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San Blas: sailing + bounty island hopping our way to Colombia

There are a few ways to cross Panama’s border with Colombia. By plain, cargo ship. Or a multi-night adventurous sailing trip! Through the paradise that’s called San Blas islands (365 in total), just off the Caribbean coast. Yo ho.

San Blas islands sailing boat Panama Colombia

Abnormal blue/turquoise waters, white sand beaches, tropical fish, palmtrees...when we heared about the San Blas archipelago for the first time it sounded to good to be true. Although we wouldn’t mind at all to check the stories for ourselves.

And so we start our search in Panama for that perfect boat. Since this trip isn’t exactely cheap(thank heavens for that Christmas bonus) plus there are a lot of options to choose from; how many days? Maximum of people on board? Bunkbed or queensize? Sleeping on board or on an island? Luxurious or basic? Partycrowd or more relaxed? Via Blue Sailing we eventually find Perla Del Caribe owned by the superfriendly Jules and his cute dog Sancho.

Sancho on board sailing boat San Blas islands

We meet the 6 other passengers and crew only two days later in the harbour of Puerto Lindo, Panama. Looks like we have a fun group with different nationalities (luckily, because for the upcoming days we’ll literally be in the same boat). Especially with Brits Kyle & Hannah we click straight away. 

Due to the rough weather we unfortunately cannot leave the same night. But it does give us the opportunity to adjust to the waves until early morning. Which is helpful, for the first hour at open sea. But in the 12 following everybody gets seasick. Which does make sense with waves over four meters right? Poor motion sickness pills. They don’t stand a change either. So we all try to cling to our new besties. Meaning the buckets. Or try to get some sleep. More survival tips on this topic can be found here by the way.

San Blas islands sailing boat trip Panama Colombia
Palm tree San Blas islands sailing boat trip
Tropical fishes snorkeling San Blas islands

To wake up in a tropical paradise!

Instantly feeling better and ready to go snorkeling. Kyle, as a passionate snorkeller, always being the first in the water.

Meanwhile Natalia and Froukje, the girls from the crew, make a delicious breakfast with fresh fruits and omelettes. 

All the food that they serve on this trip turns out to be quite lovely, actually. And it’s amazing to see what they can cook up in their tiny kitchen. American pancakes, veggies with hummus-dip, red snapper, a Moroccan couscous dish. One night we even get surf and turf for dinner, with steak and freshly caught local lobster in a creamy passionfruit sauce (that still makes my mouth water when I think about it, yum).

Tanning on sailing boat San Blas islands trip
Fresh lobster catched by Kuna people San Blas islands
Beach San Blas islands sailing boat trip Panama Colombia

Two of the four French girls are obviously less happy with the whole sailing adventure. And a little afraid for the 30 hours to Cartagena at open sea that are still ahead. Even though it’s days away from now. And so we end up spending a whole day at ‘Immigration Island’ as Jules calls it, to cancel the girls’ permit and drop them off. Ah well, we’ve had worse delays: 48 hours at Istanbul airport for example. Instead of a sunny Caribbean island. Plus who can say they’ve walked around in an Immigration office in their bathing suits?

When the whole paperwork and awkward goodbyes are done, the vibe among our group lifts. All of us really enjoy our time and the beautiful San Blas islands!

Tanning on the sun deck, supping, snorkeling with manta rays (Kyle raise hands), football with Sancho, spotting flying fish, drinking Cuba libres by the bonfire (why’s the rum gone?), meeting the locals or Kuna’s, and diving into those mesmerizing waters every morning. Just a few memories that we will treasure forever.

Captain Jules sailing boat San Blas islands
Tom and Sancho sailing boat trip San Blas islands
The group at the sailing boat trip San Blas islands
Dolphins at San Blas islands

Did we mention the first time we saw Flipper in real life too? Anita is the first to see them from the deck and inform the rest. What happens next is hilarious. Hannah: ‘Kyle, Kyle, dolphins!’ Kyle, who was sleeping in the cabin, enthusiastically sprints towards the group 5 seconds later. Snorkel in hand and Sancho at his feet. Almost tripping over one another on their way to the deck while loudly barking (Sancho) and screaming woohoo at the same time.

All in all thé highlight of our travels through Central America. With great people. At a place that for a brief moment feels like you are the first one to discover it.

(The feared last long hours at open sea are, ironically enough, so calm that we even decide to skip the motion sickness pills!)

Good to know about this sail adventure

-Paradise ain’t cheap! Be prepared to do some (online)research before finding the best price-quality deal out there. We paid $550 per person for five days (incl excellent meals, visa and fees). Cash only so make sure you bring enough (also for souvenirs on the islands!)

-The actual name of the San Blas Islands is ‘Kuna Yala’ like the inhabitants that live here. A part of your entrance fee ($20) goes directly to this community

-Really comforting when you suffer and despair from the seasickness; Pedialyte drinks (the one with coconut!) or some ORS. More survival tips on this topic can be found here by the way  

-Buy some extra water, cola (a lifesaver in certain situations), facial wipes and sunscreen (biodegradable if possible) on mainland. You might want to keep a few of them close while sailing

-Even though nobody ever checks your vaccination documents, a yellow fever vaccine is officially required to enter Colombia