Tips when Traveling to Guna Yala/San Blas

 The San Blas Archipelago / Guna Yala is home to the Guna people. This province consists of numerous small islands and keys and part of the mainland. It is known picturesque scenery that consists of white deserted sandy beaches with palms, transparent blue waters, seafood and the colorful Guna culture.

For EcoCircuitos it is important to manage expectations to all destinations, but particularly San Blas Archipelago/ Guna Yala territory.  We would like to highlight the following:

  • Very rustic, it is not a luxurious destination nor a snorkeling or diving destination. It is a cultural destination.
  • Lodging is rustic with basic amenities
  • Take precautions for mosquitos, chitras, bats and other rodents
  • Be flexible, you will be on Guna time
  • Remember everything in this area of the country is operated by the Gunas under their rules and regulations
  • Tours can change due to climate and weather conditions

Flying to Achutupu or Playon Chico: Domestic flights to San Blas are operated in small planes that seat around 12 people and have the strict check in baggage limitations. Each person is allowed to check in 14kg and can carry a small bag. Don’t be surprised if the airline representative asks to weigh you as well.  They are very conscious of how much weight the planes can carry. This flight is approximately 30 minutes long.

When flying to Achutupu or Playon Chico it is possible your plane could make multiple stops, be sure to listen to the captain at each stop when he announces the name of the area. If you do not hear name of the stop, please ask the captain.

Achutupu Airstrip: When you arrive to Achutupu you will see an airstrip and a small one room concrete structure. Your host will be waiting for you to transfer you approximately 15 minutes to your lodge.

Playon Chico: When you arrive to Playon Chico you will see the airstrip and a long walking bridge that connects the airport area to the Playon Chico island. A representative from the lodge will be waiting for you to take you to your lodge, which is less than 10 minutes away.

Arriving by car to Carti (Please remember your passport): From Panama City to the coast of San Blas it can take approximately 3 hours. You will travel east along the Pan American Highway passing the Tocumen International Airport in the direction towards Darien. You will pass through one checkpoint. Eventually you will veer to the right and travel down a windy and curvy road that will take you through the Guna Yala Territory to the coast. There will be two check points, one will be a police check point and the other will be to pay Guna tourism taxes. The road is like a roller coaster and we recommend travellers with that are sensitive to motion to take motion sickness medicine just in case.

Once you arrive to Carti you will be met by your local host and will be transferred by boat to your lodge, this boat transfer could take approximately 20 minutes.

To take: enough cash ($100 max each for two nights/ three days, better to take more than less just in case. Also useful for some Kuna handcrafted products to buy on the island), a mosquito net, mosquito spray, toilet paper, shower gel and shampoo, sunglasses and high protection sun cream (the sun is really hard in the tropics), hat, towel, snacks and water, raincoat and camera/ gopro of course! Better to wear long clothes during the night.

*After reading this document and you still have questions or would like more details, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com or marketing@ecocircuitos.com

     

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Best Diving and Snorkeling Spots in Panama

From: Dive Advisor

Panama was named after an indigenous word meaning, “abundance of fish.” This beautiful Central America paradise is one of the few places in the world where you can dive two oceans in one day. With the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean on its east and the cooler waters of the Pacific on the west, it’s just a two-hour car ride between them in some places. Panama boasts 1,207km of Caribbean coast and 1,700km of Pacific coast.

On the Caribbean side, divers come for the abundance of colorful reef fish and corals. When rating the best diving in Central American, Bocas del Toro always comes up with its white sand beaches and many calm and the Bastimentos Marine National park. It’s a great place to learn how to dive and the marine life make it a great place to keep diving. Another popular spot on the Caribbean coast is Colon, only two hours from Panama City. Just offshore, the Portobelo National Marine Park has beautiful corals and the area is filled with a history of pirate battles and sunken ships.  Sir Francis Drake died at sea in 1596 and his body, clad in a full suit of armour and in a lead coffin, is thought to be off the coast of Portobello.

On the Pacific side, cooler waters and currents make encounters with pelagic common. Lucky divers can see several species of shark, whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and more. Coiba National Marine Park is often referred to as the Galapagos of Central America and has the second largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Pearl Archipelago also offers great options close to Panama City.

Just nine degrees north of the equator, Panama is hot and humid year round. The rainy season is May- November and the dry season is December-April (with less humidity and almost no rain.) Panama is not in the hurricane belt, but it can get strong winds from nearby storms. Air temperatures throughout the year range form 20-32C, being a bit cooler in the winter/dry season. Water temperatures vary between coasts. The Caribbean side the water can be as cool as 25C in the winter and as warm as 28C in the summer. Coiba can get as cold as 20C during winter and reaches a high of around 24C in the summer.

Best Spots to Dive in Panama

Coiba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 38 islands. Lonely Planet says it’s “The best diving to be found along the Pacific Coast from Columbia to Mexico.” Coiba gets the big stuff. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive including white-tip reef sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and occasional hammerheads, bull, and tiger sharks. Whale sharks are common visitors from December to April. Humpback whales are seen July through October and orcas and pilot whales frequent the area. Large schools of mantas and mobula rays sometimes swim by, and most dives have turtles, schools of large fish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and dolphins.

On the Caribbean side of Panama, close to the Costa Rica boarder, is Bocas del Toro. This archipelago of nine large islands includes the protected area of Isla Bastimentos National Marine. Bocas is known for its well-preserved hard and soft corals. Being outside of the official hurricane zone, away from large cities and river mouths, the coral is very healthy. It is estimated that 95% of the coral species found in the Caribbean Sea can be found within the archipelago.

Tiger Rock is rated one of the best dive sites around Bocas del Toro, and is three rock pinnacles that rise up from the sea floor at 40m. It’s an advanced dive and can have strong currents, but is a good place to see sharks, rays, large fish schools, whale sharks and dolphins. Its location requires perfect sea conditions for boats to be able to get there. Dolphin Rock is another offshore rock formation where sharks can be seen and has lots of colorful fish life. The diving is also very good around Zapatillas Cays, another more distant boat ride.

Closer to town, Bouy Line is a poplar shallow site (near a deep water channel buoy) that has sea horses, lionfish, crabs, and lots of morays. Hospital Point is near the north end of Isla Solarte and has healthy cauliflower and brain corals on a sloping wall. The dive usually has a slow current and is 15m deep max. Sashek is another drift dive between Bastimentos and Carenero that has rare long lure frogfish. Airport is a protected site good for training dives, and has lots of coral.

Also on the Caribbean side, but further southeast is Portobelo National Park. This is also a popular diving area with great marine life. Being closer to Panama City, people come directly from the city to dive this area that has great reef dives and several wrecks.

Water temperatures on the Caribbean side are warm year round (23-27C) and a 3mm is usually plenty. On the Pacific side, colder currents bring waters (15-23C), so a 5mm will be comfortable. For those doing deep dives in the winter, thermoclines can be present, so a 7mm might be useful.

If you are looking for good snorkelling one of the best spots is the San Blas Archipelago.  In this Guna land is forbidden to dive with a tank but here you will find one of the most untouched coral reefs by mankind. The reef holds its beauty for decades now since people do not pollute the waters around it.  The Kuna Indians or Guna indians live from the sea and hunt on it. They hunt the reefs and sandbanks by using simple snorkeling gear and do not over fish their own waters because they only take what is needed to stay alive. They are scared that scuba dives will kill the great schools of fish and leave the Kuna without food to survive. They will preserve the coral reef for future generations this way.

The rich sea life and the crystal clear water will give you plenty enough time to drift away from the world above water. One of the easy places to get in touch with this sea life is the shipwreck near Isla Perro. This place is perfect for people not used to snorkeling or scuba diving but also gives people that have done it before a nice challenge to spot all the sea life around the ship. Don’t forget to bring your underwater camera because spotting a wild turtle, shark or octopus isn’t a rare sight in the waters around the San Blas Islands.   The best way to snorkel in San Blas is charter a sailing boat.  EcoCircuitos Panama organize this adventure for you.

Kayaking Adventures in San Blas , Guna Yala

The Natural and Cultural Heritage of Kuna Yala

In close collaboration with Kuna authorities and under organized community managed sustainable tourism development frameworks, we’ll use our stable sea kayaks to explore the islands West of the traditional community of Digir. It was here where several important actions of the Kuna Revolution took place in 1925, resulting in law 16 of 1954 by the Republic of Panama that guarantees the Kuna their sovereignty and territorial boundaries.

A detailed study in 2003 by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Kuna NGO, PEMASKY; showed that Kuna Yala has the highest diversity of coral species as well as the best reef development in all of Panama. We will become intimately familiar with them as our Kuna guides paddle with us between several different small white sand islands, where the greatest snorkeling is right outside your tent. The cultural interaction on this journey is unprecedented. The itinerary will remain flexible, to take into account weather conditions, currents and tides, and we expect an occasional non-paddling day to provide ample opportunity for exploratory hikes – bring good walking shoes for pristine forest creek bed trekking!

What to Bring to this Kayaking adventure:

  • Binoculars
  • Camera with extra batteries
  • Flashlight with extra bulb & batteries
  • Hat, day pack
  • Dry sack
  • Water bottles
  • Lightwight/quick dry cotton clothes
  • Windbreaker, rain gear
  • Sandals, sneakers, hiking shoes
  • Money in small denominations
  • Toiletries & personal medications
  • Snorkeling equipment
  • Bathing suit
  • Insect repellent
  • sunscreen

Traveling to Guna Yala? the San Blas islands?

Our Guna Yala Expedition  involves hiking, camping, dugout boat and snorkeling.  Below some information for those interested in this amazing adventure.

All participants must sign a Waiver and Release Form before the trip begins.

MEDICAL MATTERS
The trip leader is responsible for the safety of all trip members and he or she may withdraw or disqualify a trip member in the field if anyone’s safety is jeopardized. Please be aware that hospital facilities for serious medical problems may at times be a long way away, that a doctor may not always be available, and that evacuation can be delayed, complicated and expensive.
Remember that EcoCircuitos, S.A. is not a medical authority and that we can only give you general information, which may not be accurate by the time you travel. You should discuss with your physician, local health department.

Immunizations
No immunizations are required at this time to enter Panama. The standard recommended immunizations currently are:
Insect repellent is a very essential part of preventing insect-born diseases, and you must bring your own personal supply.
We advise you to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the early morning and early evening hours is also a good precaution against insect bites.

PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT
We suggest you to bring a basic first aid kit for emergencies, bring your own personal first aid supplies with any medications you may need. Also we advise you to bring extra prescription medicine in case of an emergency.

MONEY MATTERS
You won’t need to take a large amount of money on the trip –enough for any souvenirs, drinks and incidental items. Anywhere from $100 to $300 should be adequate for incidentals and souvenirs, depending on how much shopping you like to do, plus some money for staff tips.

GRATUITIES
It is customary in Panama to tip the staffs that have assisted you on the trip. Trip members can contribute toward a group tip to be share among cooks, camp staff, and local guides. Your trip leader will give you more guidelines on how to tip the staff. Tipping is at your own discretion and you are under no obligation to tip. In cities and in larger country hotels, lodges, restaurants, and shops, you can use credit cards to charge purchases such as accommodations, food, and clothing. American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Diner’s Club are accepted. You can also use your credit card or ATM card to withdraw funds from participating banks in Panama. Outside of cities it may be difficult to find an ATM or use credit cards.

WEATHER & CLIMATE
The days in the Kuna Yala are normally sunny and hot, with temperatures between 75º and 95º Fahrenheit and occasional high humidity. Nights are comfortably cool with temperatures in 70s and 80s. In the Caribbean it can get fairly windy, causing wind directions to change constantly. In the event of high winds and stormy conditions in could be necessary to change our itinerary.
During the Rainy Season between May thru December, storms and heavy rain are possible.

LUGGAGE, CLOTHING & TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
Try to travel as light as possible and take only the essentials. Excess baggage can be a burden to you and to our support personnel. Also keep in mind; there are limits on how much your duffel and daypack can weigh (25 lbs. for the duffel and 10 pounds for the daypack) because of weight restrictions on the domestic flights within Panama.

LUGGAGE
• Duffel bag. We advise that you bring one duffel bag for your gear, and we suggest a size of about 14” x 30” or 15” x 36” with a lock. Make sure your duffel is made of a sturdy material. “When you fly, always bring in your carry-on bag all
irreplaceable items, such as cameras, medications, spare eyeglasses and important papers.”
• Daypack. It should have a capacity of 1500 to 2000 cubic inches and can double as your carry-on bag.
• Small waterproof dry bag to carry personal items (camera, etc.) while on board the kayaks.

CLOTHING
In this tropical journey you will be exposed to sun, wind, and saltwater. Lightweight cotton clothes are suitable for warm weather and are recommended on this trip. Light clothing is truly all that is considered necessary (long sleeves are suggested for sun protection during kayaking). A light covering (cotton sleeping bag liner or silk or fleece bivy) is adequate for a comfortable sleep. Plastic garbage bags are recommended as liners for your dry bag as added protection.
Note: While in communities, women should dress modestly wearing long pants or sarongs and sleeves (no bikinis, tank tops or short shorts) out of respect for the locals.

TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
Pack based on expected weather conditions and weight restrictions for you your luggage.
• Regular underwear. Synthetics are easier to wash and dry.
• Long-sleeved shirt. Short –sleeved synthetic and cotton T-shirts. Lightweight lycra top or “skin” for sun protection while snorkeling.
• Full-length pants, preferably of quick-drying synthetic fabric. Hiking shorts, preferable or a synthetic fabric.
• Sun Hat with wide brim, preferably with chinstrap to keep it from blowing off. Bandanna. It will keep your neck from getting sunburned and can double as a hand towel.
• Lightweight Gore-Tex rain/wind parka.
• A small umbrella is optional (lightweight and collapsible – good for sun and rain protection).
• Athletic socks (synthetic for easy washing and drying) that is suitable for your walking shoes. You should bring along a couple of extra long socks so that pants can be tucked into them (e.g. for when encountering sand fleas).
• Comfortable walking shoes with good ankle support and good traction, or lightweight hiking boots.
• Water sandals with a strap, or Neoprene Kayaking slippers such as Aqua socks.
• Swimsuit. A change of bathing suits is recommended to avoid salt-water rash.
• Cotton or silk bivy bag or sleeping bag liner.
• Water bottle, 1- or 1.5-quart capacity. Make sure it is leak-proof, heavy-duty plastic.
• Synthetic chamois towel and additional small tower (one for salt and one for fresh water).
• Toiletry kit – soap, toothbrush, and so on.
• Insect repellent. It’s important that you bring an ample supply of good quality repellent.
• Ace bandage or brace if you’re prone to sore knees or ankles.
• Sunglasses.
• Spare pair of prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses, or contact lenses. (Attention
contact lens wearers: you will encounter lots of dust and sand — plan to wear glasses
some of the time).
• Sunscreen and lip protection with at least SPF 15 rating.
• Small flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries. A headlamp is handy for reading in your tent.
• Hand sanitizer or disposable pre-moistened towelettes for quick hand washing and hygiene.
• Plastic bags of various sizes for keeping things sorted out in your duffel. Zip-lock bags work well. (
• Snorkeling mask (please don’t bring fins – they are not necessary, they destroy the reef, and take up valuable space).
• Earplugs for noisy roosters, crashing waves on the beach, etc.
• 30-foot, three-millimeter thick, nylon cords to hang clothes to dry.
• Talcum powder, to prevent salt-water rash.
OPTIONAL TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
• Washcloth
• Reading and writing material
• Binoculars
• Your favorite snack food. The community will provide plenty of excellent food on the trip, but you might want to bring along your favorite snack food.

Electricity
The 120V, 60Hz system works in Panama. Sockets are normally the flat two-pin variety (like in the US), but can vary. We still recommend you to bring a converter and plug adapters if you are planning to use a hairdryer or an electric shaver.

Time Zones
The Republic of Panama is on Greenwich Mean Time minus five hours. Panama City is the same time as New York and 3 hours ahead of California. Then with daylight savings time, Panama is the same as Central time.

Communications
Fax machines and telephones are available at most hotels in the capital. In some of the Kuna Yala communities you will have a phone; at times they do not function.

Cross Cultural Issues
While traveling in a foreign country you must remember that you are a visitor/guest and try your best to become accustomed to the local culture and customs. English is spoken in larger cities, but as you travel further away from these cities you will find there are very few people who speak English. If you are having any difficulties with communicating, ask your guide for
assistance. Also at times it is common for events to take place in a foreign country that are different from your personal beliefs. It is important to have patience and respect the local culture; these are key elements for a successful and inspiring experience.

Sailing in the San Blas Island, the Guna Archipelago

San Blas Archipelago, also known as the region of Guna/Kuna Yala, is formed by 365 coral islands and remains one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean for sailing charter. The best and most privileged way to discover San Blas is by sailing among its white sand islands and beautiful turquoise waters. Come on board and discover it with us!

Day 1: Arrival to El Porvenir in San Blas at 6:35 in the morning. We will pick them up for embarkation on our sailboat to start the charter. We will sail to Cayo Limon. Snorkel on a sunken ship covered in multicoloured coral and surrounded by crystal clear waters. Anchor at this idyllic spot to enjoy sunset and spend the night.

Day 2: After breakfast, we set sail to Salardup. Stroll on a small island, inhabited only by a Kuna family in charge of the cocunut palms. Swim and snorkel among the nicest coral reefs. Delicious fresh fish and seafood barbecue aboard.

Day 3: We will pull up the anchor and set sail to Coco Bandero, a group of extremely scenic islands, described by many, as the most beautiful in all of San Blas, with their white sand beaches and pristine waters.

Day 4: We will set sail at noon and enjoy a couple of hours of sailing among the islands of San Blas, we may fish on our way to Wichuwuala, where we will visit a small Kuna villag to discover their traditions and craftworks.

 Day 5: Guest’s disembark soon in the morning in El Porvenir, to take the flight back to Panama City.

 Note: Itinerary may be adapted by the skipper to weather conditions and, as far as possible, to the guests’ preferences.

Price per person: $740.00 for a minimum of 4 passengers traveling together.

Prices include:

– Rental of the boat with crew

– Boat and passenger’s insurance

– Fuel and water tanks

– Sheets

– Dinghy with outboard engine

– Snorkeling gear

– Fishing gear

– Meals on board based on fish, seafood, fresh local vegetables and fruits

– Drinks on board in reasonable consumption (water, sodas, fruit juices, beer, wine

and local rum)

 

Prices do not include:

– Fly tickets and transfers to San Blas

– All expenses outside the boat

– Local taxes: 10 USD per person approx.

 

Some suggestions:

Climate:

– Tropical weather, below the Caribbean hurricane zone, with temperatures between

28 and 33ºC (80-90ºF). Seawater temperature around 28ºC (82ºF)

 

What to bring:

– We recommend to pack lightly in soft luggage for storage reasons. Most of our

guests tend to pack more than they end up using. Life on board is casual, so bring

some shorts, summer cotton clothes, a long sleeve shirt and long pants, bathing suit

and towel, cap or hat, sunglasses, a light rain jacket, sandals or reef runners and sun

protection.

San Blas Islands Experience in One day

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.“

This quote by Shakespeare simply describes how I feel about this place.

The San Blas Islands are located in the Caribbean at the east side of the Panama Canal and consists of 365 islands.

After a two hours and 30 minutes drive from Panama City to San Blas, through the Guna Yala Mountains, I arrived at a little port from which small boats depart to the outer Islands.

We floated for about 10 minutes through a small river, surrounded by beautiful and green secondary forest, when we entered the Caribbean. At that moment I was stunned. Hundreds of small islands facing towards me and as I came nearer Franklin Island I could not believe how blue and clean the water was. The coconut palms and the small huts added to the picture. Moreover the people of Guna Yala were most welcoming and friendly hosts.

San Blas is a perfect place to relax and pamper oneself. I snorkeled through shoals of fishes and searched for sea stars. I tanned myself in the sun and played basketball with the locals. The Guna Yalas provide breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The evening and night faded away with a bonfire and some rum. Under the clear starlit sky we counted the stars and listened to music. I felt like Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island. In the morning I was waken up by the locals calling for breakfast by blowing through a huge shell. The days felt so long but in the end it was just short trip to San Blas.

Sadly I had to leave San Blas after two days of relaxation and immersion into paradise to return to Panama City. I will never forget this amazing place and I can highly recommend visiting San Blas to escape a few days from reality.

Please do not hesitate to visit our website www.ecocircuitos.com to find out more information about San Blas or contact us directly at 1-800-830-7142. We are looking forward to organize a trip for you!

 

By Marc Vedder

 

Day Adventure and Cruise arrival in San Blas with EcoCircuitos

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The San Blas Archipelago and surrounding sea are the main attractions in Guna Yala—an indigenous comarca (autonomous territory) stretching more than 200 km (120 miles) along Panama’s northeast coast—but the traditional culture of the Kuna is a close second. The comarca is composed of a thin strip of land dominated by a mountain range called the Serranía de San Blas and the 365 San Blas Islands that dot the coastal waters. Although much of the world still refers to this region by its former name, San Blas, you’ll endear yourself to residents by using the name they give to their home, Guna Yala. Note that you may also see it spelled Kuna Yala, but Guna leaders voted to change the spelling from Kuna to Guna in 2010.

On January 13th we had the visit of the Variety Voyager small Cruise Ship to the islands of San Blas and EcoCircuitos Panama organize a day of adventures with our team and our local guna guides.  For more information of day tours, mini groups and incentives, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com