With over 350 islands in the Caribbean Sea, many say that a trip to Panama is not complete without a visit to San Blas (also known as Guna Yala). Rather than boutique hotels and shops, you’ll find simplicity and natural beauty here.
San Blas is surrounded by crystal clear water and stretches of sandy beaches, with small huts for shelter. It’s the perfect place to get away from daily stresses and get back in touch with all that nature has to offer.
Here are some tips to help when visiting San Blas in Panama!
To get to San Blas, you have four options; you can fly from Panama straight to the islands, take a sailboat from Cartagena, take a speedboat from Capurgana, or take the bus from Panama City. The two most popular options are to travel from Cartagena or Panama.
There are over 50 sailboats that will take you to San Blas. If you decide to do this, the average trips last about 5 days (2 days spent sailing).
The waters can be extremely rough when sailing due to the wind. You will also spend less time on the islands because of the days of travel. Keep this in mind when booking! Plan out an itinerary and how many days you want to experience the islands.
I went for a day trip and felt that my time was too short, so I would recommend at least a 1 or 2-night trip.
Know Before You Go
San Blas isn’t your typical vacation spot. Electricity is limited and often times you’ll find that the only light source is the night sky.
Be prepared to live off the land. Many of the locals catch fresh food on a daily basis, especially lobster. If you’re one to snorkel, San Blas is the spot for you.
Underneath the surface of the water, you’ll find colorful reef and plenty of sea life.
When to Go
Much like many other tropical spots, spring and summer are the best seasons to visit. December to March is considered the windy season.
This means rocky water and a rocky boat ride between the islands. The islands are surrounded by calm waters due to the reef.
From April to November, you’ll experience sunny skies and warm water perfect for swimming.
Where to Stay
There’s a good chance that the lodging you find is going to be extremely simple as this region is a bit more remote and doesn’t accommodate hoards of tourists (this is a good thing!). Many of the hotels include a bed, a toilet, a sink, and that’s about it.
You can find both hotels and Airbnbs for as low as $30 USD a night. Just keep in mind that it might be a simple accommodation experience, so go into it with an open mind.
Check Out the Sea Stars
As you explore the islands, you will find starfish everywhere. While they are beautiful, there’s some etiquette to keep in mind when handling them.
First and foremost, please wear reef-safe sunscreen. There are tons of chemicals in generic sunscreen, and we want to keep our oceans clean and their critters healthy!
Absolutely do NOT lift them out of the water. The ocean is their home. As I’ve gotten more educated on the sensitivities of sea stars, I wish I had not even touched them in the first place. I encourage you to refrain from touching them. However, if you decide to pick one up, please leave it entirely under the sea and put it back exactly where you found it.
They’re such delicate creatures and serious damage can be done if you’re not careful.
If you’re looking for a vacation spot that’s off the beaten path (we’re talking, not even on Google Maps), then San Blas is the place for you. With crystal clear water, delicious seafood, and a tribe of people who are fiercely passionate about their culture, San Blas is a great travel destination.