Miles so far: 6509
Miles since last blog: 81
As we entered the most untouched archipelago in the Caribbean, we felt like we had arrived in our ideal South Pacific paradise without having to go through the Panama Canal and sail a 4000 mile passage. San Blas is exactly the kind of island paradise that comes to mind when dreaming about sailing around the world. Although our list of favourite places is now getting quite long, San Blas certainly tops it.
San Blas covers an area of 350 square miles, offering hundreds of remote beautiful anchorages protected by reefs with white sandy islands which are covered in coconut palms.
We sailed through the reefs to check into Panama and San Blas at tiny island of Porvenir, home to the immigration office and main airport. There are so few flights that we were able to wander across and stand on the runway. We later found out that the local Guna people refused to let officials cut down the hundreds of coconut trees which are just to the side of the runway, to allow larger aircraft to land, meaning only helicopters or small private planes make the trip. As a result the island’s main visitors are yachts, including a few backpacker boats.
The islands are also known as Guna Land, as they are home to the indigenous Guna Indians who have some of the best preserved culture and traditions in all of the Americas. Physically small, their limited stature is second to only the pygmies. They live in small wooden huts and fish from dugout canoes that they often sail. The Gunas forbid marriage outside their culture and have very strict rules to retain their traditions. It is clear that times are starting to change though, one of the wooden huts we passed on a small island one evening had a teenager glued to a wide screen TV.
Although the islands themselves are small, they are surrounded by coral reefs, which make for interesting navigating in order to find the next beautiful protected anchorage. The seas between the islands are generally flat with average winds of 15 -17 knots – perfect sailing conditions. We spent 10 idyllic days island hopping and found a good mix between socialising in the busy anchorages and enjoying the peace and tranquillity that comes from being the only boat in the bay. We stuck to the outer island groups to enjoy the clear waters and avoid the crocodiles. Although there were no where near as many fish as we had experienced in Bonaire, our snorkelling almost always involved lots of curious but harmless sting rays, eagle rays and nurse sharks.
Some of our favourite anchorages were:
Chichime: Crowded but beautiful anchorage between two islands. Sociable place, mainly due to the cheap beer from one of the Guna huts ashore.
Miriadiaup: Lovely, quiet, protected anchorage. Beautiful islands with just a few Guna huts ashore.
Eastern Holandes Cays: BBQ island was a disappointment (The cruisers in Swimming Pool Anchorage were some of the least friendly we have come across and an unusually grumpy Guna guy had started charging people to go ashore on BBQ island, despite having paid to stay in the anchorage). We were able to sail the dinghy to nearby deserted islands and around the corner to the much more friendly boats in Banedup.
Coco Bandero Cays, Orduptarboat: One of the most beautiful islands we visited. Shared the anchorage with just one other boat.
Los Grullos, Kuanidup: Gorgeous anchorage all to ourselves, behind an uninhabited island.
Feeling that the sailing season in the Pacific was moving on without us, we tore ourselves away from San Blas to head towards Colon to start the paperwork required to transit the Panama Canal. If we had known how frustrating it would be, we might have just stayed in San Blas…