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The San Blas Islands: Time Travel in the Caribbean

We recently hopped through the San Blas Islands on our way from Panama to Colombia – the white sand and bright blue Caribbean waters forever etched in our minds. Unlike other parts of the Caribbean, you won’t find too many comforts on these tiny, palm tree infested islands. They are rustic to say the least, but if you’re willing to sacrifice the sun loungers and a comfortable night’s sleep (we slept in hammocks for two of the three nights) you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world.

Further reading: Want to know more details about the Panama to Colombia boat tour (including how much it’ll cost you? Check out this newer post!

Isla Pelicano

Our first stop in the San Blas Islands was this tiny circle of sand surrounded by the clear waters of the Caribbean. You can walk around this island in a few minutes, but despite being in a tour group of 23 we still managed to find some quiet spots. This island was stunning and no one wanted to leave, but the next island made us glad we did.

Isla Pelicano, San Blas Islands, PanamaIsla Pelicano, part of the boat trip from Panama to Colombia via the San Blas Islands

Isla Coco Bandera

I know the word paradise gets thrown around far too easily these days, but this is one of those places that really earns the title. One local family calls Coco Bandera home and apart from a series of wooden shacks there’s nothing but fine white sand and blue water. Words can’t do an island this beautiful justice, so just look at the photos!

Isla Coco Bandera, a stunning island in the San Blas island chainThe beautiful San Blas Islands, PanamaThe San Blas Islands - a rustic Caribbean getaway

Isla Ballena

This is one of the biggest islands in the San Blas archipelago and is home to both great beaches and a community of Kuna, the rulers of this island chain. The palm tree lined beaches are perfect for relaxing and the water is as inviting as it looks. If you walk to the end of the main beach and scramble through a small section of jungle you’ll come to an even quieter beach. In truth though, most beaches in the San Blas Islands are quiet – tourism works a little differently there than most places in the world.

The San Blas Islands boat trip from Panama to ColombiaIsla Ballena, one of the stunning San Blas Islands, Panama

It’s Panama, but not really

The San Blas Islands, or Kuna Yala (land of the Kuna), is an area of Panama that is essentially a different country. The Kuna control everything to do with the 365 islands (and a large piece of land on the mainland) which is why you won’t see any foreign owned resorts or hotels. The land must stay in the hands of the Kuna, which means the tourism infrastructure isn’t quite what you get in other parts of the world. It’s an interesting experience though, and it’s fascinating to see tiny tropical islands in almost exactly the same state they’ve been in for around 200 years. If you’ve ever claimed an island has become too touristy, the San Blas Islands are for you. Actually, if you’ve ever dreamed of being shipwrecked in paradise or you just want to see an extremely beautiful and unique part of the world, the San Blas Islands are for you too.

Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures

We visited the San Blas islands as part of our journey from Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures. This 4 day/ 3 night tour has been one of the highlights of our trip around the world so far and if you’re overlanding through Latin America it’s such a good alternative to flying from Panama to Colombia (or Colombia to Panama). We only spent about 8 hours on the water during the 4 day tour as apposed to the sailboat trips which spend a couple of days at sea. Check out this post for all the details including costs and accommodation.

San Blas Islands, Panama

Would you like to visit the San Blas Islands? Have you been anywhere similar? Let me know!

I worked with San Blas Adventures to bring you this post – all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. July 22, 2015 at 2:42 pm — Reply


    Those pictures of the islands are just wow! I honestly can’t say I’ve been anywhere similar to this, other than the times my wife and I have spent in the Philippines. But judging from your photos, I really don’t think that they compare to this.

    I’m amazed! Will be on the lookout for any subsequent posts about this paradise. Take care man.

    • July 23, 2015 at 4:25 am — Reply

      The Philippines has some pretty good beaches! Try and get to the Maldives while you’re in Asia – very similar to these islands apart from all the resorts.

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