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Panama's San Blas Archipelago, Revealed

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Written by Ari Vanook   
Thursday, 08 November 2007 11:55
The islands of the San Blas archipelago don the covers of many Panama guidebooks and calendars. It is a region and a people of the utmost beauty, thumb but visitors should also not be surprised to see various unexpected blemishes.
Its picturesque islands and crystal blue waters are pleasing to the eye. Island-hopping in panga or dug-out canoe is a must, as is snorkeling and lobster-hunting (a pastime popularized by the rise of tourism in the province). Droopy palm trees and smooth-as-pearl sand beaches offer the ultimate afternoon chill out. Beers can be purchased at most tourism spots for $1-$3. Similarly sprinkled throughout the 360-island archipelago are islands commonly used by locals as trash heaps: small pads of sand in the middle of the ocean, atop of which sit loads of garbage which oftentimes floats out to sea. This pollution can also be seen on the shoreline of various islands where overpopulation and a nonexistent trash procedures makes for ugly, smelly coasts.

For tourists, several higher-end hotels offer accommodations from $100-$220 per night. While not by any means luxurious, the majority of these rustic cabana prices include hot water, comfortable linens, and meals (most of which consist of fish, lobster, and fish).

Service at said hotels is surprisingly attentive and first-rate: the Kuna indians a model for near-compulsive hospitality precision. See them picking up one-by-one leaves and rocks from pathways, regularly dabbing clean tables during meals, and smiling no matter what guest request has been made.

Most hotels also include tours to nearby villages where thatched-roof huts and stray chickens evoke a jaunt back in time. Smoke billows from the cracks of homes and local children paddle canoes just off the beach. While accommodations do offer electricity, none have telephones or TVs in the rooms. Instead, hammocks serve as pursuit.

Do not expect any bars, food-serving establishments (outside of your sleeping arrangement) or other social scene except those who may be staying near you. You will find none of that here: mostly just sun, sand, and relaxation. Bring a good book.

Albino individuals, of extremely light skin tones, reddish eyes, and blonde hair, are common in the Kuna Yala public as well. They often stay out of the sunlight and are (or used to be at least) revered in the community.

The Indians as a whole, themselves are truly warm and welcoming. Having fought off foreign invaders for hundreds of years, one might think otherwise. But the smiles and hospitality intuition of the locals is fascinating. Facial features, health and skin vitality are impressive, though it is rumored Kuna babies are killed should a birth defect threaten the reproductive condition of the population.

The temperature in San Blas can be inconsistent and rain can come about without notice. Mosquitoes too can be a real issue, especially in and around the rainy season. Bug repellant to ward them off and calamine lotion as a back up are strongly recommended.

Also tricky can be storms which occasionally cancel flights and disable phone lines on the islands, in some cases leaving guests without transportation or housing until flights arrive. Don't let your hotel guide out of your sight until you board your plane.

Getting there too can be complex seeing as though the Kuna indians have strict rules limiting tour groups from entering. Certain companies are permitted to do boat and kayak tours, but otherwise the domestic flights are the option. Both major airlines fly to San Blas from Albrook Airport, though flights are often in small prop jets and quite nerve-racking.

Chances are, investing in Kuna Yala does not apply to you as it is limited only to Kunas. There have been movements by people of power to embarrassingly privatize the archipelago with regards to real estate and tourism, but to date very little has taken hold.

Molas (the Kuna's handicraft made of various layers of finely-stitched fabric) too are quite common in San Blas and can cost anywhere from $10-$50 per piece. Upon taking out cash in a Kuna village to buy souvenirs, chances are you will be swarmed upon so keep yourself and your wallet discreet. Also attention-grabbing is handing out candy or toys to locals as it can result in cyclone-like crowds begging for more.

Conclusion: Kuna Yala is most certainly a unique destination special only to Panama. While it boasts some of the most beautiful islands and photograph-points in the entire nation, it also has less charming features such as polluted coasts. While weather can be hit or miss, and hotels may not be luxurious enough for some travelers, it is definitely a must-see. For the backpacker, for the world traveler, for the cynic: visit San Blas and take the tours, so at the very least you can say you've been there and done that.
Comments (1)Add Comment
hotel corbiski kuna yala
written by Elias Perez , January 20, 2009
hotel corbiski ubicate in kuna yala have 6 room private ,solar panel included three meal ,tours in the beach,snorkelling ,rainforest and education program.
011 507 67085254
011 507 2577189
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 22:23