San Blas Islands, Guna Yala

The Archipelago around Panama 1.

We very much enjoyed the bit of time we spent on these islands. It was totally worth sailing over here to get a glimpse of this wonderful archipelago. The kids had been looking forward to meeting the local Kuna people.

They inhabit some of the 387 islands of the archipelago. The Kuna people, about 40 thousand of them, live on the islands of San Blas and on the mainland as well, somewhat independently from Panama. They have preserved their cultural heritage up till today, many of them still wear folk costumes with vivid colors, often depicting animal or floral patterns. The women wear colorful, mostly orange, beaded bracelets on their arms and ankles. Supposedly they keep the bad mood away. The Kuna earn their living from fishing and tourism. There is practically speaking no electricity or water on the islands, so they collect rainwater and ask the passing sailboaters to charge their phones. Here and there you can spot a solar panel.

When we arrived, they asked us for water, as well. They came in traditional wooden and modern fiberglass canoes. Every boat offered a different selection of goods: fish, lobsters, octopus, but they were also selling clothes and bracelets. They asked us for painkiller pills against headaches, and later notebooks for children. We bought some bananas and limes from them in return. It felt good to be able to help them out.

The very first canoe which came up to our boat was selling lobsters. They wanted to know our names and where we came from. When they heard we were from Hungary, one of them cried out: „My good friend, Janos is Hungarian, too.” Sounded quite surreal!

You need to be cautious when trying to find a spot to drop the anchor because of the coral reefs. It’s best to keep ample distance, so if the wind changes the boat doesn’t get pushed onto the reef. During the rainy season there is a minor storm almost every night, but the wind clears it out by the morning.

On our first night there we also had heavy winds and tons of rain. It came in handy – we thought – gave a good wash to the boat. Only in the morning did we notice that the door to the sail storage had remained halfway open. We were pretty angry with ourselves for this rooky mistake. Luckily, most of the stuff stayed dry, only the ones on top got somewhat soaked.

The flora and fauna on these islands and underwater is like a dream! However, there are loads of tiny, almost invisible insects which drove us away from the uninhabited islands fairly quickly. For days afterwards we looked like someone who had just had the chickenpox.

When you looked over to the mainland, you could see the blue contour of the mountain ranges. In front of them the deep blue of the sea and the almost transparent – in the lagoons turquoise – water with the white sand in the background. This crystal clear water was framed alongside the island by the lush green vegetation. We discovered a fantastic starfish colony in a shallow part.  We swam with turtles and rays. Even spotted a small shark swimming near our boat. There were lots of birds singing on these islands all around. The palm trees gracefully bowed down to the sea just like on the postcards.  We loved every minutes of San Blas, a true paradise on earth.