The San Blas Islands port is a tender wharf located in the middle of the San Blas Islands’ beach area and flea market. Cruise ships anchor at a distance from the port and the passengers are ferried by small boats into the wharf. San Blas is composed of 378 islands, 49 of which are inhabited. The Kuna Indians inhabit the islands and are enjoying full autonomy from the Panama national government.
A visit to the islands of San Blas will surely take you 20 centuries back into the past and show you how the Kuna Indians lead simple lives. The best time to explore the islands is from April to June.
The moment you dock in the wharf, you will see numerous stalls lining the huge marketplace. These stalls sell almost all sorts of wares, from household items to herbal medicine.
Kuna Indians are popular for their molas. Molas are multi-purpose colored fabrics commonly used by Kuna women as blouses. These fabrics are made by sewing multiple layers of cloth to produce beautiful and geometric patterns. The fabric’s intricate designs make it unique and most people use them as wall hangings. Molas with simple patterns will cost you around $10 while those with complicated patterns can go up to $100.
Other wares sold in the market stalls are wood carvings, shell jewelry and souvenir T-shirts. There are no ATMs around so bringing plenty of cash is recommended. It is said that the islands’ currency are coconuts because there are thousands of them scattered throughout the island. However, most Kuna vendors accept American dollars.
Things to See
A visit to the island will help you de-stress and forget your woes at home, work or school. There is no 5-star accommodation in the island. All you get is a very simple eco-lodge with the basic amenities.
Interesting islands to visit are Coco Blanco, Achutupu and Kagantupu. You can catch a ride from Colon Island to these islands by riding on merchant ships or through motorized cayucos. After island hopping, you can sunbathe and snorkel the whole day.
Most of the islands in San Blas require you to pay a visitation fee, which range from $3-$5. If you want to take a picture of the Kunas, they will require you to pay $1 per person. Most of the locals do not want tourists to wear swimsuits or trunks while moving about the islands, except when swimming or diving.
Restaurants and Bars
There are only a few restaurants and bars in San Blas as most of the islands are not inhabited. One notable restaurant is the Cabanas Waica in the island of Mamitupu. You can sleep in cabanas right on the white sand beach or relax in the hammocks surrounded by palm trees. The owner also acts as a tour guide.
Several eateries with limited menus are available in larger villages. Drinks can be purchased in small stores but ice cubes are difficult to procure on the island. It is also almost impossible to party in the island as the Kunas sleep as soon as the sun sets.