Let me first say… this was the best travel experience of my entire life. Despite being a copywriter, very wordy and verbose, it’s really hard to put into words just how wonderful the San Blas Islands are. There are many ways to visit these islands between Panama and Columbia but we chose to push the boat out (there’s a pun in there) and charter a private boat. This was really expensive BUT ultimately so worth it and it made our 5 days very, very special.
A brief history of San Blas (Guna Yala): They are 350+ small islands off the coast of Panama and Columbia. There are indigenous people called Guna who inhabit about 49 of the islands, who originally came from Columbia 100s of years ago, the Guna worship a god named Erragon and their currency used to be coconuts so you’re not allowed to touch any coconuts in San Blas. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty with pristine waters.
We arranged everything via a company called I Travel by Boat who were really helpful and I would recommend them. We booked 4 nights on a private boat which cost about $1500 for two people and they organised travel to and from the boat for us (at an extra cost).
Getting to San Blas from Panama City
We got a taxi to the San Blas port which took about 2.5hrs and cost $50 (return). If you get car sick, be warned, there are some winding roads. San Blas or Guna Yala is an independent state, so you’re actually leaving Panama and you have to show your passport and pay $20 entry. At the port, which is nothing to look at, we waited for our taxi boat which took about 1 hour to take us to our island pick up point, where our captain John (lovely Venezuelan man) took us by dingy to our new boat home.
Living on a boat
I took to boat life so quickly. I adored it. Luckily I’ve never suffered from sea sickness and I felt fine the whole time. The boat was small but as there was only Sinead, the captain and I it never felt cramped. The best part was not having a mirror to look in and not having to wear shoes lol, and also the peace and quiet, the worst part was not having a proper shower – there was a fresh water one off the back but I didn’t have a properrrr wash the whole time. Actually I kinda liked it haha.
Our captain cooked all our meals and we had fresh fish, lobster and meat. He was a great cook. All food and drink was included so we would have a beer or wine with dinner too.
The San Blas Islands
Now, the reason I’m so glad we chose to get a private boat and not do a day trip or get the ‘party boat’ is that we had a truly personal experience. Each day our captain John would dock in between some islands and we would either swim or kayak over to them. We visited the most remote islands and most of the time would be the ONLY people on them. So it was like a true castaway experience… so magical and peaceful. Sometimes we met the Guna people who were very chill and friendly, and a couple of islands also had a handful of tourists on them but mostly it was just us and the sea.
The San Blas wildlife
There were so many animals here, we snorkelled a lot and saw loads of fishes and starfishes galore – giant ones at that. Plus there were pelicans, they were huge and watching them catch fish is epic. We also saw dolphins and stingrays. It was wild.
Final thoughts and tips
I would say 4-5 days is the perfect amount of time to appreciate this stunning part of the world. Lean into the quiet and being present in the moment. Take a hat, the sun is bloody hot. Take a waterproof bag so you can swim with your phone to the islands. Try not to cry when you leave.