Drop everything and go to San Blas

Panama City –

Route Panama City San Blas Backpacking Backpacker TravelIt’s 04:30 and pewpew goes the unicorn . Gnah… almost got no sleep at all. We pack our stuff (half of it is actually food) and take the stairs to the hostel lounge. Two girls, who want to do some volunteering in San Blas, are already there. Just about 5:00 we are standing on the balcony of Mamallena. A taxi arrives and a party of 4 gets out. Probably here for the hostel – I wave at them, they wave back. They are certainly as happy as me to be up this early. Not. Just a few minutes later, a black SUV arrives… Yep, that’s our ride. We get in, drive on for a few minutes and stop in front of the Hilton hotel. 2 girls walk out the front door, both kinda way to overdressed and styled up, one of them even wearing a leather jacket despite the rather warm temperatures. Hmm – we are sitting in the right car right? No clue what to make of them. At the next, not quite as exclusive hotel, another couple gets in, followed by a third one at a travel agency, in which we have to wait a little longer. After a short ride out of town (looking straight at the night skyline) we make a stop at a mall for supply purchase, having a desperately needed coffee and go to the bathroom.

The ongoing route is quite monotonous. As we drive down a straight road we see now and then some Chicken Buses going the other direction… until we turn left at a sign having “San Blas Hills” written on into a dirtroad. Hills? Yes. I mentioned the route Palenque – San Christobal in Mexico  in another post, right? This road here is in a whole different league. Feels just like a roller coaster ride. No wonder that we were picked up by a SUV. Yet, there are multiple beautiful views on valleys lying beyond. About 20km later we arrive at the checkpoints of the Kuna area. 20 PAB (20.00 USD) are due for entering here. After this short stop, the journey continues to the docks in the Gulf of Kuna Yala.

San Blas –

Kuna Yala or San Blas is an autonomous territory of the indigenous population of the Kunas. It consists of a narrow, about 200km long strip of land stretching from the Kuna Yala Gulf to the Colombian border. An archipelago of 365 islands is around the coast, of which 36 are inhabited. This land may not be bought or leased and barely any touristic facilities can be found on the islands – no hotels or dive centers. You can get there just like we did and book a 3-day trip at Mamallena, or limit this trip to a fewer days. You can also determine a little which islands you want to visit, but there is no guarantee to that. Most travelers visit Kuna Yala coming by boat from Colombia – sailing trips sure are possible, but require a bit more organization (according to our information you have to to obtain the specific island’s owner’s permission to visit it, which revealed itself as incorrect during the following days)

Panama San Blas Starfish Island Snorkeling Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Starfish Island Snorkeling Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Chichime Path Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Aroma Nightsky Stars Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Aroma Hut View Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Aroma Nightsky Stars Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Starfish Island Backpacking Backpacker Travel
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Next, we enter a boat and have a ride to the main island of Kunas. No beaches or palms to see here. We stop at a landing stage which leads to a larger, two-story hut made of bast with two pit latrines in front having the word “SCHEISSHAUS” written on a wooden plank. Alright. Since the 2 Kunas who picked us up still need to run some errands, we are free to have a look around for 10-15min. Somehow we end up going in between all the huts just in one direction – you can get lost very easily here, since everything looks the same. The rest of the group kinda follows us obediently – somehow this feels like some sort of school field trip: “Everyone takes his partner’s hand, so no one gets lost.” Speaking of school: Following the road, we just stumble into a school playground. We are greeted politely everywhere and of course we greet as friendly back, but I feel extremely misplaced here. You can easily have a view into the interior of the huts through the open doors and windows. Having lost track of the time, we decide to return. They are probably already waiting for us – the crowd follows. I had hoped to be able to start a conversation here, but there is not much time. Back at the two-story cottage we informed that this is actually “Catis Homestay” – we’ll be staying elsewhere, but we can have a look upstairs: Looks like a hostel with a lots of graffiti … in German. This also explains the “SCHEISSHAUS” outside. Well, “They’re everywhere”.

Isla Aroma

Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Aroma Boat Backpacking Backpacker TravelOur journey continues to the island “Aroma”. Here, you get a whole different scenery: Where there were no palm trees providing any shade on the main island at all, here the place is full of them. Just about 15 huts were built here having a distance of 2-3m from each other. I had already heard that the Kunas are trying to keep their area clean, but some garbage is still washed ashore (and I saw a lot floating around at the main island’s landing stage) – but whats happening here is almost exaggerated. I’ve seen some clean beaches – the last ones at Coiba & Zapatilla – but… here I get to see some quite surreal picture: One of the residents cleaning up the beach with a rake.

Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Volleyball Backpacking Backpacker Travel Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Backpacking Backpacker Travel

First, we get to sign the guestbook and get afterwards assigned our cabin (you can also sleep in tents here, but we decided for a basthut – certainly an interesting experience sleeping in one). We go past some other guests lying in hammocks and arrive at the cabin to unload our stuff there – we have to hurry a little, since we are about to visit another island soon. The 2 girls we picked up at the Hilton got the hut next to us. Hmm, no lock on our cabin. Well, okay, “Who would try so steal anything on this island?”… or something like that. I wrap a piece of bast fibre around a sticking-out nail on the door and fixate everything – The door won’t be completely open this way. Swimming shorts, camera and most important: Water. That’s all we need to bring along. Then head towards the boat. A quick look at the other cabins: Also no locks here. Probably ok this way.

Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Steamboat Wreck Snorkeling Backpacking Backpacker Travel Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Chichime Island Backpacking Backpacker Travel Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Steamboat Wreck Snorkeling Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Isla de Perro

The island we arrive at is Isla de Perro, which the couple we met in the Smoothiebar in El Valle already told us about. I can also understand why they liked it: It has a great atmosphere: Turquoise water, there are some anchored catamaran, an old steamboat wreck lying just a few meters from the beach… the ongoing Reggaemusic rounds everything up. There is a quite close located island two islands you could easily swim across which seems to be one of the “residential islands”, where visitors can stay on. It looks like you have to pay admission fee here (3 PAB (3.00 USD) / person). We spend our time here eating tortillas with salsa, drinking Abuelo rum with coke, relax and go snorkeling (we also brought our own masks and snorkels, and borrowed some fins). As I’m lying down in the sand, I see a Blackbird (Compared to North America, here in Central America they have a V-shaped tail) shooting down from a nearby palm tree trying to steal the big bag with all the munchies – without any success. This bag is way to heavy for you, stupid ! Somehow it’s way more comfy to wear swimming shorts all day long.

Isla Chichime

Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Perro Dog Island Steamboat Wreck Snorkeling Backpacking Backpacker TravelWe ride over to the island “Chichime” for lunch, where we again meet the 2 volunteering girls. They were probably busy quite a while rasping coconuts for all that Coconut Rice they have prepared. “Don’t you dare to complain! We worked hard for it.” – Surprise! Yes, they are from Germany too, but actually also Greek. The lunch consists of fish, Coconut Rice, salad and fruit for dessert. Beer & soft drinks are available for 1 PAB (1.00 USD). After a while another group (probably from the neighboring island to Isla Perro) arrives in some kind of… party boat and is “heralded” by music coming from a boombox. They also sit down to eat and we have a chat with the newcomers, especially with a good-humored British couple – among other things, about the strong sunlight here and that third degree burns have to be treated (I have also again forgotten to put on some sunscreen – luckily the tan I got hides the sunburn more or less, thanks to my Mediterranean roots). After dessert and hanging out on the beach and in the hammocks we get brought back to Aroma (with a short stop at a sandbank).

Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Aroma Island Sunset Backpacking Backpacker Travel Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Isla Aroma Sunset Backpacking Backpacker Travel Panama San Blas Kuna Yala Aroma Island Stars Backpacking Backpacker Travel
Isla Aroma

I have now time to have a look at the note hanging at our cabindoor*. We take a shower and lie down for a nap first – the strong sunlight and the heat kinda makes you sleepy. While signing the guestbook back then, we were already told that we’d be called when dinner is ready. I’m barely awake when I notice some sort of trumpet ( ? ). It’s dinnertime it seems – One of the Kuna hosts walks between the huts while blowing into a shell. We get slowly out of bed and head to the larger hut near the boat dock. As I barely walk past the neighboring cabin, I hear some crackling and rustling up the palm trees, and a palm leaf falls to the ground about 3m from our position . Am I insured against “death by coconut”? For dinner, there is spaghetti with sausages. Strange – I expected fish here. Plenty of fish, with Patacones or something like that. Since Ena has to eat something gluten-free, she gets some fried Madura with salad. Hmm, I’m kinda jelly. We stay a little and chat with the other guests, yet we are pretty tired, and it is now dark. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I thought that we were supposed to go to Kuna main island today for dinner? Maybe tomorrow. The generator is running, and we walk back to our cabin. Many extension cords with power sockets are attached at the huts and some palms, having lamps in between. Before going to bed, I grab my camera to take some photos of the night sky – While there is almost absolutely no light pollution here, it is kinda cloudy and we got a full moon. This combination makes some strange effect, being able to see the stars, yet having the reflected sunlight by the moon make everything appear as bright as day.

*Info:

  • Check-In: 9:00 am Check-Out 4:00 pm.
    (Since you can only leave via motorboat, i don’t think this matters )
  • Passing through Nusagandi is allowed between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm.
    (Aroma seems to have 2 Names… and you are allowed to get on the island not being a guest here, you just aren’t allowed to stay overnight)
  • No pets allowed.
  • No illegal drugs allowed in the hotel.
  • Do not litter.
  • Ask for permission before taking pictures of people. Respect local culture.
    (Hallo, common sense!)
  • If you listen to music, do it at a moderate volume.
  • No skinny-dipping on the beach.
    (Hehe )
  • The use of fishing nets, harpoon and diving tanks is not permitted.
  • Personal watercrafts that use a propulsion turbine are not allowed like Jet Skis, Wave Runners or Aqua Rays.
  • The eating schedule is as follows:
    Breakfast: 7:00 am – 10:00 am
    Lunch: 12:00 am – 3:00 am
    Dinner: 6:00 am – 9:00 am
  • Electricity is from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
    (The Generator gets started at sunset, and there is light till 22:00 or 0:00 )
  • Use Water wisely. Do not waste water.
  • Unregistered persons are not allowed in guest rooms.
  • Its forbidden to smoke in the room.
  • Do not throw paper inside the toilet.
  • Room keys must be handed in reception.Any damage caused in the room will be charged to your bill.

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Drop everything and go to San Blas

by Mario time to read: 8 min
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