Despite having already made a general post about what you need to know before going to San Blas, I decided to share with you more details. As this is not a very common destination, it is not easy to find information about the organization of the trip. But don’t panic! I came here to explain exactly how our planning was and, of course, to tell more about our experience there!
I think that basically the whole trip starts with the purchase of tickets and the choice of accommodation, right? As we already had the ticket to Panama in hand, we started to research about possible accommodations in Kuna Yala.
At first we thought of hotels, but soon we saw that this was not a valid option at the destination. There are no hotels in San Blas and the very few islands that offer any type of accommodation are quite simple, with rustic cabins.
The average price for staying in one of these huts is 50 to 70 dollars a night and each accommodates 2 people. Most are very simple, some even have sand on the floor, and have shared bathrooms. Some of the islands that offer this possibility are: Tubisenika, with options on the Franklin side (+507 6768-4075, +507 6156-5711 or +507 6060-3842) and others on the Senidup side ([email protected]); Kuanidup (website); and Isla Perro (book here).
As we wanted to spend 6 days there, there was no point in being “stuck” on one of the 360 islands in the region. The sailboat seemed to us the best option for both comfort and practicality to move from one island to another. Aah, the sailboat daily rate includes all meals and tours, ok?
We also had the option of camping each night on an island, but we prefer the comfort of the boat. For those who liked the idea, the daily cost for camping is 10 to 30 dollars per night / person. This includes neither food nor transport from one island to another, which on average costs 50 to 70 dollars. However, know that you will be on your own, after all, most islands do not even have electricity.
HOW DO WE CHOOSE THE SAILBOAT?
We made all of our reservations through the Life Sailing Experience. The website basically has a boat catalog and Marina, a supersympathetic Spaniard, is the curator. In fact, unlike the hotel websites, in San Blas there is no history of reviewing boats with the opinions of users, you need to trust the person who made the selection – in this case, Marina.
Even with her showing us the sailboat of a slightly older couple, Paulo and I prefer Italo (@italomattei) and I can say that it was a good choice. Marina indicated the other couple to us because of the convenience we would have, after all, they cook very well and are super organized. Italo (which is also in the Life Sailing Experiece catalog) is a little more disorganized and smokes, which could bother some tourists, but for us this was not a problem.
It is important to remember that staying on a sailboat is a complete experience. You cannot choose the boat as you would a hotel. You have to think that you are actually entering someone’s home. We, for example, wanted not only convenience, but people close to our age so that we could have pleasant days and good conversations, you know? The experience of staying on a sailboat goes beyond the comfort of the room, the company counts many points.
Well, besides the friendliness of Italo and Francesca, his girlfriend, the boat itself was a great choice. It was a great size for the 4 of us (up to a room left) and everything worked very well.
There are other sites that do this same curatorial work and Italo himself participates in 2 of them: Ocean Trips and I Travel by Boat. There is also another site with exclusive sailboats, San Blas Sailing, but as they are boats that are only on this site, we do not indicate much.
The daily prices are around 200 to 400 dollars per person with everything included: meals, island tours, snacks and even alcoholic drinks (in moderation, of course). However, the cost is very relative because there are much larger boats with a really large crew, with more than 10 people. In general, sailboats over 14 m² are already considered luxury and therefore the value is much higher.
At the time we went, we met some tourists on a sailboat that was twice our own and the cost for the week was just $ 26,000. It is important to note that during the festive season, such as New Year’s Eve, the daily rate for an average boat can reach up to 1,000 dollars. Really, the sky is the limit and it’s up to you to decide which sailboat best fits your style and pocket.
You also have the possibility to contact a boatman directly via instagram, facebook or cell phone. It is logical that in a first time it is always better to have the support of a company, but it is good to know that it is not essential.
HOW TO GET TO KUNA YALA?
You can arrive by car (with an agency or alone), but there is also the possibility to fly to El Porvenir. Paulo and I, as most of the time, prefer to rent a car ourselves. The kunas demand that it be a 4 × 4 car, despite not having much need, but here is the reminder. A good tip is also to leave early in the car to take less queue at the border and already be able to enjoy the first day on the islands.
The trip from Panama City to the Kuna Yala border takes around 2 hours. The road is winding, but well signposted and in good condition. Arriving at the border you will have to show your passport to a Panamanian officer and then to a kuna who asks for the document, but does not even look at the information. Paulo and I were even surprised because he didn’t even open our passport, haha 😉 It is also there that you pay the fee of 20 dollars per person to enter kuna territory + 5 dollars per car (values from January / 2018).
After crossing the border, we took a transfer that took about 15 minutes to the port of Barsukun, the main port in the region. We booked with Judy (+507 6706 -2810) and the whole trip was very smooth – she can even help you if you go straight to one of the islands. Do not forget to check with the owner of the sailboat or the agency where the boat will be, as there are two ports in the area: Barsukun and Carti.
HOW TO FIND YOUR SAILBOAT?
Despite the weak cellular signal at the port, you don’t have to worry too much to find your sailboat. Judy even gives the name of the person you need to find and who will take you to the boat. Before entering the port you will have to pass the model of the car and the color, which makes it much easier. In our case, as the person who was going to help us get on the sailboat already knew what the car was, he himself came to find us.
Despite the apparent lack of structure and information, everything works very well, is organized and, in the end, ended up being more peaceful than we imagined. From the port you will take a smaller boat that will take you to the sailboat.
HOW WAS OUR EXPERIENCE?
Italo knows the region a lot and knew exactly where to take us to make the most of our days. In addition, he fished himself and Francesca prepared the food. Unfortunately, I had to take several vegetarian meals with me, because there is basically only fish and rice.
Paulo was delighted with the fresh fish, but if you are vegetarian, vegan or do not eat seafood it is better to take options in the suitcase. In addition to several grains, I also took some chocolatinhos and besteirinhas. I didn’t know about the lack of vegetables on the islands, and on a second visit, I would definitely add vegetables, greens and fruits to that list. Just stop by a market in Panama City before leaving for Kuna Yala, no mistake 😉
You can also already arrange with the captain of the sailboat what you will need during the stay, but make it clear that you really need certain foods, okay?
Aah, before you ask me, the boat has a toilet, but fresh water needs to be used very carefully. We take the famous sailor bath ourselves every day – to learn more just click here! All fresh water on the boat is made with a desalination machine and, in the case of Italo, it produced 60 liters per hour.
The machine works at disel and therefore this whole process is very expensive. Fresh water over there is gold, so much so that the water used for flushing is from the sea, as well as from one of the taps in the kitchen sink. This is because when washing dishes, you remove the bulk with salt water and only then rinse it with fresh water.
I think sailboats are really the most advantageous options there and, for sure, we recommend the tour to everyone.
Still have questions and want to know more about our experience there? Check out the video that is already there on the channel and, for more information, it’s worth taking a look at Lala Rebelo’s posts – there’s even a very complete guide! Stay tuned here on the site, because a post has already entered answering the questions you left there in my insta 😉