A string of 378 tiny islands dotted along Panama’s northwest coast, the San Blas Islands offer a welcome change of pace from the mainland. This region provides everything you’d expect from a Caribbean paradise: coconut palms, white sand beaches, azure waters, and a complete absence of electricity, tourist resorts, and stress.
Though multi-day island-hopping tours allow plenty of time to explore the islands, you can also take a day trip from Panama City. Day tours typically include round-trip transport from Panama City, a speedboat cruise to the islands, and lunch on one of the islands. It’s possible to visit up to three of the islands in one day, including popular stops such as Fragata island, Perro island, and the Natural Pool.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Accommodations, food, and facilities on the islands are very basic. If you stay overnight, expect to sleep in a simple cabin, tent, or hammock, without electricity, Wi-Fi, or running water.
- Bring everything you need with you to the islands, including water, cash, sunscreen, and your swimsuit.
- The islands are an autonomous region, and visitors to the islands must carry their passport.
- The main language spoken on the islands is Tulekaya, but you will be able to get by in Spanish and English.
How to Get There
It’s possible to reach the San Blas Islands by boat from Panama or from Cartagena, Colombia. Another option is to fly; small planes depart from Panama City to El Porvenir, where water taxis leave for the other islands. To travel by boat, the easiest option is to join an island-hopping tour from Panama City, including round-trip transfers to the port at Puerto Cartí and a speedboat to the islands.
When to Get There
San Blas is a year-round destination. From December to March, sea winds pick up, however, making island-hopping uncomfortable for those who suffer from seasickness. From June to November, expect frequent rains, but don’t let that stop you from visiting the showers typically only last an hour before the sun comes out.
The Kuna people
The San Blas Islands belong to the indigenous Kuna people. The Kuna fiercely adhere to their ancestral traditions and live off the earth, eating homegrown produce and fish, sleeping in simple huts, and creating traditional crafts such as baskets and colorful blouses (molas). The islands make up one of the few regions in Panama that have not been westernized, with no foreign-owned businesses and few tourist amenities.