Although my main reason for visiting Panama was to study Spanish at the Casco Antiguo Spanish School (read about the experience here), I knew I couldn’t leave without enjoying some of Panamas best activities. Most of the school staff and locals highly encouraged a day trip to the famous Panamanian archipelago, the San Blas Islands. Being Australian, I love the beach, so I was eager to discover what the hype was about.
Location: The San Blas Islands are located on the north coast, Caribbean side of Panama. There are 365 islands within San Blas, 49 are inhabited and owned by the native Guna people, and a handful of the islands are for tourists. San Blas is not a party place with 5-star hotel amenities or chain hotels/restaurants. Instead, the islands are untouched and pure which gives you a deserted island, rustic experience paired with scarce phone signal.
Options: There are MANY different travel options for San Blas depending on your budget and time frame.
Some of the options include:
- Taking a speedboat from Colombia to San Blas over the course of a few days
- You can stay in a cabin or camp in a tent on one particular island for 2-3 nights
- Take the Day trip, where you explore 2-3 islands in 1 day
I opted for the day trip due to time constraints. The day trip that I took with San Blas Dreams was $115 and covers your transport and lunch. However, in addition, you will also have to pay a foreign tourist tax of $22 to the native Guna people upon arrival. *TIP* Bring an abundance of cash as there are no ATMs on the islands.
Here’s how my day trip unfolded to give you an idea of what to expect:
The driver collected me around 5:30 am in an SUV (there were 5 other people in the car) and we drove 2 hours to the port. At one point we had to show our passport to border security as the islands are under Guna rules and laws. Once at the port, we were placed into small speed boats and traveled for another 30-40 minutes to the first island
*TIP* The roads are winding and the boat is choppy so I recommend taking a Dramamine to ease any potential motion sickness.
We first visited Isla Diablo/ Devil Island. It was a picturesque island with soft sand and clear water but it was a little too rocky and the crowds were picking up. They do offer a bar where you’re able to purchase drinks from $1-5 at the bar and lunch is served here as well. *TIP* Packing some extra strong repellent for this trip is also a great idea as I came back covered in mosquito bites!
After 2 hours we were transported to Isla Chichime. It was practically empty, the water was like a warm bath and there was an abundance of hammocks. I definitely preferred Chichime to Diablo.
We enjoyed the water for 1 hour before heading over to Piscina natural, which is a sandbar in the middle of the sea and is also where we spotted some starfish. Once you visit 2 islands and the natural pool, the tour guides take you back to the port.
Even though the day tour will feel slightly rushed at times and you’ll spend more time traveling than you do enjoying the beach, it is a phenomenal experience and worth the effort. If I was to do it again, I’d opt to stay for the entire weekend on Isla Chichime in a hammock with a coconut.
The San Blas Islands are a truly unique Panama experience and despite the long travel time, it is worth it!