San Blas Islands

San Blas islands

A Date With The Kuna Tribe

I could feel the warmth of the sand as it crumbled softly between my toes. Gazing out at a tiny island with one lone palm tree sat on the horizon, I took a deep sign, as the sound of the conche horn gently blew behind me, signalling us for dinner. I was truly in paradise…

Just hours before, I had been watching pelicans dive into the crystal waters, looking for their evening meal, whilst listening to the squeals of the only other girls on the island as they had found starfish in the water. All this whilst waiting for our hosts in their wooden boat to collect us, after they had gone searching for lobsters to feed us that evening.

And to top it all off, I had only been on these islands for two days, and already I was getting an amazing tan!

San Blas islands.

Deserted as the boat leaves us.

San Blas Islands

Pelican Island

San Blas islands

So, where can you find this piece of paradise?

Off the coast of Panama, and as far as the coast of Colombia where you can take the stunning border crossing between the two, and visit these amazing islands during your three to five day trip.

Tourism has been here since 1970’s when people used to sail and stop on the islands. Then slowly but surely the residents of Panama came to visit to see what the fuss was all about. And then us… the tourists, and the road from Panama City to Carti, the gateway to the islands was built.

I was staying on Inas island, hosted by Ricardo and Arcardo, two Kuna brothers who thankfully for me and the other guests had opened their island and beach cabanas to the public. Although from the outside, tourism may look as though it benefits the Kuna tribe, which in monetary value it does, there is another side to the tourism here. One which Ricardo and Arcardo are very open about.

San Blas islands

They say that they have had to adapt to tourism and learn how to work differently and develop business skills.

“it’s hard work,” says Ricardo. Not only is Spanish not their first language but now there is competition between the islanders as they see others renting out their cabanas and choose to do the same.

On the island, the Kuna’s live on one side and they host tourists on the other. You’ll see many of the older women wearing traditional colourful dress, but taking photos of them is not permitted (unless you buy something and they agree to having their picture taken).

San Blas islands

San Blas islands

They lead a simple way of life, with no flushing toilets and a generator on the island producing electricity before a certain hour. The giant 5 litres water bottles which tourists bring onto the island sit in a pile as Ricardo admits they don’t know how to dispose of them.

San Blas islands

Ricardo talking to the group.

Ricardo is worried that their traditional way of life will eventually die out as the young ones begin to desire a different, more modern way of life with easier access to the city now the road is there.

“They seem more interested in mobile phones than fishing,” he says sadly.

After experiencing their warm hospitality in a place which can only be described as pure paradise, I can only hope that the Kuna tribe remain sustainable and keep their traditional way of life for many generations to come…

San Blas islands

Information

I stayed at El Machico Hostel who organised my two night trip for me. The hostel was really clean and safe. There are packages that take you there but the main cost is the transport there and back to Panama City. Once you arrive on the islands, it can be as cheap as $20 a night in a dorm room with 3 meals included, which is normally fresh fish every night.

Jeep/car to the port = $35 return
Water taxi = $25 return
Tourism taxes = $15
Island fee = $20

Accommodation varies in cost. Here's some information to help you choose where to stay.

San Blas islands. A beach cabana.

A beach cabana.

San Blas islands

The restaurant for all our meals.

San Blas islands

A hostel dorm room on the island.

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