After completing my week of Spanish classes at the Casco Antiguo Spanish School, I sought after recommendations for the best day trips to enjoy during my last few days in Panama. Most of the school staff highly encouraged a day trip to the famous Panamanian archipelago, the San Blas Islands. Being Australian, I am naturally a beach lover, so I was eager to discover what the hype was about.
After some research, I learned that the islands are located on the north coast of Panama. Of the 365 islands within San Blas, 49 are inhabited and owned by the native Guna people and they reserve only a few of the islands for tourists to enjoy.
If you are expecting party islands and 5 star hotel like amenities, this isn’t going to be the place for you. (If you’re looking to party, Bocas Del Toro might be a better fit) The beauty and attraction of San Blas is that the islands are untouched and pure, and phone signal is scarce, which gives you a deserted island, rustic experience.
I discovered that there are MANY different travel options for San Blas, it just all depends on your budget and the amount of time you have.
Some of the options include:
- Taking a speedboat from Colombia to San Blas over the course of a few days
- You can stay in a cabin or camp in a tent on one particular island for 2-3 nights
- Take the Day trip, where you explore 2-3 islands in 1 day
In addition to the day tour price (I paid $115), you will also have to pay a foreign tourist tax of $22 to the native Guna people upon arrival. Bring an abundance of cash as there are no ATMs on the islands.
Since I was pressed for time and traveling solo, I opted for the day trip. If you choose this option, be prepared for a long day of travel. San Blas Islands may be gorgeous and worthwhile, but it is a trek from Panama City.
Here’s what you can expect for your day trip.
You will be picked up by your driver around 5:30-6am in an SUV (once you hit the winding roads, you’ll understand why this type of vehicle is needed), you will drive 2 hours to the port and along the way you will be stopped and need to show your passport to border security as the islands are under Guna rules and laws.
Once at the port, you will be placed into small speedboats and travel another 30-40 minutes to the first island. The roads are winding and the boat is choppy so I recommend taking a Dramamine to ease any potential motion sickness. Packing some extra strong repellent for this trip is also a great idea as I came back covered in mosquito bites, but thankfully no dengue fever!
Isla Diablo was our first island stop. It was a picturesque island with soft sand and clear water but it was a little too rocky and a bit busy for my liking. It was here that we enjoyed a hearty lunch consisting of rice, fish and coleslaw. Here you were also able to purchase drinks from $1-5 at the bar. But if you want to really live the island life, you can grab a fresh coconut for $2.
We stayed at Diablo for about 2 hours before heading to the next island. We were supposed to head to Isla Perro but it was very full, which worked in our favor because we were taken to Isla Chichime instead. This was my favorite island of the two. It was virtually empty, the water was like a warm bath and there was an abundance of hammocks. I would’ve happily stayed here the entire time instead of Diablo.
We enjoyed the water for 1 hour before heading over to Picscina natural which is a sandbar in the middle of the sea and is where we spotted some starfish. Once you visit 2 islands and the natural pool, the tour guides take you back on the boat and back to the port.
Even though the day tour will feel slightly rushed at times and you’ll spend more time traveling than you do enjoying the beach, it was a phenomenal experience and worth the effort. If I was to do it again, I’d opt to stay for the entire weekend on Isla Chichime in a hammock with a coconut.
I had a flawless experience from pick up to drop off and recommend booking a tour through the San Blas Dreams Company.