The San Blas Islands in Panama are an archipelago comprising approximately 365 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. They lie off the north coast of the Isthmus of Panama, east of the Panama Canal. A part of the comarca (district) Kuna Yala along the Caribbean coast of Panama, they are home to the Kuna Indians. The area is popular for sailing, as it is known for its beauty and lack of hurricanes.
The San Blas offers a large array of sights. Starting with the fascinating people, incredible seascapes, colorful reefs and islands, to the abundant sea life in its waters and wildlife on the mainland. There are continuous festivals and gatherings occurring at villages that visitors can witness to get a glimpse of the culture. Numerous Kuna villages offer visitors multiple opportunities for various glimpses at the daily lives of the Kuna.
There are currently daily flights from Panama City to El Porvenir via Air Panama. Air Panama also services Achutupu, Corazon de Jesus (Rio Diablo/Nargana), and Playon Chico.
The road into San Blas Kuna Yala is vastly improving and is accessible all year round. A 4x4 vehicle is still recommended. However, a bridge has recently been opened, eliminating the need to cross the river in the vehicle. (Sep. 2010). Currently there are a number of Kuna run tour operators that will pick you up from your hotel or hostel in Panama City and drive you to Carti, which is part of the San Blas Islands (US$25 each way for transportation). Additionally a "road tax" of US$6 is charged in the jungle plus US$2 "tax" upon arrival on the old air strip of Carti (both ways).
There are a number of different boating options if you want to get here to or from Colombia. There are now over 30 vessels operating this route. They vary widely in safety, comfort, and price.
Boats depart regularly from Portobelo, Puerto Lindo, Carti islands and Porvenir.
The larger villages in San Blas have small restaurants with limited menus. Villages also have small grocery stores that sell basic food items and beverages. Ice is very hard to come by in San Blas.
Kuna hotels and lodges typically include meals as part of the stay. Meals usually include locally caught fish, crab and lobster. Available vegetables are typically the basics, tomatoes, carrots, yucca, onions and potatoes. Do not expect a wide variety of foods as the kuna diet is very basic and exposure to western-style foods is highly limited.
Some of the islands have one small bar that caters to the locals and tourists alike. Ice is in short supply. Drinks, including beer and sodas, can be purchased at small stores on some islands.
Water in most villiges is piped directly (unfiltered) from streams on the mainland, and is therefore unsafe as drinking water for tourists. Tourists are advised to bring their own drinking water and drinking receptacles.
There are small and very rustic hotels on some of the islands, and due to the lack of restaurants, they offer all-inclusive meal packages. Also most hotels will include day trips to some of the smaller islands, where they will leave you alone for several hours to snorkel, sunbathe or swim. These Islands offer pristine white sand and crystal clear water, and coconut trees that offer natural shade from the hot sun.
Be aware that all the accommodations are very basic, often simple huts made of sticks as rooms - which is also what the locals live in. You hear your neighbours, you might see them as the walls are a little see-through at night if the lights are on inside, and you share a bathrooms with toilet and shower look alike.
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