"Panama's Maledives" - no luxury though, just an explorer's heaven!"Panama's Maledives" - no luxury though, just an explorer's heaven!

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  • Off the path Explo
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    3.8 / 5
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    It seems to be a great off the path location with many fun Explos to make on site!
  • Article Quality
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      5 / 5
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      Cool description and tips Marejka!
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      Useful information is ok. A plan would be great! ;)
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      Yes, 4 pics!
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      5 / 5
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      It seems to be ok ;)
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      Yes, that's ok.
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Have you always been dreaming of crystal clear waters and small round white-sanded islands with a few palm-trees on them? Then you've come to the right place - if you dare!

My experience, Explo description: 

In front of Panama's northern coast lies an archipelago, called "San Blas Islands" (international) or "Kuna Yala" (local). It consists of... over 365 small paradise islands! Really, the scenery is like taken from a brochure. It is Maledives - with a twist.
The thing is, there is no luxury whatsoever out here... no fancy resorts, no expensive restaurants, no wellness spas. These islands are pure nature.

You're asking for highlights? Everything is a highlight here. It's a highlight to wake up in your hut, look out of your window and see the crystal blue sea everywhere. What could be better than laying on the beach under a palm tree and watch dolphins pass by. When you're tired from staring, collect and open a coconut or two... play coconut bowling... look for shells... snorkle... swim... just BE!

My personal recommendations: 

We stayed 4 nights in 2009, 3 of them prebooked on a privately owned sailing boat named "BlueSky". Debbie and Breeze, the owners, took us around some of the archipelago in the boat. It was just us and them onboard, which I think was great. We had our private cabin big enough for two, and our private bath on the boat. In the evenings we helped Debbie and Breeze prepare dinner (mostly freshly caught fish or what was there to buy from the Kuna people), then had a drink, a game, some music, chillin and staring at the stars.
Contact Stuart from hostal mamallena in panama city for BlueSky sailing.
You might also charter e.g. Tony Santos' "Andiamo", typically with more guests aboard (more party). (Look for him on Facebook)
Our trip took us to the village-island of Cartí (wasn't it??) where there live a lot of Kunas. The Kuna people are very traditional and with special religion, beliefs and societal rules. Check out their traditional dresses (the Molas), that's great work! The village islands can be crowded and polluted but they are nevertheless a great experience.
After 3 perfect nights on the BlueSky, we were dropped of at the small island of Icodup where we spent 1 night in a hut in perfect sunshine and harmony for little money..... there were actual toilets on this island, you won't find that on any island! There were a few tourists besides us, but plenty of space to enjoy anyhow.

How getting there: 

See, that's adventurous. You can get there by a 4wheel via the Carti road. The road itself is an adventure, taking you through the mainland of the Kuna people, over hills and through jungle. Small entrance fee at the Kuna Lands border.
You might also take a plane from Panama City, that's adventurous too... very small planes, short airstrips!
After landing at the coast you need to get further by boat. The coast villages and beaches can be very polluted, so you won't want to stay there.
We prebooked when we went out there. You will be shipped with a small lancha boat to one of the islands. Depending on the weather this boatride can be fun... prepare and protect your gear from getting wet.
Try the Lonely Planet forum or Hostal Mamallena for Kuna contact persons, who can give you tips and bring you out to the small un-inhabited islands. Bring your gear, food and water if you want to stay overnight on one of the islands. The Kuna people will be glad to ship you anywhere for fees.

Notice: It can be tough to find out which island people are talking of. They have english names as well as Kuna names and Spanish names. Some islands are named the same even though they are located in totally opposite directions. So make sure you know exactly WHICH island you are going to be shipped to! :)

A tip to eat: 

There's not much else to eat than rice, freshly caught fish or maybe a chicken; water and beer. The locals provide. There are some small stores on the village islands, but don't expect culinary experiences! Everything has to be brought out there by boat or plane, so there will be shortage in supplies sometimes and little to chose from. When we went on that boat trip, Debbie and Breeze asked us to shop in advance, gave us a shopping list and we then organized a lot of grocery and more in a supermarket in Panama City.
NOTICE - there will be VERY little candy, chocolate and stuff out there on the islands. Debbie and Breeze were thrilled we brought some candy bars. Bring some candy (which does not melt), and you will make people glad. Bring what you cannot live without, e.g. if you are on a special diet or need your daily fix of nuts or so.

A tip to sleep: 

On one of the islands... there are several inhabited with hostals - poorly inhabited with maybe privat renting out of a hut or tent - and not-inhabited...

Useful information: 
Open hours: 

We went there in February - the weather was not too good all the time. In fact we only had 1 day of nice sun, rest of the days were cloudy and windy (which can make it difficult to sail and snorkle). Check the Internet for good weather periods. As far as i remember july/august or so is rainy season, but we also heard that this period can be fine. As I said, please check that elsewhere.

Visit duration: 

As long as you can take a life on rice, fish and beer without TV. :)

Entry fees: 

Some islands charge entry fees, but it's not much. Bring small notes (dollars)

Contact: 

Hostal Mamallena in Panama. It's a good place to start, they will help plan your stay in the islands.
Or go to Lonely Planets Panama forum, there's a lot of useful information here too.