If you’ve turned on a Windows computer in the last 10 years you’ve probably seen the image below. The idyllic scene of where you’d rather be, whilst sitting at your desk at work, wishing you weren’t. When I booked San Blas (upon the recommendation of a few Lonely Planet Thorn Tree* friends), I had no idea that this is actually where that famous photo was taken. I knew that San Blas was one of those places ‘not to be missed’ in Panama, but I didn’t really know much about it.
*This is one of the best resources I’ve found for travel planning.
According to a map, San Blas doesn’t look all that far from Panama City. What I didn’t account for is the fact that the centre of the skinny little bit of Panama (down near the Colombian border) is almost entirely jungle. And to get through said jungle you need a 4WD. And roads that curve around the mountains. And drivers who are running late and feel the need to rally car around these mountains. For 4.5 hours. The journey was also incredibly confusing, not because I didn’t speak the language, but because when you book a tour through a travel company, they use a lot of ‘partners’ to get you to the boat. The guy who picks you up at the hotel may not be the guy who actually drives you to the boat, who also isn’t the guy who has the water taxi. A common theme in Central America is that you’re often palmed off from one person to the other, never really having any direct contact with the person you booked through. They’re not overly great at explaining how you’ll get to your destination, or when, or where your destination actually is! It’s a nightmare for control freaks like Wally & I, but my best advice would be to just go with the flow and trust that they will get you where you need to go, eventually!
Anyway, after our hasty 4WD journey from the Pacific to the Caribbean, we were unceremoniously dumped with our luggage at a ‘port’ which was really a building next to a river and a bunch of local guys (called Guna Yala – the traditional owners of the land) trying to find who was supposed to be on their boats. It took us about 20 minutes & 4 people to figure out who’s water taxi we were supposed to be on. We were staying on a boat, which seemed to be a bit more complicated than staying on an island, as the locals had to figure out where the boat was!
After a pretty long & wet water taxi ride (take your ponchos peeps!), dropping various people off at islands, we arrived at our boat. It was bigger than I had imagined, a 45ft vessel with huge sails. We were so happy we’d chosen to stay on a yacht, the accommodation on the islands looked incredibly rustic (and that’s coming from someone who’s happy staying in dorm rooms).
The boat was luxurious compared to these little island huts. There was plenty of room to sunbake & read. I know if I’d been on the island I’d be looking out at people like us on a yacht thinking ‘damn, we should have done that!’. I was super smug & waved at the peasants as we passed by!
Our room was tiny, basically a double bed with a cupboard & a shelf & zero floor space. But it was simply for sleeping so we didn’t mind. It was lovely the first night falling asleep looking at the insanely bright stars from the open window, to a cool breeze & the soft rocking of the boat. The second night was not so awesome – we had to keep the windows closed due to torrential rain, and with them closed there was zero oxygen. It was so humid and hot I thought I might suffocate! You win some you lose some!
On the boat was a couple from Italy, a single traveller (and Instagram influencer!) also from Italy, the Captain (again, Italian) and his girlfriend (Colombian, but spoke Italian the entire time!). I was hoping to get into the groove with my Spanish, but unfortunately Italian was the language of the trip, so we tried to pick up as much as we could.
We were treated to fresh seafood lunches & dinners. However I’m a bit turned off lobster now, after watching 3 live ones being dragged in a net behind a sailboat for a day and a half. I was very close to cutting them free a few times, but thought the better of it. By the time the captain pulled them out to cook, they were missing half of their legs but were still alive. I haven’t eaten land meat for almost a year and I’m thinking of adding crustaceans to this list. Otherwise the food was amazing, coconut rice, bruschetta, pasta, pizza & fresh fruit. Oh and there was a different kind of alcohol served with each meal, from red to white, bubbles, beer & rum!
We sailed to a different island each day and once we were anchored the day was filled with snorkelling, sunbaking, beach volleyball and reading. This was the best place for us to start our 2 month trip because it was forced relaxation. It usually takes Wally & I a few days to fully relax, and this was the perfect place to do it. There really wasn’t much to do, it was enough to just sit and read on the boat, being surrounded by turquoise water & tiny islands. There isn’t much on the islands, most of them have nothing at all and the bigger ones have a couple of small shacks where the locals live and sell a few items of food & drink. Most of them have beach volleyball nets though!
We were on the boat for 3 nights and probably could have stayed 1 or 2 more, but we left at a point where we were sad to leave, rather than happy to get back to civilisation. So I think it was the right amount of time.
Check out this 2 minute video I made that sums up pretty much what you do in San Blas. Plus a few epic drone vids!
We will definitely go back to San Blas! It’s not particularly easy to get to, but once you’re there you can just stay put. There’s something about these views that’s simply euphoric. One of those feelings where you just think ‘I can’t believe I’m here’. I spent a whole afternoon sitting in 2 metre deep water hanging out with starfish and watching the others play volleyball. There was nowhere to go, no one to meet, just pure paradise without a time limit. San Blas I will dream of you until I see you again!