One of the most idyllic sailing destinations on earth is the San Blas Islands, as it is both a luxuriant cruising ground, and populated by one of the most fascinating people on earth, the Kuna Indians. So why aren't more sailors there? Because it is situated between Colombia and Panama in the Caribbean, and, lacking nearby charter bases, it has always been difficult to sail to - until now.
Typical San Blas Island - there are over 300 - BW Media
The San Blas islands are a bit of unspoiled paradise. The islands - there are over 300 of them, are never more than a metre above the sea, and, sadly, some of them have already disappeared with rising water levels. Snorkeling is excellent with pristine water, some lovely unbleached coral and lots of fish, and the beaches are shell-filled and unspoilt.
As for the inhabitants, the Kuna Indians are one of the few small civilisations that have successfully resisted the incursions of the modern world into their culture, they are both fascinating and welcoming to visit.
Mola maker and her wares - BW Media
The women, who wear traditional beading to cover their arms and legs almost entirely, also often wear the family capital in the form of gold around their neck, in their ears or in their nose.
By arrangement with the local elders it is possible to visit the villages of the Kuna Indians, or to explore the jungle on the mainland.
San Blas Island Village scene - BW Media
The traditional dress of the Kuna Indian women is oriented around the 'Mola' - a bodice of intricate layers of finely sewn cloth, and in a brilliant array of colours. The traditional designs are meaninful, and young girls and, where there is no girl in a family, a designated young man, make the molas for the village. Now they are highly prized as wall hangings or cusion covers by the few tourists who visit the islands, and are also sold increasingly in Panama tourist shops.
Master Mola Maker Venancio and his molas - BW Media
To sail to the San Blas from the mainland, for around US$275 (boats are independently operated) you will get to sail with a skipper/owner, spending a few days snorkelling and swimming and visiting with the traditional Kuna Indians, before sailing on to Cartagena in Colombia, also one of the most fascinating and little visited cities in South America.
These are not sophisticated operations, and boats don't always travel to a strict schedule. If you wish to experience this wonderful part of the world, you will have to relax, and wait for it to happen when it happens. You can book them through the Mamallenapa Hotel in Panama City by emailing them on mamallenapa [at] yahoo.com Here is a random selection of the boats, with personal messages by their Skipper/Owners:
Mieldre - .. .
Boat name: Mieldre. Captain: Jimi.
My name is Jimi, I have been sailing for 15 years around the world, and have been sailing to Cartagena/Panama for 3 years. You want to have fun, relaxation, and security. We leave from Portobelo to San Blas for 2 days, and then to Cartagena 2 days more. All this in a 38' Rival in perfect condition. I speak English, Dutch, French , Italian and German.
Price: $275.00 per person including meals and documentation. For more info or booking, phone: (507) 6676 6163 or email.
Andromeda - .. .
Boat name: Andromeda. Captain: Rafael Salazar.
Andromeda is a 33 foot sailing cruiser, very secure and sails beautifully. We offer seriousness, respect, in an ambience of good humor and the desire of having a good time together. Spend 2 days in San Blas, beautiful beaches, cooking with the Kuna People in Chichime and having lots of fun! 2 days sailing from San Blas to Cartagena, a great experience of the deep blue! We often encounter dolphins, flying fish and shooting stars. Price is $275.00. We provide food, ice and a boat ready to sail. For more info or booking, phone: (507) 6676 6163 or email.
Da Capo - .. .
Boat name: Da Capo. Captain: Mats.
Da Capo, 36 ft, has six bunks in three separate compartments. She is a Najad 360, a Swedish built high quality yacht, well maintained, safe and comfortable. We start from Portobelo or Porvenir, stay one more day in San Blas for snorkeling and/or visiting a Kuna Village, and then sail to Cartagena as quick as possible. Price $275. For more info or booking, phone: (507) 6676 6163 or email.
Good Karma - .. .
Boat name: Good Karma. captain: Duncan.
Sail aboard a legendary bluewater cruiser/racer, the Contessa 32 Good Karma. If you are interested to casually learn sailing, Captain is US Sailing Instructor. We sail from Portobelo, spend two days and nights meeting the locals, swimming, snorkeling, spearfishing, surfing, sleeping, and otherwise enjoying the beautiful San Blas Islands, and then sail to Cartagena. Trips coming the other way are also available. Cost is $275 per person, food and immigration fees are included. Room for 5 passengers. For more info or booking, phone: (507) 6676 6163 or email.
Seeadler - .. .
Boat name: SEEADLER. Capitan: GUIDO.
Seeadler is a 50 feet 2 masted sailingship with all comfort and safety equipment for highsea navigation. We offer a safe passage from Panama to Cartagena including 2 days in San Blas Islands with swimming, snorkeling, fishing and beach parties with bbq, Excellent food and a lot of fun !!! Cost is $275.00 per person, including all food, tea, coffee, water and clearance fees. For more info or booking, phone: (507) 6676 6163 or email.