Weekend in Panama – A Day in San Blas Paradise
On my second day in Panama City, I wake up at 4:30 am, fill up my water, fry an egg, and cut up a fruit. I reluctantly swallow my breakfast, then stagger down the stairs of my hostel in the twilight hours to catch a jeep to the coast. I am not a morning person, but travel brings a completely different set of standards. Still, the struggle comes with early mornings.
I had spent hours researching how to spend a weekend in Panama City, and narrowed my 3 days down to roaming around the city, visiting a friend doing research in the canal, and today’s activity: visiting the paradise that is San Blas on a day tour. After countless hours of research I had narrowed it down to one tour company that fit within my budget and included transportation and lunch. The tour company I used was Cacique Cruises. While it may seem pricey to a shoestring budget traveler, I promise you it is worth it. I skimped on everything else I did on this trip, just to afford this splurge.
After 4 excruciating hours of rough terrain and nauseating driving, we arrive at a dock and pile into a boat. I have ridden in buses falling apart down winding rocky roads for hours, but this is the first time I have ever felt car sick. I would actually consider flying to the Caribbean coast should we ever travel to these islands again from Panama City. Regardless of the journey there, words can literally not describe what I saw that day, so I’ll share a few pictures instead.
You absolutely must go see for yourself. San Blas is a paradise, more than 365 islands of pristine beauty, gorgeous clear and bright blue water, bright white sand dotted with tropical trees, and the kindest people who make the most delicious food. As a very broke intern, I could only afford to spend the day there, but its beauty still haunts me in my travel dreams and I long to return.
San Blas is known formally in the local language as Guna Yala; it was actually changed to this by the Panamanian government in 2011, finally recognizing the request of the Kuna people. The archipelago and Caribbean coast is home to the Kuna people and still under native control as an indigenous province. There is an additional passport check at the border of the Guna Yala territory on your way to the coast plus an additional fee of around $20, and passing through this checkpoint was the first time I had seen indigenous sovereignty in this way.
Most packages to visit the San Blas Islands will include round trip transportation to and from your hotel in Panama City. You will take a 4×4 vehicle two hours to the coast, then take a boat to your island or the first stop on your island tour. You can, however arrange your own transportation and even fly in to the islands. The main airport is in Porvenir, though there are a few others around the islands as well.
Need help budgeting for your trip? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Budgeting for Travel
Looking for things to do in Panama City? Read this post for tips on how to spend a day in the city!