The San Blas Islands are one of the best tropical paradise destinations in Central America. This archipelago is the kind of sun-drenched utopia you dream of. There is a stunning diversity of islands, from small and completely uninhabited, to big, sparse, and relatively inhabited. And there are many different forms of natural beauty surrounding the San Blas Islands, all just waiting to be discovered.
There are 378 islands within the archipelago and all are scattered around in an area of about 258sq km (100 sq mi). The San Blas region is an autonomous territory in Panama formally called Kuna Yala (after the indigenous people who traditionally inhabit the area). Kuna Yala also covers a large portion of the coastal mainland. The Golfo de San Blas (where the islands are found) is part of the Caribbean Sea on the northeast coast of Panama, and Kuna Yala covers all of this area. The majority of the islands have no inhabitants, however, on the larger ones you will find the inviting indigenous population known as the Kuna.
The Kuna are a community of proud people with their own laws and values that coincide with their cultural heritage. This is very different from the dominant Panamanian (Spanish colonial descendants’) culture. There are an estimated 300,000 Kuna who live in Panama, Costa Rica, and Colombia, with only around 50,000 actually living on the San Blas Islands.
The Kuna control and protect the archipelago against massive tourism expansion and have been able to keep the islands (and reefs) relatively healthy and beautiful. This effective method of preservation through traditional stewardship and governance makes the San Blas Islands a unique destination if you are searching for relatively untouched nature and culture.
Of the 378 islands, there are 49 major islands with different Kuna communities living on them. One of the most important islands is Acuadup. It’s where the leaders of the Kuna community live and make decisions for the entire population across all the islands. You can only reach the San Blas Islands by boat or small plane, but the most popular form of travel between the islands is sailing. The majority of the islands are empty, and there you will find only birds, pristine white-sand beaches, and swaying palm trees. Perfect.
The San Blas Islands are a major draw for travellers from all over the world. The area is easily accessible from Panama City, the archipelago is still relatively undiscovered, and the indigenous Kuna population is doing an amazing job at sustaining the natural beauty for future generations to continue to enjoy. It’s a gem of a destination and Panama’s natural paradise, so go now and discover your tropical dreams.
Header image courtesy Alexander S.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Panama encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.