Updated: May 19
Back in February, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to sail with my captain friend André on his sailboat around the San Blás islands. It was an absolutely magical experience and just what my exhausted soul needed after a shit year. These islands are Panamá's best kept secret, and are definitely worth a visit if you're planning to travel to Latinamerica. You can check out André's Instagram for more information and amazing photos here:
The Archipelago of San Blas is a cluster of 365 islands of various sizes on the Caribbean side of the country. They are part of the autonomous Guna Yala territory, an aboriginal group also known as the Kuna. They inhabit 50 of the islands, and subsist on fishing, tourism, handcrafts and the creation of molas. A mola is an ancient quilting craft technique passed on between generations of women. It consists on brightly colored cloth patches sown together to create different themes, from local wildlife to traditional patterns and daily scenes. They are beautiful, intricate works of art, and part of their protected cultural patrimony. A well-made mola can cost hundreds of dollars. To learn more about the San Blás Islands and molas click here:
Getting to the Islands from Montana is surprisingly easy. Make sure all your health papers are up to date and check for any entry and exit requirements for both the US and Panamá, since these tend to change constantly! I used the Hopper app and the whole one-way trip cost me around $400, which is a steal for international travel. I took a flight from Billings to Denver, then had a layover in Houston. Then from Houston I landed in Panamá City, on the Pacific side of the country. Panamá City is a bustling metropolis, and also worth a tour if you plan to stay for a few more days!
My arrival to Panamá City was easy and quick. I previously had booked a room at a charming little hostel called Mama Llena, where you can bunk there for as low as $10 a night. They can also arrange pickup from the airport for about $20, which is an absolute game changer for a tired traveller! I also suggest buying a local SIM card ($13) for your phone, which gives you worlwide internet access and communication, even on the islands.
At the hostel, I met up with my badass babe childhood friend Nicole,who's an avid apnea swimmer and scuba diver. We spent the night at the hostel and then at 5 am the next day we hired a a 4Runner for $25 and drove across the country for about 3 hours, to reach Cartí, the main port of Guna Yala. There you have to pay $20 to enter the territory, and another $20 for a spot on a speedboat that will take you to the sailboat.
We finally got on the boat around noon that day, and immediately started sailing around the islands. It was pure bliss!! I missed the sun, wearing a bikini, the relaxed tropical vibes and being barefoot. I soaked up the sun like it was my last day on earth, and for the first time in a while, I felt peace. Nothing like the lull of the sea and a good dose of saltwater to wash the pain away. Just remember to pack several bottles of high SPF suncreen, the sun is absolutely brutal!!
My week on the Sophia has been easily one of the best trips of my life. The days eased by, where my only concerns were sunbathing, drinking rum and beer, snorkeling and gorging myself on the delicious fresh seafood that André and his awesome crew made for us. I loved visiting the Kuna and learning more about their culture, even got a couple of molas and some beaded bracelets to take back with me. By day we went island-hopping, and by night we would sleep on the boat, waking up at another island by morning. Every day was a new adventure.
Once the week was over it was time to sail across the Morrosquillo Gulf to Cartagena, one of the most important ports and tourism hot-spots of Colombia. Those two days sailing across open sea are not for the faint of heart, and I heavily suggest the use of seasickness tablets to avoid discomfort. It's best to wear your most comfortable clothes and just sleep that trip away. You'll wake up in Cartagena in much better shape than I did! In my next blog, I'll be talking about Cartagena and all the amazing stuff it has to offer!!
San Blás is definitely one of those places that have magical healing properties. André and his crew, Duban and Yesid, are absolute rockstars and I can't wait to get back to visit them. Those islands now have a special place in my heart.