The San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands are a vast archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast composed of over 300 islands. Some are inhabited but many not. We had never heard about them before but they are a popular, in a remote kind of way, cruising area particularly for those going onto the Canal and the Pacific. The Islands are home to the delightful indigenous Guna Indians who have preserved their culture and traditions, and live in a very simple way. They have no electricity except maybe a solar panel, no running water, and sleep in hammocks. Life seems very relaxed. They have certainly given us food for thought.

The Islands are idyllic, but the people really make the area. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the Guna’s and cruisers which appears to work. They like our dollars and we really appreciate the veggie boat, the lobsters and the molas! Quite what they think of our sophisticated boats and inability to catch our own lobsters we do not know, and possibly that is a good thing!

We have met up with Bill and Moira on s/y Krabat, Allen and Maria on s/y Lady Jane and Jana and Jan-Dirk on s/y Jajapami and we are loosely cruising together. These are all friends from our Jimmy Cornell rally who are travelling through the Canal and onto the Pacific.

Wonderful palms

Green Island. The view from the mast.
Beautiful beaches
A little dug out sailing past us
They paddle in these dugouts for miles
The very simple little Guna huts

One day a Guna came out to our boat and via some good sign language we understood that one of the men on the island had cut their hand badly with a machete. We offered plasters, bandages as you would, but this was not going to do. Our friends on Jajapami could speak Spanish and that was certainly going to help so Julian took the injured Guna to Jana on Jajapami, and she did an excellent first aid job and they then ferried the chap in their Catamaran to the nearest hospital the next day. He had 7 stitches for a severed artery. It was great to be able to help.

The poor Guna resting on Jajapami on the way to hospital

As you would expect the snorkelling has been great, although climbing/slithering over the reef at Green Island proved a serious challenge which we probably will not repeat.

Julian ready to venture over the reef in the background
Believe me there are no Mc Donald’s near here but their plastic gets everywhere
There are not so many fish but great corals

This place is really remote and the last time we really provisioned was in the USA at the beginning of December. Our stores are getting very low and there are no shops here so when you see fresh fruit and vegetables you buy! There is a little bit of moaning from the captain about his rather plain diet.

The veggie pick up in Linton
The veggie boat in Chimichimi

There always seems to be a dog living with the families. We were most entertained to see this dog dig up a crab. I guess when there are no rabbits, moles, rats or other small vermin what can you do. It seemed an uneven fight but the crab won the day!

Size did not matter here!

We are kept well supplied with lobster and they are excellent. What a treat!

This chap free dived for our lobsters
Two happy boys cooking lobsters in Uncle Peter’s pot!
An excellent Lobster supper on Krabat

I have really enjoyed admiring the molas made by the Guna ladies. They come out in the canoes to sell them or display them at their huts. These pass Julian by, but they are very beautiful appliqué with embroidery on top. Quite how they do this without glasses and light I do not know. I will reluctantly limit myself to two!

Two beautiful molas

7 thoughts on “The San Blas Islands”

  1. Dear Patricia and Julian, what a wonderful description of the San Blas Islands. May you have very many more such discoveries in the next 5 ? 8 years. I am holidaying on the Durban coast with cousin Seannie. It looks calm and beautiful, but I know it can be treacherous.
    Good luck with the Panama Canal.
    Love Peter.


  2. I had never heard of the San Blas Islands either, so you’re certainly improving my geography. The photos of the little huts under the palms and the dugouts remind me of the desert island stories of my childhood, on which intrepid children would get marooned! Good to see that the cruisers and the locals get on so well together. Your descriptions
    really make your voyages come alive, backed up with such informative photos, molas are so vivid and colourful, you’re spoilt for choice.


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