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The San Blas Islands: Panama’s Paradise

A great Panama itinerary is simply incomplete without a trip to the San Blas Islands. These 365 magical islands off the coast of Panama are lined with coconut trees, small bungalows, and surrounded by beautiful Caribbean waters and their marine life. Come here and snorkel, eat fresh seafood, learn about the indigenous Kuna people and their Molas artwork, play volleyball and soccer, or just relax on the many beautiful beaches.

The San Blas Islands are technically the Guna Yala Islands, named after the indigenous Guna people, (who are also referred to as the Kuna). The Kuna people and the San Blas Islands are not technically part of Panama, as they gained independence from Panama in 1925. There are currently 62,000 Kuna people spread out along the San Blas Islands and their territory on the mainland. You’ll certainly learn about the Kuna people and their islands if you opt in for one of the amazing experiences outlined in this blog! There are tons of things we wish we knew before embarking on our trip to the San Blas Islands, so follow along to be the most prepared person there!

San Blas Islands Itinerary

Ways to Tour the San Blas Islands

There are a few different ways to tour the San Blas Islands, each have different advantages. Most of these options can be done as private or public tours.

Multi-Day Group San Blas Island Hopping Tour

The Multi-Day Group Island Hopping Tour through the San Blas Islands is a great option for those looking to fully experience the San Blas Islands and the Kuna Culture. This is usually done as a 2-Night, 3-Day tour or a 3-Night, 4-Day tour. If you have plans to go to Colombia after Panama, many tour operators offer a boat ride through the San Blas Islands to the port town of Capurganá. From there, you are on your own to get to your next Colombian destination, which will likely be Cartegena or Medellín.

Tours to the San Blas Islands Panama

1 or 2 Night Stays on a San Blas Island

For those looking to simply relax on one of the beautiful islands, the 1 or 2 night stays can be a great way to experience the San Blas tranquility. While you may have to do more organizing and communicating with your host, you can book directly with hosts on the San Blas Islands here.

Overnight Stay on a Sail Boat

There are plenty of tour operators offering overnight stays on sail boats. Trips to various islands and hidden snorkeling spots are often included in the price, and this option provides the most freedom and flexibility!

Catamaran Tour San Blas Islands

Day Trip From Panama City

This is the perfect option for those on a time budget. Get picked up at your hotel at 5 am, explore a few highlights of the San Blas Islands, enjoy a fresh-cooked catch of the day, and get back to Panama City around 7 pm!

This is the most professional and safe San Blas Islands Day Trip Tour, while this is the best option for doing the San Blas Islands on a budget.

Visiting the San Blas Islands

Tips For Your Visit To the San Blas Islands

  • Bring Cash: None of the islands take card, and small bills are preferable. You’ll also need to pay the $22 entrance fee to the Guna Yala Territory. We did see they had a card reader at the border, but there may be additional fees for paying with card.
  • Bring Motion Sickness Pills: The ride through the Guna Yala Territory to the port as well as the boat rides are not easy on the stomach.
  • Respect the Guna Yala Culture: Their lifestyle is very different from ours, with limited technology, different social standards, and basic amenities – this is part of the amazing San Blas experience!
  • Be Okay With Change and Uncertainty: Your itinerary may change, and you may not always know what comes next or when your next activity is. Relax, and just go with the flow – everything will turn out great!
  • Limit Your Waste: There are trash cans on the San Blas Islands, but a good amount of trash isn’t processed properly and ends up polluting the waters.
  • Support Local: One of the best ways to support the Kuna people is to buy their Molas, which is extremely beautiful handmade art.
San Blas Islands Support Local

What to Expect on a Trip to the San Blas Islands

The accommodations on the San Blas Islands are very basic. You’ll be sleeping on huts on the beach with no AC, on and off electricity, and the rooms could be private or shared. There’s a lot of downtime, so make sure to bring some books and games! There’s electricity and running water on most of the inhabited islands we went to, but availability can be limited. Most Kuna/Guna people speak Spanish but some only speak Kuna, so it can be hard to communicate with them.

We found that the tours weren’t extremely well organized, so you may not know when you’re being picked up or what you’ll be doing each day. However, at the end of the day, everything will be taken care of and this will be an experience of a lifetime. (Plus there are a million worse places to be stranded!) This trip was 100% worth it even if you are used to luxury when you travel! This is a typical meal on the San Blas Islands:

Food on the San Blas Islands

Typical San Blas Islands Day Itinerary

If you’re doing a multi-day trip, this is a typical itinerary:

  • 8am: Breakfast
  • 9am – 12pm: Island Hopping
  • 12:30pm: Lunch
  • 1:30pm – 4pm: More Island Hopping
  • 4pm – 6:30pm: Relaxing
  • 6:30pm: Dinner
  • 7:30pm – Bedtime: Socializing, chatting and drinking (bring some beer/rum!)

How Long Should You Spend on the San Blas Islands?

We think 2 nights and 3 days is the perfect amount of time to spend on the San Blas Islands. This gives you enough time to hop between the many islands, relax, and snorkel. There is a lot of down time on these tours which is perfect, but we felt that we may have gotten a bit bored if we stayed longer than 3 days. The food is the same for lunch and dinner – which if you like fish, is perfect – but it does get tiring! If you do this as a day trip from Panama City, just be prepared for 3 hours of driving!

San Blas Islands Packing List

For both day trips and multi-day trips, bring the following:

  • Plenty of Sunscreen
  • Microfiber Towel
  • Any snacks you might want in between meals
  • 2 liters of water per day (unless your fine with buying more expensive water). The same goes for rum and beer!
  • Portable charger
  • Swim suit

For multi-day trips, make sure to also bring the following:

  • Soap and shampoo
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and any other toiletries
  • Multiple changes of clothes
  • Alcohol if you want!
What to Bring to the San Blas Islands Panama

Best Time to Visit the San Blas Islands

The best time to visit the San Blas Islands is between January and May, as this is Panama’s dry season. Tours around the Guna Yala Independence Day (February 25th) may not be as frequent, although I’m sure this would be an amazing sight to see. The Guna (Kuna) people love to party!

Do You Need a Tour For the San Blas Islands?

Unless you own/rent a boat, you should definitely go as part of a tour. There isn’t any public transportation to the Carti port, so you’ll have to rent a car or pay for a shuttle to get here. Then you’ll have to ask the various boat captains to take you to whatever island(s) you plan on visiting. These boat captains may not speak Spanish or English, so this might be a tough task. However, if you know anyone who has toured the San Blas Islands without a guide or their own boat, let us know in the comments!

San Blas Islands trip from Panama City

How Much Does a Trip to the San Blas Islands Cost?

The minimum you’ll pay for a trip to the San Blas Islands is around $100/day. You’ll have to pay the $22 entrance fee as well as for your tour, which for a day trip, costs around $80. For a multi-day trip, the cheapest tour we found was $90/day, but this was complete chaos. You can pay upwards of $250/day depending on how much flexibility and comfort you desire. When we go back, we’re definitely booking this catamaran tour!

Cost to Visit San Blas

Keep Exploring Panama…

Our Favorite Travel Resources

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Activities: GetYourGuide and Viator are the best websites for booking organized tours.

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