How to Enjoy Panama’s San Blas Islands

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Caribbean islands have always been the places of magic in the hearts and imagination of traveler, or would-be travelers all over the world. For Panama, the Caribbean is also something special, as it hosts half of the country’s coastline, and has a large variety of cultural heritage and historic influence. Amongst the most sought after places to visit on the Caribbean side of Panama are the San Blas Islands (or Guna Yala in their native name). San Blas is an archipelago that has around 400 small islands that hug the eastern Caribbean coast of Panama, all the way to the Colombian border. San Blas is protected indigenous territory, and is populated nearly exclusively by the Kuna tribe.

Although it’s semi-autonomous indigenous territory, San Blas has opened up to some incredible (and culturally conscious) tourist opportunities. It’s a place to go if you want to be off the grid, in crystal blue waters, and with a culture and customs as rich and fascinating as any in the hemisphere.

San Blas Islands


What to do in San Blas

First off, if you’re looking for all-inclusive resorts, jet skiing, bars, and air conditioning, San Blas is not for you. This is a nearly unchanged, untouched by modern society group of islands, and people that both live and visit there love it that way. The most popular things for visitors to do in San Blas, apart from laying in the sun and sand is to sail, canoe, and explore the area by water. You can spend a day, ora week hopping island to island, seeing exotic animals, snorkeling, eating local fish dishes, and even hiking.

Sailing tours offer anywhere from day trips to 5-day Panama/Colombia trips, and will take you through the entire archipelago, with food and drinks typically included in the price. You can find all types of boats and sizes, and each will typically let you off at a number of islands to explore, and enjoy the pristine, untouched beaches. You can also go to a few select eco hotels, where you can live like a local, and learn more about the rich flora and fauna that populates the area. Local Kuna are very welcoming people, but also expect visitors to abide by their rules and customs, and to be respectful. You’ll find that electricity is rare in the area, and places that have it use it sparingly at night, and try to keep electrical cosumption at a bare minimum. Also, keep in mind, there are no ATMs in San Blas, so bring plenty of cash beforehand.

How to get to San Blas

The most efficient way to get to San Blas from Panama City is to fly to the area’s principle port, Porvenir. The flight takes about 40 minutes in a small plane, and from Porvenir you can access the islands via a number of different types of boats. If you don’t fly, you can either hire a car service or drive. Car services are typically done in large 4×4 vehicles, shared, costing about $50-$75 each way. They leave at about 5am from the city, and head back around 4pm. We recommend avoiding driving yourself, as the roads near to the islands are not well maintained and are in a densely jungled part of the country. If you must drive, make sure to use a big 4×4 car or truck.

About Manoj Chatlani

Manoj Chatlani is a Senior Partner at POLS Attorneys, a full-service law firm in Panama City, Panama. Specializing in offshore services, including asset protection, estate planning, offshore banking, and offshore corporations, as well as Panama immigration and real estate transactions, POLS Attorneys offers clients a streamlined solution to all their Panama legal needs. Manoj is a Panamanian lawyer and holds a law degree from USMA and earned a Masters in Communication Law and Panama Tax law.

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