A wiki-style guide with everything you might want to know about the San Blas Islands
We think the San Blas Islands are incredible and we’ve set up our entire business on the premise that people will have a fantastic time island hopping across the San Blas Archipelago, taking the scenic route from Colombia to Panama or Panama to Colombia. While the San Blas Archipelago is a popular tourist spot for people living in Panama, they’re relatively unheard-of in North America, Europe, and beyond. So, this is why we’ve put together this short guide to the San Blas Islands. If you have any questions about the islands or about any of our services, please feel free to get in touch!
Where are the San Blas Islands?
The San Blas Islands are located just to the North East of Panama, just off the Gulf of Guna Yala in the Caribbean Sea. This archipelago is comprised of 378 small islands, all taking up an area of approximately 100 square miles. If you look on the map, the archipelago scatters out in an easterly direction across the sea and many people try to explore several different islands when they visit. The various villages, activities, and scenery on the different islands makes island hopping particularly exciting!
How do you get to the San Blas Islands?
If you’re thinking about taking a trip to the San Blas Islands, the first thing you’ll need to know is how to get there. Our San Blas trips pick groups of people up from one of two places, depending on whether you’re travelling from Panama to Colombia, or vice versa.
If you’re travelling to the San Blas Archipelago from Panama, you’ll need to get a ride from Panama City to the port of Carti. We can organise a jeep to take you on this journey, but it is not our service and it is not included in our fee. From Carti, you will get on a boat to take you to the western San Blas Islands first and you will then spend four days hopping from island to island on speed boats, spending most of your time on the islands, meeting the people and enjoying the island life!
If you’re travelling to the San Blas Islands from Colombia, your trip starts in Sapzurro, which is near La Miel and Capurgana. You can read more about these beautiful Colombian bays in our Colombia Highlights section. You will start on the eastern San Blas Islands and spend the next three days island hopping, similar to the Panama to Colombia trip described above.
What’s the weather like in the San Blas Islands?
The San Blas Islands fall within the tropics, so the temperatures are consistently high all-year-round. In fact, you’ll probably never see the daily temperature dip below 20°C (68°F) and the average daily temperature is approximately 27°C (80.6°F). Because the islands are surrounded by water (as islands often are…) the humidity levels are usually high but the breeze is perhaps a little cooler than you could expect in mainland Panama or Mexico. The result is a warm climate with a little wind to keep from feeling too warm.
There is a ‘rainy season’ and a ‘dry season’, but even the rainy season isn’t particularly rainy. Often, when people ask about a location’s weather, what they really want to know is when the best time of year to visit is — which leads neatly to our next section…
When should you visit the San Blas Islands?
As we said above, the weather in the San Blas Islands is reasonably consistent all-year-round. This means that it doesn’t have an off-season. It is slightly wetter from May to December but, even then, the rainfall is still perfectly fine and there is still plenty of sunshine. There is a reasonably strong wind from December until March at all times of year and this can affect when we take the speedboats between the islands. This “windy season” is the more challenging time of year to travel as the wind picks up the waves and can make the trip pretty wild. Although a bit rough, this time of year is considered the “summertime” of San Blas. We can’t control the weather, but we can control our attitude! The San Blas Islands’ consistently warm climate makes it a haven for tourists looking for a beautiful beach holiday at any time of year!
Which San Blas Islands should you visit?
As we said above, there are 378 islands on the San Blas Archipelago. However, only 49 of the islands are inhabited by people — the native Kuna. We think it’s important to get a good mix of paradise desert islands, as well as meet the locals to have an authentic San Blas experience. We also think it’s lots of fun to go off the beaten track and go to the islands no one else visits. This is why we try to show our guests several different San Blas islands over their four-day trip. There are simply too many to list off here, in this article, and we’d like to keep some cards close to our chest. No spoilers…
It’s simply impossible to visit all 378 of the San Blas Islands in one trip, but it’s not really necessary to see every single island to get a feel for the archipelago as a whole. However, San Blas Adventures is the only company that takes its guests through the entire archipelago, allowing them to see how the islands change. For example, the islands in the north west are flatter and tend to have more visitors, and the islands in the south east are more remote and hilly. We think it’s important for our guests to get the full picture and experience as much of the different San Blas Islands as possible during their four-day trip.
Who are the indigenous people of the San Blas Islands?
The San Blas Archipelago is also known as Kuna Yala, which is the name given to it by the Kuna – the indigenous people who still live there to this day. Although the San Blas Islands are a territory of Panama, they are autonomous and the Kuna people govern themselves. The native Kuna have been in the San Blas Islands for centuries and they have a rich history and cultural heritage. We believe that it’s important to work with the Kuna and to ensure that a good portion of the money and tourism activity we generate goes to the Kuna people. We also believe that it’s important to ensure we do not disturb their way of life too much. The folks at San Blas Adventures have taken years to build up a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship with the indigenous Kuna and you can read more about our responsible tourism practices here.
We hope this guide has answered most of your questions about the San Blas Islands. This enchanting archipelago is perfect for travellers and backpackers keen to get off the beaten track and see a part of the World most people overlook. Expect beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, and welcoming people. If you’d like to see some photographs and videos of the San Blas Islands, check out our San Blas Island Gallery!