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Published: March 31st 2015
The San Blas islands are beautiful. There are 378 islands scattered within the 100 square miles of the archipelago – some are barely big enough to swing a hammock while others are home to hundreds of inhabitants who are of the Kuna tribe. The Kuna are an autonomous indigenous group who run San Blas with minimal interference from the Panamanian national government.We'd been looking forward to visiting the San Blas Islands for quite some time. Even though we were leaving Colombia and headed home towards the US, we were excited.
There's a few ways that you can visit the San Blas Islands. Tourists in Panama can take a tour from there to the islands which are relatively closeby...some of the islands are less than an hour offshore. Most of us backpackers will do it one of two ways though...both with the consistency of travelling through the islands on the way from one country to another - either from Panama to Colombia. Or as we weer doing it from Colombia, through the islands and into Panama.
It was a bit of a drizzly morning as we grabbed a few bits and pieces at the shop and got ready to board
the Darien Gapster. Marcos and Adam were our skippers on the boat trip from Sapzurro, Colombia through the San Blas Islands and to Panama. The Darien Gapster boat was a speed boat which held about twelve of us plus our luggage for the four days. We liked the idea of being on a speed boat versus a sailboat, because we'd essentially spend less time on a boat and more time exploring the islands.
It wasn't too long, maybe a couple of hours out, until we were cruising alongside dolphins. A few had felt interested in us and tagged alongside our boat for a ride. Everyone was enjoying this and it almost seemed like the dolphins were welcoming us to the islands because in the near distance we began to see some islands pop up on the horizon. We began to meet small boats with even smaller passengers - The Kuna are quite short, rivaled in tribal shortness only by the pygmies of Australia apparently.
Our first stop was on one of the main islands where Adam and Marcos 'checked-in' for us all and bought some supplies to spread some around the islands. This was our chance to mingle
a bit while we waited. After a bit of lunch, Sarah and I went for a stroll which ended up getting a bit dramatic when there was a local suicide attempt! One of the Kuna tribesmen had climbed up on top of one of the higher roofs, from a church I think and was threatening to jump. Luckily it was false alarm - the would-be jumper was apparently in a bit of a rut and had been drunk, when he climbed up high and caused the scene. Myself and a few of the other lads played a game of soccer (of course!) with some of the local kids...who we actually found out were about the same age as us, in their late twenties! They really are quite small 😉
Even after the suicide attempt, probably the most dramatic moment was yet to follow. One of the guys on the trip had just been accused of smoking marijuana on the island and he was going to be subject to Kuna court! I couldn't believe this was happening. Looking back it was hilarious but at the time we all just wanted to leave the big island and explore what the San
Blas was really all about. After an hour or so, Marcos managed to work something out and the guy paid a 'bail' fee! Anyway, we were glad to get going to the other islands because of this reason but also another. The one thing that we didn't like about the San Blas Islands was the pollution. Now, it's not as if there's toxic waste or smog or anything....but the main island does have quite a lot of rubbish and plastic scattered across it and especially in the shore waters which is sad. Again, it boils down to a rapidly booming tourist sector accompanied with a lack of waste disposal and lack of education. It's there, on the main island but don't let that spoil your trip because everything else is brilliant!
The crystal clear Caribbean waters and series of islands with powder-white sand and palm trees make for some great photographs - quintessential desert island stuff. We got to see some marine-life as we did some snorkeling one day. We saw a few nurse sharks, loads of fish and some lobster! That night, as we all had fun around the campfire, we enjoyed some of that lobster. A few
of the Kuna tribesmen boiled them up for us. The equivalent of about $5 and we ate like royalty before sipping some rum, swapping stories at the fire and sleeping a great night's sleep on this tiny island.
Waking up the next morning was surreal. We crawled out of our tent and within a few steps we were swimming in the beautiful, clear waters. We spent the morning enjoying the islands and that night we stayed on one of the medium sized islands, where we got to meet one of the big chiefs, and were allowed to step inside a Kuna home. The hut was quite basic of course, but the women were weaving 'Mola' - the traditional costume of a Kuna woman, which also features in a lot of their handcrafts.
On the trip you’ll sleep on the islands, spend two nights in Kuna villages and one night camping on a deserted island. Marcos and Adam has years of experience both in boating and in San Blas and they work closely with the Kuna as you can see they do well do give you a unique opportunity to meet the people as well as experience the pristine
beaches and waters on offer on the islands.
The San Blas Islands really are a slice of paradise. We hope that you get to enjoy them as much as we did.
Next stop Panama.
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