There really was no lack of subject about Kuna Yala, right? Despite having already uploaded several posts here on the site, there are still some doubts that you left there on my instagram. I selected some of the most frequently asked questions there and answered in as much detail as possible here!
Did you go to San Blas or Kuna Yala?
It’s the same place, haha 😉 San Blas is the name that Europeans and tourists gave to the region, but the real name, given by the inhabitants themselves, is Kuna Yala which means Terra Kuna. For those who want to understand more about kuna culture, just click here 😉
What is the indicated period to travel?
There it is basically like in the Amazon: there is the rainy season and the dry season. Obviously, the “no rain” season is the most suitable – between December and March. The rainiest months are October and November, so it is best to avoid scheduling the trip on those dates.
Unfortunately there is no guarantee that the weather will be steady even in high season. That’s because Kuna Yala is in the middle of the ocean and rain is inevitable. We, who went in January, get rain practically every day (4 out of 6).
What is the currency used there?
It is all in dollars (USA) and this is true even for Panama City. Although the Balboa currency also circulates in the country, everywhere we went accepted the dollar.
Do you have to get a vaccine before you go?
You have to get the yellow fever vaccine, but the international vaccination card was not requested either at the airport here in Brazil, or at the airport in Panama. Paulo and I had already had the vaccine to go to the Amazon, but still nobody asked for anything.
Average price of the trip?
As with most trips, this varies widely. There you can camp on an island (the price varies from 10 to 30 dollars per day / person) or, on a few islands, you can also stay in very simple and rustic huts (50 and 70 dollars per day / person). I know that in Chicheme Grande and Banedup this possibility of accommodation exists, but I also listed some other islands that have huts listed in this post.
People staying in huts or camping out need to think about spending on food and transportation. Food is not very expensive, after all, there you can buy big fish from the kunas for 10 dollars and other seafood, like lobsters, for 20 dollars. Then you have the option of either preparing it yourself or asking a kuna family to prepare it for you, which costs 5 dollars per person (fish + rice as a side dish).
Transport from one island to another varies between 50 and 70 dollars per person to go in a very simple kuna canoe.
There is also the option of sailing boats and catamarans. The daily costs of sailboats are the most flexible, after all, you can choose to stay in some huge ones or opt for a simpler model with only one room, for example. In this one we stayed, we could fit 4 people + 1 child – this in addition to the captain (in this case Italo) and the sailor (in this case Francesca). This value already includes everything: accommodation, food (meals and snacks) with drinks (even alcoholic drinks) and tours.
The average price of sailboats per person varies between 200 and 400 dollars, but of course there are much more luxurious options. Boats over 14 m², for example, are already categorized as luxury and the value is actually WELL higher. To learn more about sailboats just click here.
How does tour scheduling work?
If you want to go on the same boat as us, you can contact Italo directly on instagram (@italomattei). Be sure to say that you came by our recommendation, okay?
There are also some companies specializing in the rental of sailboats in the region, so it is worthwhile to search for boats on the websites. We made all our reservations for the Life Sailing Experience ourselves, curated by Marina, a very friendly Spanish woman who knows all the boats in the area. She manages to help you plan everything from the trip to Kuna Yala to choosing the sailboat.
Aah, on her website you also have options of sailboats in this same scheme in other parts of the world, such as Paraty and the Balearic Islands – I even think that staying on a sailboat cruising through Mallorca and Menorca must be unforgettable! Also be sure to comment that you visited the site for our recommendation 😉
Returning to San Blas, there are some other sites that do the same job as a “catalog” of boats in the region such as Ocean Trips, I Travel by Boat and San Blas Sailing – the latter only works with exclusive sailboats. For those who want to know more about the subject, it is worth taking a look at this post in which I explain how the whole trip organization works.
How does the trip there work?
The first part is to get to Panama City. There are direct flights from São Paulo – which we even took – and the journey lasts around 6 hours. If it is a day flight, you will need to spend at least one night in the Panamanian capital before taking the road to Kuna Yala.
That’s because the border of the kunas closes at 10 am and, since the journey from Panama City takes about 2 hours, you will need to leave the hotel early. This journey can be done either with a rental car there, or with a transfer. Judy (+507 6706 -2810) does this job and you can let the transfer pick you up at the hotel. The cost varies between 50 and 70 dollars per person, but I think it is quite worth considering that if you go by car you will have to pay the daily rent with him stopped while on the islands.
Even so, if you want to go with your own car, you will need a 4 × 4. The road was not once paved and, even today, it can flood in some places. That is why kunas only let this type of vehicle enter the road.
Arriving at the border you will have to pay a fee of $ 20 per person to enter kuna territory + $ 5 per car. Parking is really secure, trust me confiar
From the border to the port you will need a transfer. We made an appointment with Judy herself and it was very easy. We took a little over half an hour to the port, but that’s because we didn’t catch any traffic. This route, in high season, can be well bottled and can take even 1h30.
From the port you will take a kuna boat (25 dollars per person) to your sailboat or island where you will camp / stay. The journey time varies depending on where you will be staying, but in our case it was 40 minutes.
What is the best place to stay that you can enjoy without having to move around?
Look, the great difference of Kuna Yala is the possibility of getting to know several different islands and really keep going from one to another. This is because most of the islands are very small and it is difficult to stay a week in one place, right?
However, if you have little time or don’t want to be on the go, the Banedup region, also known as Cayo Lemon, is a good alternative. Banedup is an island with a little more infrastructure, it is relatively close to the port and has some beautiful islands nearby. I even made a more complete post about the region and if you want to check it out, just click here!
Did you keep going from one island to another all the time?
The region has 360 islands so it is impossible to see them all. We did not go with any expectations and, even so, we visited about 10/12 islands in 6 days of travel.
In general, we migrated from one island to another only once a day, around 11 am. We ended up getting to know one or the other island along the way, and sometimes our destination was a complex with several islands, as was the case with Coco Bandero.
I think for those who are going to stay on a sailboat like us, it’s not worth staying on an island, right? Although very similar, each one has its specificities like the star-filled sea of Cambombia. Despite the desire to visit more remote and different places, we do not recommend that you spend most of your time sailing, right? Migrating once a day is a good choice 😉
How many days did you stay there? Aren’t they bored?
We stayed 6 days and, no, we were not bored. Paulo and I went there on vacation and our goal was to really relax! As many of you know, we enjoy quieter and more empty places, so Kuna Yala was the perfect destination.
Now, if you are the type who likes to go to the beach to eat at great restaurants or loves ballads, this can be a really boring place from your point of view. The only busiest place that always plays music is the island of Chicheme – to find out more just click here.
Doesn’t spending several days in a boat make you sick?
I think it varies a lot from person to person, but we had no problem with that. The only thing I couldn’t do was cook on the open sea like Francesca was empty. However, when the valleys stopped near the islands, where the sea is very calm, for us it was really quite, especially for sleeping.
Italo even told us that this feeling of malaise is the body of each person and, if you have this problem, it is no use even trying to spend more days at sea thinking that the body will get used to it.
How does feeding on the boat work?
It is the sailors themselves who make the food and when renting the boat you can already specify what you don’t eat or if you have any allergies. If you stay in huts or camping, that’s what I mentioned at the beginning of the post: 10 dollars for fish or 20 dollars for lobster + 5 dollars for the kunas to prepare and serve with a portion of rice.
It is worth remembering that the basic food there is seafood, rice and coconut. Only that. If you want other foods, arrange with the captain of the sailboat what you will need or take it from Panama City yourself.
I took some beans and sweets in my suitcase myself, but I regretted not having brought fruits and vegetables, because there really isn’t any of that.
How is the structure of the islands?
The vast majority of islands have no structure at all. Oh really. Of those we passed, only Banedup and Chicheme had a few shops that sold beers, for example. But the bathroom and everything, just on the sailboat.
Are things over there expensive?
This part of values is quite relative, but it is more or less what I had commented at the beginning of the post. You will hardly spend just 15 dollars a day on food anywhere else in the world, right? There it is possible and that is why I find a fair price. As for shopping, in Kuna Yala you can only buy the springs and winis (I already talked about the pieces in this post).
The price of the springs varies according to the amount of fabrics / fabrics used. The simplest, with 3 screens, cost an average of 30 dollars. The most colorful ones, with more layers of canvas, can reach up to 60 dollars.
The winis bracelets are between 10 and 20 dollars. This is because there are wider pieces with more colors. To understand more about it, it’s worth taking a look at the Panama shopping video that is already there on the channel 😉
Can you do scuba diving?
Kitesurfing and scuba diving are prohibited there – so much so that no sailboat offers this possibility. Aah, and if they catch someone practicing any of these activities, a fine is charged.
Do you have a nudist beach?
There are not, but as there are 360 islands and the vast majority are empty, you can, yes, go topless or take all your clothes off in one of them. Several sailors bathe naked in the sea and no one says anything at all, so I doubt that will be a problem 😉
How does the internet signal work on the islands?
The signal picks up on some islands, such as Banedup, Chicheme, Nargana and Coração de Jesus. The outlying islands really have no signal. Digicel’s chip has the best signal over there.
Do residents have easy access to hospitals, schools, shops …?
Residents do not have easy access. The largest and most populated islands we visit (Nargana and Coração de Jesus) have hospitals, schools and small markets. However, the kunas that live on more remote islands do not really have any structure.
I hope I have been clear in the answers and have helped those who are already planning a trip to this paradise!