San Blas, also known as Guna Yala, is an archipelago consisting of many small tropical islands, and it is located in the northwest of Panama on the Caribbean coast. San Blas is what we call the embodiment of paradise and a true dream destination offering countless tiny paradise islands to explore, very friendly locals, and an amazing underwater world.
It was a dream come true for us to go on our first sailing trip with I Travel by Boat, and we have to admit we got hooked by the sailing life.
In this blog post, we share everything you need to know about visiting San Blas and five reasons you will love sailing these paradise islands.
Best time to visit San Blas
The dry season in San Blas runs from January to May, which means less rain but most possibly more visitors. We chose to visit San Blas in the rainy season in November. The weather was a mix of clouds and sunshine, and we had a bit of rain in the first two days, which usually did not last long. So this means you can visit San Blas all year round and enjoy some sun. The dry season has stronger wind, which can be great for sailing but can affect the water clarity for those who come for snorkeling.
How to get to San Blas
You can either get to San Blas by car and boat or by flight. We recommend booking a night accommodation in Panama city before and after your trip. When you book your trip to San Blas, your accommodation or sailing company will help arrange transportation from Panama City, which is the easiest way to get there. Usually, this transportation is by 4×4 car and boat. However, there is an option of flying but it’s the more expensive way to get to San Blas because it’s a private charter for 1200 USD (for 2 guests) or 2500 USD (for 3 to 8 guests) roundtrip. Air Panama does not offer flights to San Blas anymore.
We had a hotel pick-up in Casco Viejo organized by our sailing charter, and it all went very smoothly. Pick-up was at 5 am, and the taxi ride took around 2.5 hours to the Linton Bay Marina, where we got picked up by a boat taxi which brought us to the sailing boat.
Choose how you want to stay in San Blas
We chose sailing with I Travel by Boat and are very happy we did. Estefania made our experience unforgettable; the whole trip was very well organized and relaxed. The company works with experienced sailors that know the area and the local people very well. The main reason why we chose this company is that they aim to work with boats that have the most positive impact on the social environment while having the least negative impact on the natural environment. For example, boats are using solar power, and they prepared delicious fully vegan meals for us everyday. Continue reading why you will love sailing San Blas Islands in Panama.
5 reasons why you will love sailing San Blas
The freedom of getting around to explore the Islands
The main reason why we chose a sailing trip instead of staying on a local island is the freedom to move around and explore more. We got to visit 2-3 different islands per day, which allowed us to fully experience the beauty of San Blas. Our sailing trip was four days which is the duration we would recommend. And still, there are so many more islands to see.
Snorkeling to experience the underwater world
Not all good snorkeling sites are very close to the shore of the islands. So staying on a sailboat, first of all, gives you the opportunity that the crew knows the best snorkeling spots, and each ship has a small boat called a Dinghy so they can drop you at any island and snorkeling site you want to explore.
We snorkeled at a reef and saw healthy corals and many colorful fishes. Also, we got to snorkel and dive at a very cool shipwreck. The sailboats are equipped with snorkeling gear, so you don’t need to bring your own.
Since Scuba Diving is not allowed in San Blas, snorkeling is the way to explore the underwater world. This paradise is home to Stingrays, Nurse Sharks, Dolphins, Starfish, and of course, many types of beautiful tropical fishes.
Time to relax and have fun on the boat
We loved spending time on the boat as well. We watched every sunrise and sunset from the boat, did meditations, and chilled in the hammocks to read a book.
Besides, it was a lot of fun to jump from the boat and swim wherever we wanted. Sometimes, it was hard to resist the blue and clear water that surrounded us, so we spent a lot of time swimming when the boat was anchored.
One of the things we appreciate most about our travels is the amazing people we meet along the way. We had such a great time with the crew on the boat and even had a sailing dog.
The crew cooked delicious vegan meals for us three times a day, they organized a movie night with popcorn on Haloween, a sunset picnic, and we had many good chats together. Not to forget the best Pina Coladas we ever had! Cheers to new friendships.
The sailing life
We wanted to experience living on a sailboat for a long time, so sailing San Blas was a big dream come true for us. Honestly, it was even better than we imagined. The freedom that comes with it is what we love most about it. It feels like Vanlife but in the Ocean, and that’s our two favorite things!
The sailing life is living in a tiny space, which we like a lot – running on solar power and learning to be smart about your water consumption. Things we know well from living in the bus. But in addition, comes that you have to be very organized and smart with the food because you can’t just stop at any grocery store to stock up. It was inspiring for us to see and learn new things again.
People and Culture of Guna Yala
The indigenous Guna people inhabit the San Blas islands, and they call their home Guna Yala. San Blas was the name that the Panamanian government gave, but in 2011 the Guna’s gained some rights from the government and thereby changed its name. Both names are used today.
The Guna people mainly survive by fishing and harvesting fruits, especially coconuts. They also create art on their clothes that they call Molas. The beautiful designs come from body painting but today they are worn as clothes by the Guna women. You can buy their art while visiting San Blas. They make some useful things such as wine coolers or oven gloves with the application.
Molas are hand-made using a reverse technique. Several layers (usually 2-7) of different colored cloth are sewn together the design is then formed by cutting out parts of each layer. We learned that many of the pictures on the Molas have a story behind them.
The main language spoken by the Guna peope is “Guna” but they also tend to speak Spanish and some of them who have been in contact with tourists speak English.
Budget for a sailing trip in San Blas
Visiting San Blas Islands is not a budget trip. Even though the accommodations on the Islands are basic they are not cheap. That’s one more reason why we think sailing was the better option. Here is a summary of how much a sailing trip in San Blas costs approximately:
- 4×4 Car Taxi return trip: 50 USD per Person
- Boat Taxi return trip: 70 USD per Person
- Fee for Guna Yala Indigenous Reserve: 22 USD per Person
- Sailing boat per night: 500 – 1’000 USD per night (depending on size and style of the boat)
When you book your sailing trip with I Travel by Boat, the following is inclusive in the price per night: captain and cook, private double cabin, all meals, all drinks (alcohol in limited quantities), snorkeling equipment.
Don’t forget your hotel in Panama City before and after your trip. We paid 65 USD per night (there are cheaper options in the city, of course, but we wanted to stay in the historic part called Casco Viejo, this was our accommodation and we can recommend it).
Don’t expect a good Internet connection when visiting San Blas, but we guarantee you, you won’t need and miss it.
The currency used in Panama is US-Dollar, and all prices are in USD. Make sure you bring some cash to your trip to San Blas in case you want to buy something handmade by the local women or some drinks on an island.
San Blas is a paradise of natural beauty. Please keep the Islands clean when you visit. We prefer not to bring any plastic at all; read more about how to travel plastic-free here. If you have some snacks or other items in plastic packaging, please take the trash back with you. The local people and nature are suffering from plastic pollution, and we have to help them keep their beautiful homes clean.
We had a wonderful experience in San Blas. The only thing we wished for was that we could stay longer. We fell in love with those islands and the culture. What we liked most about our trip to San Blas is that it was a very authentic experience and how raw this paradise still feels. There are no giant constructions of hotels and resorts that are destroying the beauty of the islands like in many other places of the Caribbean. The indigenous people still live the way they used to, and they managed to keep the natural beauty of their small, picturesque islands. We will be back in San Blas to explore more of this paradise.