tour with would be staying on a sailboat several days out by the islands, so they had more luggage which fit easily on top of our luggage rack.
You may have wondered why you were being driven in a 4x4 vehicle? Well let's just say the road once you enter the Kuna Yala Comarca is not for the faint of heart. Prepare for the bumps and twists similar to that of any amusement park roller coaster. I also recommend not eating a big breakfast if you get car sick easily. The little boy who I traveled with did get sick, and our guide was kind enough to pull over and let him catch some air before we continued on towards where the boat would pick us up.
For as windy and bumpy as the road is, it is completely worth it once you arrive to the San Blas Islands. A small lancha took me away from the coastline (after a 30 minute wait in a shaded are with simple bathrooms to use) and towards the most stunning beaches I had ever seen. I could not take enough pictures of these pristine islands without a single tourist littering their white sandy beaches. What a sight! For beach lovers who really want to get away from all the noise of the city and feel connected with nature, the San Blas Islands are absolutely for you! In fact, this is not a destination for anyone expecting 4 star service or any of the simple amenities available in the city, but once there, I doubt you will care.
Once we arrived to “La Isla Diabla” (with two tire swings welcoming me to play or relax in the nearby hammock), I was able to change and leave my belongings safely at the one restaurant on the small island. After a delicious meal of cooked fish, rice, salad, and pineapple (refreshments and beers available for purchase) we were taken by boat to “La Piscina de las Estrellas” (the pool of the stars). There are no words to describe the beauty of this place. Try to imagine a very shallow pool in the middle of the ocean with crystal clear water and soft sand for you to walk along. THIS is the Pool of the Stars and it is incredibly surreal. We hopped out of the boat and were amazed that in the middle of the ocean the water only came up to our knees. Our friendly guides dove into the water around the “pool” and brought up starfish for us to hold. This place is truly majestic and must be experienced in person to fully understand.
Afterwards we went to “La Isla Fragata” (the Island of the frigate) which has tons of tide pools you can walk in and and plenty of shady spots to relax and enjoy the sights. Our final stop was more of a “party” island with a small bar made from palm trees where I bought an ice cold beer and reflected on the day with a new Brazilian friend I’d met on the tour. He was flying out that evening, but could not miss out on the chance to see the San Blas Islands. We took a boat back to where we had been dropped off originally, and our transportation was there waiting to take us back to Panama City. Luckily for my friend, our kind driver agreed to drop him off at the airport and he was able to catch his evening flight. Traffic is tough pretty much anytime in the afternoon after 3 p.m., so this friend was very fortunate indeed to catch his flight!
All is all, San Blas Islands was one of my favorite adventures in Panama. The untouched nature and raw beauty set it apart from any other tour in Panama I had experienced. It was laid back, relaxed, and I felt completely at ease the entire time. For those who don’t need to follow a strict itinerary and do not need 5 star accommodations, I highly recommend the San Blas Islands.