San Blas Islands Fact Sheet
San Blas Islands, Panama Fact sheet
IMPORTANT: Please take the time to read this fact sheet, it contains important informmation for any trip to or through the San Blas islands, Panama.
Hi, thanks for your interest in arranging a trip to San Blas through us at Panama Travel Unlimited. San Blas is a special place and is one of Panama’s premier tourist attractions. If you can remember when you’ve seen postcards of small islands, white sand beaches and palm trees, you may have been looking at the San Blas islands. The islands are a great place to relax and enjoy a few days of seclusion on the beaches. We highly recommend going there and we doubt that you will regret it.
Thats the plus side. And as with all paradises there has to be a downside. At Panama Travel Unlimited we believe in honesty above all else, including getting your business. We think that you’ll enjoy your trip to San Blas much better if you know exactly what it will be like.
In case you didn’t know, San Blas is basically it’s own little country, run by the indigenous Kuna Indians. They have their own customs and laws and in many cases Panamanian law doesn’t apply in Kuna Yala, as San Blas is also known. As a native people they have fought hard to maintain their dignity and cutlure and must be one of the most successful indigenous groups in the world for having done so. Tourism is allowed in San Blas only at their discretion and at times they maintain strict controls over it. It’s very difficult for a non Kuna to live within the boundries of San Blas and practically impossible for a Kuna and non Kuna to marry and remain in San Blas. It’s also forbidden for outsiders to operate businesses within Kuna Yala.
This means that all transportation and accomodation options in San Blas are owned and operated by the Kuna people. From the moment you are picked up from your hotel, to the moment that you return to your hotel you are in the hands of businesses that are NOT operated by Panama Travel Unlimited. We would love to be able to operate our own 4×4 transport and have our own hotels in San Blas, unfortuantely this is not the case. That means that we’re in the same position as every other travel agency in Panama and we only have a limited number of options of who we can use for transport and accommodation.
We do use organisations with in whom we have confidence and have used for years, but this doesn’t mean that your trip will always go smoothly. San Blas is still basically third world country and things do not operate as they do back home. The transport is operatd on a shared basis and they have to pick up other passengers so will sometimes be late to pick you up and to return you home. They may stop along the way to make stops that are unscheduled, they may try to fit one extra person in the car. The music could be too loud and there could be mechanical problems. When you arrrive in San Blas you may spend time waiting for transport to your place of accomodation and it may seem like no one knows whats happening. But it usually works out and you’ll make it there. Bear with it and remember, you’re not back home! A little discomfort now will be worth it when you’re relaxing on those beautiful beaches.
And, as with any travel agency, we’re making a booking for you in a hotel in San Blas. We don’t operate the hotel nor are we in charge of their reservations. Once we receive a request for a reservation from yourself we will see if the hotel has a vacancy. We will then confirm a reservtaion for you and ask you for payment. We will ONLY confirm a reservation with you once we have received confirmation from the hotel. We ask for a payment as the hotels in San Blas usually request full payment before your arrival. We will make those payments on your behalf and obviously reconfirm your booking before your arrival. Now, as anywhere in the world, problems can arise and mistakes can be made. It has been known that a hotel can cancel at short notice, even though a deposit or full payment has been made. This is rare and we try not to work with the hotels that have done this. If this does happen then we will make all efforts to find you a new place to stay and to obtain a refund from the original hotel. As we said, San Blas is certainly not like it is back home and it doesn’t operate like it is. Don’t expect your hotel to be the equivelent of a hotel of equal value in Panama City. Accomodation will be very basic and you may well be sleeing in a grass hut with a sand floor. But I guess thats part of the attraction right? The very fact that you’re not back home and things aren’t the same. If they were, you wouldn’t have come.
The food is hit and miss and will often depend on what they are able to catch or buy of local fisherman. Breakfast is often some bread and cheese or a spread like nutella, some of the more upmarket options will include fresh fruit and an egg. Lunch and dinner will normally be rice, plantains, salad, veg, beans, and either fish or chicken. Tomatoe pasta is also sometimes served and to be frank is not that great. You usually get what you pay for. We try and give an honest idea of what food to expect at each place, but what they tell us may be very different to what they serve up, so we rely on you our clients to tell us if something is not as described so we can either alter the description or try and get them to fulfil what they promise and this goes for everything in the San Blas. There customer service is very different to what you might be used to, some may see it as quirky, others rude but remember you are in their paradise.
Also the San Blas islands does have a problem with rubbish collection especially around the town islands and on the beaches facing the ocean as rubbish from passing cargo ships often washes up. There are programs in place to clean up the islands but just be aware that not all the beaches will be spotless and always take your rubbish out with you when possible.
Well. we hope that has’t put you off a great trip in San Blas! And it shouldn’t, it is a beautiful place. But it’s the same as many places in the world, certainly not perfect. But as a company we promise that we will do our best to ensure that your trip goes as smoothly as possible. If you do have any problems then we will do our best to solve them. We have years of working in Panama and our reputation matters to us, a lot. If you do have complaints then be sure to let us know and give us the opportunity to solve them. We can´t promise that we will make you 100% happy if this happens but we will our best.
What to take to San Blas(these are some things you´ll need for sure but obviously it´s not all you will need)
1. Your passport(they may not let you in if you don´t have it)
2. Water and snack food(buy this the day before as the transport may not stop at a supermarket)
3. A light jacket for late afternoon boat rides
4. Towel and swimming gear
5. Your own snorkeling equipment as those in San Blas often have had a lot of use or are not supplied at all. You can but them cheaply in Panama City
6. Change of clothes
7. Money in small bills, $50 and $100 are illegal in the hands of the Kunas in San Blas
8. Cameras, but be aware you may be charged to use your camera on certain islands or to take photos of people
We look forward to hearing from you soon to reserve your trip to San Blas.