San Blas Information
Below is all the information you need to know for your trip.
San Blas (Guna Yala)
San Blas is a special place. If you have seen postcards of white-sand beaches and palm trees, you may have been looking at San Blas. The islands are a great place to relax and enjoy a few days in a paradisiacal setting.
In case you didn’t know, San Blas is basically its own country, run by the indigenous Guna community. They have their own customs and laws and as native people, they have fought hard to maintain their culture. Tourism is allowed in San Blas at their discretion and at times they maintain strict controls over it. It’s forbidden for outsiders to operate businesses within San Blas.
All transportation and accommodation in San Blas are owned and operated by Guna people. From the moment you are picked up at your hotel, to when you are returned, you are in the hands of businesses that are not operated by Panama Travel Unlimited (PTU).
How we work
PTU is a premier travel agency that has specialized in tours in San Blas (Guna Yala) for over 12 years.
We work directly with local Guna guides and families with in whom we have confidence and have used for many years. The islands we work with are those we believe are some of the best available, and offer something for everyone, so we can ensure our customers the best possible time in San Blas.
If you aren’t sure which tour would be suitable for you, please get in touch and our team will be happy to guide you.
We, as an agency, believe in honesty above all else and we think our customers will enjoy their time in San Blas much more if you know exactly what the experience will be like. So scroll down for all the information you need to know…
Accommodation & meals
Accommodation in San Blas is basic but comfortable. There is no luxury accommodation in the islands.
Most islands offer traditional cabanas with sand floors with some of the newer accommodations offering wooden floors. Matresses are of average quality.
Bathrooms are shared amongst all guest unless you specifically book an accommodation with a private bathroom.
There are usually no charging outlets in the accommodation but you will be able to charge electronics in the main eating area.
Meals are included in the price of the trip. They are simple and prepared on the island. Breakfast is generally bread and eggs, and lunch/dinner is a typical plate of fish or chicken, rice, and plantain. We recommend to take some extra snacks and fresh fruit along with you. Some snacks and drinks are available to buy in the island but options are limited. Please let us know if you have any dietary restrictions and we will do our best to accommodate.
All our tours depart from and return to Panama City.
Pick up: Between 5 and 6 am on the first day from your hotel/hostel.
Drop off: Approximately 12 pm (noon) on final day (morning departure) or 3 pm (late departure).
The drive to the port is approximately 3 hours. This does not include any stops, traffic, or weather delays.
The drivers and vehicles that provide service to San Blas are heavily regulated. This means there are a limited number of options to use for transport. Jeeps are operated on a shared basis and carry up to 6 passengers. So, unless your group is exactly 6 people or you booked private transport, it will likely make stops along the way to pick up other guests.
Drivers charge an additional fees of $10 per person for changes to itinerary e.g. if guests decide to change the date/time of their return.
*Transport from hotels/hostels outside of the city area, including Tocumen airport, Amador Causeway, Playa Bonita can be arranged at additional cost.
From the port, you will transfer to a speedboat and make your way out to your home island.
The port can at times seem chaotic, it may feel unorganized and timing is not always precise. Please be patient.
The boat ride can be bumpy and wet. We recommend storing any electronic devices and valuable items in plastic ziplock bags.
Please remember, a little discomort now will be worth it when you’re relaxing on beautiful beaches!
What to bring..
We recommend packing a smaller bag for your trip, if possible.
- Your actual passport
- Extra cash
- Snacks and fruit
- Your own drinks- water, soda, alcoholic beverages.
- Bathing suit and towel
- Hat and sunglasses
- Light clothes
- A light rain jacket
- Insect repellant
- Sun protection
- Reading material
- Fully charged electronic devices
Cash & payment
Please make sure you take cash out in Panama City before your trip. There are no ATMs and credit cards are not accepted in San Blas.
We ask for a deposit at the time of booking and the remaining balance is paid in cash on the day of your trip. Don’t worry, we will explain this clearly in our emails with you.
It’s a good idea to take extra cash with you in case you wish to purchase snacks or drinks on the islands, or if you decide to extend your stay.
Some things you should know
San Blas is a special place and is one of Panama’s premier tourist attractions. If you can remember your default Microsoft screensaver of a small island, with white sand, palm trees, and turquoise water, you were looking at the San Blas Islands. It’s a beautiful place and we highly recommend going there and we doubt that you will regret it.
That is the plus side. And there are many more. But, as with all paradises, there can 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 its own little country, run by the indigenous Guna Indians. They have their own customs and laws and in many cases, Panamanian law doesn’t apply in Guna Yala, as San Blas is also known. As native people, they have fought hard to maintain their dignity and culture 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-Guna to live within the boundaries of San Blas and practically impossible for a Guna and non-Guna to marry and remain in San Blas. It’s also forbidden for outsiders to operate businesses within Guna Yala.
This means that all transportation and accommodation options in San Blas are owned and operated by the Guna 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, unfortunately, this is not the case. That means that we’re in the same position as every other travel agency in Panama and we have a limited number of options of who we can use for transport and accommodation.
We do use organisations within 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 a third world country and things do not operate as they do back home. The transport is operated on a shared basis and they have to pick up other passengers so will sometimes run late to pick you up and 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 arrive in San Blas you may spend time waiting for transport to your place of accommodation and it may seem like no one knows what is happening. But they have a system and you’ll make it to the right place. Bear with it and please remember, you’re not back home. A little discomfort now will be worth it when you’re relaxing on those beautiful beaches.
The food is traditional and will often depend on what they are able to catch or buy from local sources. Breakfast is often bread, arepas, and cheese or a spread like nutella, and eggs. Some islands will include fresh fruit. Lunch and dinner will normally offer rice, plantains, salad, beans, and either fish or chicken. Meals are simple and limited to what the families have access to. Their customer service is very different to what you might be used to, some may see it as quirky, others rude, but most find the families kind and accommodating.
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. The trade winds and currents bring rubbish to the islands from other areas. There are programs in place to clean up the islands but just be aware that not all the beaches will be spotless and please always take your rubbish out with you when possible.
Well, we hope that hasn’t put you off a great trip to San Blas! And it shouldn’t, it is a beautiful and unique place and we are grateful to be offering tours there. 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. If you do have complaints then please let us know and give us the opportunity to solve them. We can´t guarentee that we will make you 100% happy if this happens but we promise to do our best.
How to book
If you decide to book a tour with us, we ask for a copy of all guests’ passports (a photo is fine).
Included in the prices of the San Blas trips is your round trip transport (jeep and boat) from your hostel/hotel in Panama City and back, your accommodation, meals- starting with lunch on day one, and a day tour to other smaller islands. You can read more about what’s included on the individual tour pages.
What's not included?
Not included in the price is the entrance fee to Guna Yala (San Blas) and port fees- 23 USD per person for foreigners, 8 USD per person for Panamanian residents. Snacks and beverages (water, soda, alcohol) are not provided. You are welcome to bring your own along or purchase them on the island (1-3 USD). Snorkeling gear is not provided for most islands but is available to rent.
Do kids pay full price?
For all tours, except the day tour, kids of 8 years and older are charged full price.
Kids 6-8 years are charged a discounted rate with meals included.
Kids 5 years and under are charged a flat fee of 60 USD regardless of the island and how many nights the family books. Meals are not included for kids under 5 years.
What time is check-in/check-out?
You will arrive at your home island around 12 pm noon on the first day and check into your accommodation at that time.
The boat picks guests up from the island around 8 am on the final day, and you will arrive back at your hostel/hotel in Panama City around 12 pm noon.
Late check-outs are available for an additional cost (20-30 USD per person, including lunch). For late departures, guests will normally still need to check out of their accommodation in the morning and leave bags in storage until departure. Boats will pick guests up at 3 pm with arrival to Panama City around 7 pm.
Weather in the islands is tropical and can be unpredictable.
December to April is windy (dry) season. The weather at this time tends to be better and there is less rain. The seas can be rough and the boat ride is bumpy and sometimes wet.
May to November is rainy season. Weather can be changeable during these months. Rain usually comes in spurts that last a few hours and is heaviest in October.
It is recommended that you bring a light rain jacket for boat rides and line your backpacks with large garbage bags and protect electronic devices and valuable items in zip lock bags. Bring a light sweater for the evenings.
Sadly we cannot control the weather and do not give refunds for bad weather.
What can we do in the islands?
There are many reasons to enjoy San Blas but how you spend your time is entirely your choice. Every tour we offer includes a day tour to other smaller islands to snorkel and enjoy the beach. Swimming, laying under a coconut tree, playing volleyball, reading a book, relaxing in a hammock, and drinking from a fresh coconut, are all activities that are possible in the islands.
Drones, surfing, kite surfing, spearfishing, scuba diving, pets, nudity, and drugs are prohibited in the islands.
PTU Viajes SA, hereafter known as Panama Travel Unlimited, in good faith, is acting only as an intermediary between providers and traveller(s) for purchases of travel-related services and products that are not directly supplied by Panama Travel Unlimited such as (but not limited to) air and ground transportation, hotel/resort accommodations with or without meals or other inclusions, tours, cruises, vacation packages, travel insurance, travel-related products, etc. Panama Travel Unlimited attempts to recommend well-known and reputable suppliers, but we have no control over any supplier and do not participate in running their businesses, their policies and procedures, or their terms and conditions. Travellers shall hold Panama Travel Unlimited harmless and not hold Panama Travel Unlimited responsible for any omissions, errors, or acts (known or unknown) committed by any travel supplier, their sub-suppliers, or employees.
Panama Travel Unlimited does not warrant or guarantee the services, quality, or products of any travel supplier, their sub-suppliers or employees or their quality of service, products, rates, bookings, reservations, connections, scheduling or safe handling of traveller(s)’ personal belongings, or their safety/security procedures for traveller(s). Traveller(s) shall hold Panama Travel Unlimited harmless and not responsible for supplier failure to comply with any/all domestic and/or international laws, breach of contract, failure to provide paid-for reservations, intentional or unintentional acts or omissions that result in (but are not limited to) loss/damage/delay/inconvenience/injury to traveller(s). Panama Travel Unlimited shall be held harmless and not responsible for the insolvency, receivership, bankruptcy, liquidation, or similar condition (known or unknown) of any travel supplier.
Traveller(s) shall hold Panama Travel Unlimited harmless and not responsible for anything out of our control before/ during/ after travel that causes traveller inconveniences, pain or suffering such as (but not limited to) expected/known or unexpected/unknown trip interruptions/ delays, documents lost in transit from supplier to Panama Travel Unlimited or to client from Panama Travel Unlimited, safety and security issues and conditions to/at/from destination(s), traveller(s) compliance with domestic and international laws, any and all incurred injuries, damages to personal property, inconveniences caused by (but not limited to) suppliers, civil/ social/labour unrest and/or disputes, climatic weather conditions, acts of god, terrorist activities, condition of supplier equipment, construction failures or difficulties, hotel/resort/ship/vehicle/ plane conditions, judgement errors by a supplier/sub-supplier/or any supplier employees, any and all conditions/circumstances that do not allow travel to take place, abnormal conditions or developments, any risks or conditions (known or unknown) taking place before/during/after travel or any other actions, omissions, or conditions.
All money (cash or credit card charges) given to Panama Travel Unlimited to make reservations is directly passed on to suppliers, except for agent commissions and fees, if applicable. Panama Travel Unlimited is not responsible for refunds of any money due traveller(s) by any travel supplier(s) or for increased charges by any supplier(s). Any refunds due traveller(s) are due from suppliers and any refunds issued to traveller(s) from suppliers and received by Panama Travel Unlimited shall be forwarded to the client, less any fees or money owed to Panama Travel Unlimited.
Rates quoted are appropriate to the particular product at the time of quoting and these rates may change prior to the travel date. All prices are subject to availability and can be withdrawn or varied without notice. Panama Travel Unlimited is not liable for price increases imposed by suppliers.
Refunds and cancellations
We promise to do our best to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. But occasionally things might not go exactly as you expected. Sadly we do not provide refunds in the following scenarios:
- Driver arrives late for pick-up in the morning. Please remember the transport is shared and delays due to traffic, weather, checkpoint, and other pick-ups can occur.
- Guests are not in the arranged pick-up located on time and miss the transport. In this case, we will do our best to arrange another pickup but there may be an additional cost.
- The weather is “bad” or it rains during your trip. We cannot be held responsible for weather conditions unless we cancel your trip due to extraordinary circumstances that we deem unsafe for travel.
- Guests decide to leave the islands earlier than scheduled or not to take part in the day tour. Islands that are booked and paid and unlikely to give refunds if guests decide to depart early. If you let us know at least one day prior to your re-scheduled departure, we will do our best to make the change for you but ultimately it’s the decision of the island.
- Minor delays or inconveniences that may occur during your trip. At times the port can be hectic and seem unorganized, boat rides can be wet, the toilets/bathrooms may not be as clean as you like, or there may be rubbish on the islands. Please keep in mind tourism is still relatively new to San Blas. Most accommodations are rustic, meals are basic, and timing is often not precise. We ask guests for patience, respect of their times, and way of doing things.
If you decide to cancel your reservation for whatever reason, we ask that you give us as much advance notice as possible.
Refunds of deposits are given when a guest cancels their booking more than 72 hours prior to departure. If cancellations are made by guests within 72 hours, the deposit will not be refunded. This applies to bookings made within 72 hours of the trip departure.
In the rare case that we cancel your booking, due to weather conditions, or other miscellaneous events, refunds will be issued.