Tourism in Panama is immortalized by sky-blue waters, candid beaches, verdant rainforests, coconut palms swaying to the open winds of the sea, white sands, coral reefs, and aqua-sports to mention a few attractions. San Blas archipelago is very much a piece of that unspoiled paradise with a rich smearing of all that is part and parcel of the naturally endowed Panama. But there is a mighty difference here. There are more than 350 tiny islands in the archipelago, most of them uninhabited. The interesting difference between San Blas and the other Panamanian archipelagos is that San Blas is ruled by the indigenous Kuna Indians in their own style with little interference from mainland Panama. The tribal Indians have not only inherited the language, customs, and culture from their forefathers but have also adopted their ancestor’s economic system indicating how fiercely independent they are.
At San Blas, tourists will find the old world charm unfold in unexpected ways even though the islands are located at an arm’s distance from Panama City. For around $200, you can fly Air Panama from Albrook Airport and within 30 minutes you would have been transported back in time to a period some 2000 years ago. For the real experience of San Blas, though, you should hit the dirt roads while hopping from island to island and passing through places that are either packed with huts or completely desolate. Or, you can hitch a ride on the rough waters in one of the Kuna merchant ships. On the way, you will see fishermen on their canoes throwing their baited nets into the sea hoping for a good catch. Fishing technology is unheard of in this part of the world. It is true however that even the most advanced technology fades in front of the Kuna women’s talents in weaving colorful fabrics called mola bringing to life birds, animals, fishes, and many other shapes from their backyards with intricate embroidery works.
If you are lucky, you may get a chance to attend one of the simplest wedding ceremonies in the world. The wedding lasts no more than five minutes and ends with the grandmother passing bread rolls to the guests. The bride and groom are thrown into a hammock four times in between. You’ll be surprised to know that this is how the people of San Blas have lived for ages. Their legends, colorful dress, folk music and dance, all have a distinct flavor about them. It is not surprising then that San Blas finds frequent coverage in the National Geographic. And that the Survivor crew chose an idyllic island in San Blas to throw a reward party for the competitors.
Like the archipelago and its people, the food and accommodation at San Blas is simple. Traditional huts with thatched palm leaves making up the walls and roof gives a closest-to-the-earth experience and a taste of the Kuna Indian lives.
Apart from visiting the villages, tourists have many other options in San Blas including cruising, beaching, snorkeling, kayaking, and exploring the wild rainforests. For the records, Cruising World and Le Monde Voyage magazines rate San Blas among the top two cruising destinations in the world.5