Panama is fast becoming one of the top travel destinations in the world. With the exception of Costa Rica, the country is substantially more advanced in terms of infrastructure and tourism amenities than it’s northern Central American cousins and it’s blessed with two long coastlines, one on the Pacific Ocean and the other bordering the Caribbean Sea. With all this prosperity it’s hard to imagine areas in Panama that have yet to be discovered by the masses; one such location, however, is an archipelago composed of approximately 378 islands off the northern coast: the San Blas Islands.
The San Blas Islands are one of the most beautiful attractions in all of Central America and most of its 378 islands are uninhabited with only palm trees and white sand beaches. Although the islands are about six hours away from Panama City, it is really worth the travel! There are no luxurious accommodations on any of the islands but to a large extent, the very fact it is untouched by any modern trappings adds it its allure. The best snorkelling and scuba diving here is in April to June although the conditions are great all year round and the islands lie outside the hurricane zone. You don’t have to don a set of fins and a snorkel to enjoy what the ocean has to offer either, thanks to the clean, crystal clear water you can merely stand in the shallows and watch schools of fish speeding by.
The only permanent inhabitants of the islands are the Kuna tribe; a peaceful and welcoming people, the Kuna tribe have lived here for centuries after retreating from the mainland at the time of the Spanish invasion centuries ago. Each of the islands is governed as its own province, with a state of government on each individual island and largely detached from regular Panamanian life. The Kuna tribe’s economy runs off agriculture, fishing and tourism and the tribe are incredibly welcoming to tourists although very protective of their land, and understandably so.
As mentioned, the accommodations on the island are modest and are run with strong ecotourism principles “take only pictures, leave only footprints”. Although you can fly to the islands, we recommend taking a sailing boat, not only to adhere to the non-impactful philosophy but to accentuate the experience; there is a lot to be said about setting sail from the mainland with the wind in your hair and watching the islands appear on the horizon on your approach. Stay a day or stay a week, the choice is yours, but take the time to appreciate life without a mobile phone or a computer, take long walks on the beach without a care in the world and let the stress of everyday life melt away in this island paradise.