When you visit Panama, even more when you live here, you want to visit as many places as possible, including the famous San Blas archipelago, also known as “Caribbean Polynesia”. Are these heavenly islands in the middle of the ocean, isolated, without electricity or running water, accessible for families with children?
We are a family of 4, 2 kids (5 and 7), living in Panama for year now on the Pacific Coast. Since we get here, everyone is talking about San Blas. We knew we wanted to go, when was another question, between school and work it leaves little time. And above all we asked ourselves many questions including one: should we take the children?
After a lot of strolling, we said to ourselves our children will see the San Blas, no matter the conditions, they are globe-trotters, if we do not try we will not know! And I must say it was a very good decision! We decided to go with friends and their son, in low season (May, rainy season).
We booked cabanas on Narasgandup Island also know as Naranjo Chico, for 2 nights. The cabanas have wooden floor, private bathroom.
PreparationOnce the reservation is made, it is now time to prepare the luggage for the whole family. For us adults, it’s easy, swimsuit, snorkeling equipment, spare clothes, a few beers, a good book and go! But with children it’s another story. How will they handle the car journey, and on the island? Finally we left with a cooler, our snorkeling equipment, and 2 bags, here’s what was in it:
CoolerAs I knew we were going to eat mainly fish and the children do not like everything I took some precautions:
– Snacks (soft bars and fruit)
Our friends had brought pate with bread and wine
Snorkeling equipmentThere is no snorkeling equipment on the island, so make sure to get it before leaving Panama City. –
There are 2 ways to get to the San Blas: by plane or by car. The most used and least expensive way (included in the packages) is the car. From Panama it takes about 3 hours of car and at least 30 minutes of boat (depending on your island). Departure is early in the morning, around 5:30. So how children will manage the ride? As the departure is early in the morning, there is a good chance that the children will sleep to the car. Otherwise it is the opportunity that they take advantage of tablets and other electronic games. What they have done. We also brought them coloring books and activities. On the boat there will be nothing else to do but look at the scenery since it is a lancha that will transport you.
If children tend to be sick by car or boat do not forget to give them something before leaving. The road is sinuous and can make it sick more than one! That was not our case. We did not find the road so rude! It all depends on your travel experiences. And do not forget that there is the return!
So it’s 4:45 in the morning, we wake up and at 5:20 we are ready and waiting in the lobby. It is 5:45, our driver arrives, we load everything and we leave. At about 9:30 we arrive at the port of Barsukun, where our lancha awaits us to go on the island. Do not expect a port as you know it. We are actually in the middle of the mangrove. On the other hand everything is very well organized. Since there are few carriers who go to this place, everyone knows each other and knows how it works. Depending on your final destination, your driver will tell you which lancha will transport you, so you only have to bring your bags close to the boat and get in the boat (do not forget to spray insect repellant). We then leave for 30 minutes by boat, in the mangrove a few minutes before discovering the ocean and the islands.
Accommodation and ChildrenThere is no hotel on the islands. There are rough cabins made of wood, bamboo, sheet metal and palm leaves.
We finally arrive on the island. Some huts, coconut trees, sand, just by seeing this landscape, we know that it is the relaxation that awaits us! We were told our cabins, very simple but very clean, 2 double beds with mosquito nets on a wooden floor and a small bathroom with toilet and private shower. As the only lighting, a light bulb for the evening. No electrical outlet, no fan. Children do not seem to like it at first. The shower was just a pvc hose with a metal tip allowing a trickle of water, so the toilet is done quickly and we forget the shampoo for 2 days, but what a treat to shower your feet over the water! The beds have sheets, the bathroom does not have a towel, so I advise you to bring some.
Life on the island with childrenElectricity only serves to illuminate tables and cabins. No outlet, the black night at 18:30. I advise you to take pocket lamps, this will allow you to walk on the island by night.
If we adults can settle for a good book and relax, this is a totally different thing for children! Luckily, or because they understood it, they never asked for the tablets during the stay on the island. They just played on the white sand, in the clear water, snorkeling, play hide-and-seek with the children of the island or climb the trees with them! It’s crazy how many children there are on these islands. This excursion is also an opportunity to play with your children: card games, riddles etc.
And a nice thing about these islands when you’re a parent is to be able to leave the children free, we know that there is no insecurity, it allows us to relax! Of course we must keep an eye on them, but there is no insecurity on these islands!
Excursions and childrenWhen you come to the San Blas it is all for its magnificent landscapes, its crystal clear waters, its marine environment. The excursions have the same purpose, no matter the island: snorkeling and observing the life of the Gunas. No matter the excursion you will have to take the boat. If your children are afraid by boat, as my youngest, they must be reassured to the maximum, it would be a shame to miss these landscapes. At the end of the stay she was no longer afraid.
Wow!! what experience for the kids! Be able to observe starfish, fish of all colors in a calm sea. The easiest snorkeling trip for them is undoubtedly on Perro Chico where the wreck boat is, just a few meters from the edge. My oldest went without a problem. For the youngest, who swims well, I bought her a back waterwing, because snorkeling is tiring! It was the first time for her, and it took her a little time to figure out how to snorkel, so she did not really enjoy this excursion. I also think that not having a foot and seeing the boat at the bottom of the water frightened her! However in the natural pool it was a lot of fun and after that we were able to snorkel around our island without being afraid.
The first day we had the chance to visit a Guna village, 15 minutes by boat. More than 3,000 people live on this island. Our guide takes us in the streets of the 2 villages, streets in land on which houses identical to our huts are glued to each other. Down there, no garden, but hundreds of children running around the streets, playing football, a school, women in traditional clothes and a few small grocery stores around the corner. The children followed us, are intrigued to see tourists here, even though I think they see often, there are so many things that separate us! Our children do not understand why they ask us all these questions, why they follow us, touch us … I am glad that our children have seen this other world and know how much they are pampered!
Food and childrenThe 3 meals of the day are included in the package. You will eat these meals in the main hut with the other tourists present at the same table. Friendly atmosphere and guaranteed meetings!
We eat the fish of the day. Lobster, fish, sea food and chicken are the meals we had. At breakfast: egg, sausage with coffee and tea.
Everything was delicious! Of course the children did not like everything, but they tasted it. If you have dietary restrictions they will adjust the menu (ie more vegetables or rice, potatoes). If your children do not like these dishes, bring things that are easy to eat, to snack, that do not require special cooking. I remind you that without electricity (only a few solar panels feed the bulbs of the cabins and the main hut), you will not have access to a microwave for example!
Drinking water will be served, if you want to drink something else, you have to take it away!
MY ADVICESYes the San Blas with children even very young is possible. All you have to do is to find out which islands are the most suitable for families and according to the age of your children. A good preparation of your luggage will help you to spend a great moment in family!
DO NOT FORGET