Rated the #3 Tropical Paradise in the World
San Blas Islands - Guna Yala
The San Blas islands and Guna Indians have been the subject of numerous National Geographic articles. Indeed, your experience will be right out of the pages of National Geographic. They offer two unbeatable attractions: Caribbean islands of stunning pristine beauty and an opportunity to visit the Guna people, a living Indian culture with a fascinating culture and way of life.
In 2011 Lonely Planet selected San Blas as the #3 tropical paradise in the world:
“Look up ‘tropical paradise’ and there will probably be a picture of the Guna Yala archipelago. These small islands (also known as the San Blas Islands) are part of the semi-autonomous territory of the Guna people with are part of the semi-autonomous territory of the Guna people and feature palm trees, gorgeous beaches, thatched huts and timeless charm. Big business hasn’t gained a foothold because the Guna rule the roost, with a series of laws to preserve the natural environment. So no ugly hotels spoiling the view and no package tourism polluting the vibe, just plenty of uninhabited islands to explore.”
The archipelago has 365 islands picturesque and palm tree-covered, uninhabited and set in indescribably beautiful aqua waters. When famous author John Le Carre of The Tailor of Panama stayed in San Blas his comment upon taking in an island view was, “This is not paradise, this is heaven.”
This is the place to go if you truly want to “get away from it all” to be seeped in and surrounded by nature. Owned by the Guna indians, they’ve kept everything natural and authentic. What a pleasure to spend a few days when there’s no concrete, glass, or steel.
The second major attraction is the Guna people- a beautiful ancient people, largely unspoiled by modern life.
How To Get There
Air Panama has several daily flights from Panama City’s Albrook Airport to the different islands. Round trip tickets from Panama City are around $60. Coral Lodge can be reached by road and a lodge boat.
Where To Stay
There are three types of island lodging: stay in an authentic Guna island lodge over the sea or with sea views, on a yacht or at the nearby, upscale Lodge. To get the experience close to nature and truly away from all things modern, we recommend a stay at a Guna Island lodge.
We recommend Yandup Lodge and Coral Lodge, three excellent all-inclusive San Blas destinations.
Yandup Island Lodge is a private island rated by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the 50 best romantic getaways.
If you want all the creature comforts and yet also be close to nature stay at the romantic getaway then check out Coral Lodge, on the coast near San Blas.
Coral Lodge, featured in Conde Nast’s Hotel list, on the coast near San Blas, is the upscale lodging option with handsomely appointed individual water villas each with a jacuzzi, gorgeous views, and excellent cuisine. It was rated by Conde Nast as having the “best view from the tub”.
Coral lodge has Tahiti-style cabins over the sea with wrap around decks, an indoor jacuzzis and an excellent onsite restaurant. From there you can take day trips to the islands. Nearby trips include boat rides to a pristine island to sunbath and snorkel (which you’ll most probably have all to yourself) a boat trip to snorkel at the famous sunken ship site and a tour of an island Guna indian village.
In Guna Yala, lunch and dinner will be freshly caught seafood- lobsters and delectable fish- bring something else if you’re not a seafood fan.
If you are not staying at an all inclusive hotel, we recommend you visit San Blas with a tour operator who will arrange lodgings, tours etc. Another great way to tour San Blas is by yacht. If you want all that extraordinary nature but more luxury and personalized service, take a yacht trip with also highly rated San Blas Sailing.
San Blas was also selected as one of the top two “best cruising destinations in the world” by Cruising World and Le Monde Voyage magazines. San Blas Sailing offers yacht tours.
Where To Eat
At the Guna Yala island lodges, lunch and dinner will be freshly caught seafood- lobsters and delectable fish- bring something else if you’re not a seafood fan. Also, there are no snack stores etc. so you may want to bring some snacks as well.
What To Do
Stretch out in Island Heaven
There are dozens of beautiful islands with nary a soul in sight. Ask your lodge to take you on a short boat ride to one of these islands to sun bathe, snorkel and take in the extraordinary views. Chances are you will be the only people on the island.
Guna Indian Village Tours
Visit one of the island Indian villages where hundreds of happy smiling children run around. Learn about the Guna way of life and their longtime battle to be an autonomous people. Homes that are mostly made of bamboo and thatched roofs and everyone sleeps in a hammock. (Couples share hammocks!) You can buy their famous mola embroideries (colorful reverse applique embroidery featuring tropical designs) directly from the Indian woman artisans and take photos of Guna women in their colorful regalia. You may visit their tribal meeting house, and herbal medicinal gardens.
There are additional tours to the mainland to see a traditional burial ground and a jungle waterfall.
Ask about the best snorkeling spots near your lodge. Some spots may be a few feet from your cabin. If your lodge is in the Porvenir area, the best snorkeling area is Dog Island. the site of a sunken ship, now a colorful coral garden—we counted 27 types of tropical fish.
Diving is prohibited in the San Blas Indian Reservation but Coral Lodge on the nearby coast has a diving shop and offers diving tours of the surrounding area.
You can tour dense rainforests on the nearby mainland part of the Guna territory: Waterfalls, wildlife and dense tropical fauna.
Sea Kayaking Adventures
The San Blas archipelago is ideal for kayaking due to the calm seas and endless islands to visit. Coral Lodge has kayak tours for guests. Aventuras Panama offers a 5 day kayaking and snorkeling adventure tour of the San Blas.
One very popular option is to experience the San Blas islands on a yacht cruise vacation with San Blas Sailing.