The place where time stands still and where you can relax on the white beaches or in the clear blue water between the tropical fish. The San Blas islands should not be missed during your trip in Panama or Colombia! My trip to the San Blas islands was absolutely fantastic! Read all about my personal tips, experiences and the budget and costs of these paradises on earth.
The San Blas Islands are an archipelago of 357 islands off the coast of Panama. They are part of Gunayala province, which is owned by the Kuna Indians. In total, the islands are inhabited by 300,000 Kuna Indians. But most of the islands are uninhabited. Fishing with basic snorkeling equipment and diving around the islands is not allowed. This makes the reef one of the best preserved in the world.
The Kuna Indians speak reasonably Spanish, but mainly speak their own language: Dulegaya. Some also speak a few words of English. With basic Spanish, some English and a lot of gestures, communication works well.
Curious about my itinerary for Panama in 2 weeks? Check it here!
The trip to the San Blas islands
We visited the San Blas by speedboat from Panama. We booked a trip consisting of 2 nights and 3 days on one of the islands well in advance. In the morning at 5:15 am we were picked up by jeep from our hostel in Panama City. On the way we stopped at a supermarket to do the last shopping for the islands. Be sure to stock up on enough water and some snacks. At the border area of Gunayala we stopped for passport control. Here we had to pay $ 20.
The drive took about 4 hours in total and is very hilly especially at the end with many hairpin bends. After the ride we had to wait about half an hour for the boat that would take us to the island.
The boat trip took us about 45 minutes. The trip is not very comfortable because we got soaked by all the splashing water and the boat hit the water hard with every wave. Sore butts guaranteed! But once you get there, it’s worth the trip.
You certainly should not expect luxury, but the Kuna Indians took very good care of us. Every day we were served delicious meals consisting of the catch of the day, potatoes or rice and salad. The breakfast consisted of freshly baked bread or tortillas with an egg. They asked us in advance if we had an allergy, so that they could take this into account.
There is electricity on the islands, but only for lighting. I also read that on some islands the power is cut at night, but this was not the case on the island we stayed at.
The only thing I found very unfortunate was that we saw quite a lot of washed up trash on the beaches. During the period that we visited the islands it was very windy. As a result, a lot of waste washed up. Fortunately, this was not the case on every island.
The different San Blas Islands
We visited three other islands by speedboat from our island. For every island you visit, you have to pay a few dollars tourist tax. Along the way you will see a lot of large, but also very small islands passing by.
Also take a good look around you during the boat trip. We have seen flying fish ‘flying’ along the boat several times. Very cool to see! These fish really fly just above the water for a few seconds. We were also lucky to see six dolphins swimming next to and under our boat. How cool is that?!
Naranjo Chico / Narasgandup bipi
We stayed on the island of Naranjo Chico / Narasgandup bipi. There’re perhaps 15 huts for tourists on this island. Different types of huts are offered: a few above the water and several on the sand. I think most huts on the beach have wooden floors (nice against the crabs and sand fleas), but maybe some of them are directly on the sand.
We had paid for a cabin on the sand for 2 nights (because it was simply a lot cheaper), but got a cabin over the water the first night! Such luxury! We could jump into the water from our balcony. That was also the first thing I did.
Several organizations offer the huts on the island. A number of Kuna Indians also live on Naranjo Chico / Narasgandup bipi. During our visit there were more huts under construction, most likely for the tourists. There are also huts where you can buy a drink, such as cola, beer or a fresh coconut.
Isla Perro / Dog island
Isla Perro, or Dog island, is one of the most famous islands. You also have the option to stay here, but I think I wouldn’t recommend it. The island is not large, but it’s quite crowded with other tourists. There’re just a few palm trees, so the wind is constantly blowing hard.
It’s beautiful to visit this island for a few hours because you can snorkel here. Off the coast is a shipwreck where lots of fish swim and the coral has taken over the ship.
The tourist tax costs $ 3 per person.
An island inhabited by Kuna Indians
On the first day we visited an island inhabited by the Kuna Indians. As far as I know you cannot stay here as a tourist. The island is filled with primitive huts in which the Kuna Indians live. This island had, among other things, a school and a shop.
One of the Kuna’s told us that there’s no police on any of the islands. There’s simply no violence or theft.
During the short tour, the children all followed us while giggling quietly. The women sold their Molas and jewelry. Molas are handmade embroidered fabrics / rugs. The jewelry is also handmade by the Kuna’s and consists of colored beads. The women wear the same richly decorated clothes and wear the jewelry on their arms and legs.
Tourist tax for this island costed us $ 4 per person.
Isla Estrella / Starfish island
I think this was one of the most beautiful islands. Especially since this island is uninhabited and as far as I saw, there weren’t huts for tourists. There were also very few tourists when we were there in the late afternoon. The island is very long stretched and there are many palm trees.
But the island is especially special because, yes, there are a lot of starfish in the water. Everywhere you swim you’ll encounter large yellow and red starfish. We had never seen starfish while snorkeling, so it was a very nice experience.
The city tax costs $ 2 per person.
What to bring
You can bring enough stuff to the San Blas and some things you really shouldn’t forget. These are the main ones:
- Mosquito repellents such as DEET are recommended on the islands. Also a mosquito net is not an unnecessary luxury because these are not standard in the huts even though this is sometimes shown in the photos. Take some rope with you to make it easier to attach your mosquito net.
- Put a flight bag or a rain cover over your backpack. During the boat trip you and your stuff get quite wet!
- Don’t forget to bring snorkel gear. You could not rent them on the islands at the time, and you will use them very regularly.
- Bring enough water and snacks. I assume that you can buy drinks on most islands where you can sleep, but bringing your own supplies can never hurt and is nice and cheap.
- You cannot charge your electronic devices on some islands. For that reason, take a power bank with you, so that you can still take beautiful photos every day.
- Don’t forget to bring a flashlight. There is some light on the island, but not very much. And if the power is actually turned off at night, a flashlight will come in handy.
Costs & Budget San Blas islands
There are many different organizations that offer all kinds of tours, so prices will vary considerably. I think if you book in advance you will probably be cheaper off than if you book the tour on the spot.
For a day tour, you can pay around $ 135 which includes the car and boat transfer, lunch and two islands. The same full-day tour that includes a private car can cost $ 65.
The price for 1 night is approximately between $ 145 and $ 265 per person. You don’t always pay a fixed amount per night, but you often get a discount depending on how many nights you stay. For example, the price for 3 nights is between $ 285 and $ 500 per person in total. It depends on which island you stay and whether you have a private or shared bathroom.
We ended up paying € 228 per person for 2 nights (so 3 days) with a private bathroom on the island of Naranjo Chico.
A multi-day tour to the San Blas islands is certainly not cheap, but definitely worth it! The price usually includes the car ride, the boat trip, trips to other islands and meals; 2 meals a day on the days of arrival / departure and 3 meals on the other whole days.
I think it doesn’t really matter which organization you book the tour with. On the island, it is the Kuna’s who take care of everything and arrange it for you.
We really enjoyed our stay on the islands and I definitely recommend everyone to visit the San Blas islands!
Read more about the prices and costs of my trip through Panama here.
Best time to visit San Blas islands
The San Blas islands generally have a long rainy season from May to December so you could therefore say that the best travel time for the San Blas islands is from January to April. The least rain falls during this period. See also the extensive climate information for the San Blas.
We visited the San Blas islands in December and had reasonably good weather. During the day it was dry and the sun was often present after some cloudy hours and at night it rained. The temperature was very pleasant.
How to get to the San Blas Islands
The San Blas islands are easily accessible through various tours from Panama and Colombia. There’s also the possibility to visit the islands as a transit route between these two countries.
You can opt for a tour with a sailboat, in which you visit several islands in a few days and spend the most time on the sailboat. But you can also choose a tour where you take a speedboat to an island and stay a few nights here.