1. Welcome to Guna Ayala
Thanks for traveling with Panama San Blas tours, it is a pleasure for us to take you to one of the most amazing places in the world. We can assure after the Panama Canal, this will be the 2nd attraction in Panama, some people would say it is actually the No1. A paradaise hidden! With more than 360 islands of all sizes, a procted zone, full of culture, sun and white beaches.
All the services are basic and rustic, only kuna people are in charge of all tourist’s services such as food, ground and water transportation, lodging, etc. Please take this into consideration, the services are not as in the city, the waiting time can be long, and kunas are more informal. We have provided hospitality train to them, but they are still working on it, their culture is different, they are never in a rush, this is part of the adventure to San Blas. Food is basic such as fresh fried fish with salad and rice, and if you come during the season, you can ask for lobster or crab with an additional cost of 15usd per person.
We recommend you bring your personal hygiene items, sunscreen, towels, mosquito repellent. In San Blas Islands there are no ATMs, only cash in received. You can buy drinks there, snacks, souvenirs etc, but the lack of variety, so we encourage you to bring from the city your own drinks and snacks, we will make a stop a supermarket the day of your tour.
Also important to know, there is no power electricity in the huts, only light. If you want to charge your cellphone you can ask to the Island administration, some of the islands charge 2-3USd to charge your cellphone.
COMMUNICATION THE WHOLE TIME: “+Movil” and “Digicel” are the cell phone companies which works in San Blas Islands, in case you need to talk with us, please ask kindly to the island administration you would like to talk with Marisol or Florenza from Panama San Blas Tours. Also in case of an emergency there is a new hospital at the entry in San Blas, or if you need further assistance, please give us a call. Whatsapp +507 6485-2841 or contact your Island Host.
2. Transport to San Blas Islands
You will travel with other 6 passengers plus the driver in a 4x4 vehicle, we manage to have the biggest cars available in the market (Toyota Prado or similar). If you want to have even more comfort you can rent a private car for 150usd each way, only for you and your family. If not, you will split cost with the other passengers, this is why you pay 50usd per people both ways.
During your journey, you will have around 2.5 hours driving from Pacific Ocean to the Caribe, you will cross Panama from one side to the other one, you will get deep in the jungle, to arrive to the GUna Ayala lands.
We will make a stop before we went out of the city to a supermarket, so you can buy all type of dirnks, snacks, disposable coolers, ice, fruits, and all you need to spend a great time at the beach. At the island they sell some products but they don’t have much variety, and it will be more expensive. Drinks can cost around 2usd each.
Our drivers are very professionals and approved by the Transport Authorities in Panama. They travel everyday to San Blas from the city, and they know the route by heart. They any moment should use their cellphone while driving or make a call, please let us know if this happens.
As explained, you will enter to a zone proctected by the kunas, they have their own rules, and they charge 20usd per foreign to get it and 5 Usd for locals and residents. Please be prepared with your original passport or Panamean ID, with out it you will not be able to access to Guna ayala.
3. San Blas Ports Schedules and organization (Carti -Niga Kantule), Barsukum, and Tupile.
The port usage cost 2usd per person to be paid in cash. There are 3 different points ports in total in San Blas. Depending on the island, you will be assigned to one of the ports, they split the port by community.
Waily Lodge departs from Tupile
Aguja Island from Nigga kantule port. (Main port)
Narasgandup, Guanidup, Obeg Nega, Diablo and Nubesidup island from Barkun port. (the port in the river)
There are 2 schedules to pick up or leave the clients at the port, normally during the morning between 8-10am is the first round and 2nd round drop off happens in the afternoon between 3-4pm. After 4pm, the kuna congress don’t allow to any boat to leave passengers for security reason. The road as you experience is not very safe to drive when it gets dark.
There are 2 types of boat. The boats from the islands, this boat fee is included with your night stayed at the different islands, and the independent boats, which charge you an additional fee between 20-40usd to take you to any island you want.
The boat from the islands needs to arrive between 8-9am to the port, so the new passengers don’t need to wait, but they also depend on how fast the clients have spend the night before are ready to leave the island.
The ports have their own organization, there is one person inside the main cabin which is in charge to register every person with their passport or panamean id, and indicate to which island they are travelling and which boat will take them. Normally, they should let you know once your boat arrives, but there is so many people, that he is not able to communicate to everyone.
Important to know, all the kunas who work with tourism know each other’s by name, so feel free to ask anyone about your driver or your boat guy. The communities are not very close one from the other one, they know each other, but they regularly work within their own community.
Our agency has arranged with our drivers to leave you directly with your boat, so you don’t feel lost. Sometimes they will leave you with a responsible people at the port, so they can let you know when your boat arrives.
4. Once in the boat (About the Islands)
You should be at the boat right now, you are ready to move forward to our island!!
Your boat is called "Panga", it is the official marine transport of all kunas...
There are more than 300 islands in San Blas, but not all of them are habited or receive tourists. The kuna congress has to give a family permission with certain requirement on minimum services such as bathrooms, restaurant etc. to receive tourists.
The first Island only 15minutes from the port is Aguja. You will also pass very near by to the community islands, which are the most crowded ones, if you would like to visit one community, please let us know and we can arrange it for you. All the kunas communities are in the first big islands more close to the land, but there no one single community which lives at the bay. The Panama goverment is working with them to move to the lands in the following 10-15 years, since the sea increases they level each year. Its hard to think this paradaise will not exist in the future! You are making history by traveling here.
Then there are 4 group of islands:
There are some islands which are recommended for making day tours, or visit for a couple of hours. Island Perro Chico is the first one, it is always crowded, their main attraction is a sunken boat nowadays a reef with fishes where you can swim and make snorkel all around.
Other must visit is the Natural swimming pool which is a island 1 meter depth, where you can walk all around and also make some snorkel to find starfishes.
Another islands are Island Banedup or Fragata (where all the Catamarans are around). Island Pelicano, which is a tiny island with just a bar and a couple of palmiers.
For the more adventurous there are some islands at 1 hour or even more, called ”Cayos Holandeses”, those are big islands, inhabited, with no services, but you can spot turtles, rails and it’s a nice place to make snorkel. These islands for the moment are “closed” by the kuna congress per lack of services, but you can only arrive there by sailing in a Catamaran or Monohull.
The food in San Blas is normally: Fresh fried fish, with rice and salad, they sometimes prepare octopus or sea snails. FOr 10-15USD more you can ask for Lobster or Crab during the season (July- February). The lobster are plenty in Cayos Lemon, so the islands such as Chichime island, Obeg Nega Island, Diablo, are cheaper, they even give you free meals of baby lobsters during the season (not everyday).
Its important to say, you will only recieve 1 main dish per person, there are no desserts, fruits or chesses for the french people. We recommend to bring snacks from the city.
The breakfast depends on the island, there are some "high quality " islands which provide fruits in the morning such as Island Narasgandup, but most of the others only have eggs, panama tortilla or hojaldre and coffee. A pineapple can cost 4USD in the islands.
The best restaurant in San Blas is the one in Waily Lodge, which has a restaurant over the sea with a great view to the ocean and sunsets, also the food is tasty. My brother said he had the best fried fish of Panama.
Low quality restaurant is in Perro Island, given that they receive a lot of people, and sometimes the fishes are too small or burned.
San Blas was the name of the Kuna Yala zone, the name was changed in October 2011 to "Guna Yala" when the Government of Panama recognized the claim of the people that "Guna" was a closer representation of the name in their mother tongue than "Kuna".
It is one of he few tribus with matriarchy, where the women is the leader of the family. The Kuna have maintained their cultural identity and integrity, and have complete control of economic matters such as tourism. Othe way of income are the agriculture, fishing, handicraft production such as “molas” the favorite souvenir of all tourists. There are an estimated 50,000 Kuna spread across 49 communities in the region, most of them speaks their own language and Spanish, only a few of them speaks a little of English. They understand the basic needs in English words such as food, boat, water etc.
Feel free also to make hands signs to communicate!