Guna Yala, San Blas Islands
Five years ago, I embarked on an incredible four month journey in Panama. My parents flew down with me for the first ten days. We spent a couple nights in Panama City, then went to the Caribbean side. The San Blas Islands are actually owned and controlled by the people of Kuna Yala, or Guna Yala. The Kuna/Guna people inhabit the islands and are some of the most incredible people I have met.
We spent four nights in San Blas, staying at the Akwadup Lodge. Think cute green bungalows over the water. Each with a balcony and hammock with amazing sunset views. The lodge served us three meals a day and took us on various activities, like hiking, snorkeling, boating, island hopping, and cultural tours. Book your stay now! Oh, and you may be off the grid, but don’t worry – there is wi-fi.
To Eat & Drink
The food at the Akwadup Lodge was incredible. We had freshly caught seafood for every lunch and dinner, ranging from fish to lobster to octopus (pictured below, and my first time ever trying octopus) plus more. It was all cooked in house by the manager, owner, and chef Sam. The sweetest woman, Fronilda, worked at the lodge and served all our meals. They could not have been kinder or bigger helps. We will always remember the two of them and how special they made our time here at the Akwadup Lodge. There is also a full service bar. I recommend getting a coconut, or five! Coconut trees are all over the island. And the local beers are great; my two personal favorites being Balboa and Panama.
The Guna Yala
The Guna Yala people inhabit the islands of San Blas, located off the southeastern side of Panama. They are reachable only by plane or boat, so the Guna people are pretty much off the grid. This is a popular place for Colombian trade ships to stop. There are a few lodges scattered around the islands, on their own secluded island. You can take day trips to larger islands to visit the Guna people and learn about their culture.
The children are very friendly and love to interact and show off their pets. The women are always ornately dressed and decorated, with beading around the arms and legs, beautifully hand-stitched tops, sarong, and head wrap. The beading is the most intricate part of all, especially if you could see how they have to wind them around their arms and legs…it is work. Time consuming work. They are very eager to teach your their culture and way of life.
We got a full tour of the island, Achutupu. It was quite something. We walked all around and saw their school, basketball courts, beaches, and bathrooms. Then we got to meet an entire family and speak with them about their lives, like the language barrier wasn’t even a problem. And for a very unexpected treat, we were welcomed into homes and kitchens, greeted with such genuine enthusiasm. They have such kind hearts and sweet souls. Two things you need to know: 1. They charge $1 for a photo, and you will want to take photos (they also expect this and want the extra income, so don’t be afraid). 2. They love to barter – expect them to try and sell you stuff like crazy, and you probably want a souvenir, but remember you CAN barter with them and try to lower their price!
There are lots of other fun things to do while visiting San Blas. There are lots of private islands with pretty palm trees, sandy beaches, and marine life. So hop on a boat and go explore! Or spend the say snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea. And guess what?! I found a baby sea turtle while I was snorkeling! 🙂 So naturally I had to take a photo. There are also hikes, waterfalls, and rivers to cruise.
*Mosquitos and sand fleas can be a problem. Be sure to bring layers and insect repellent. *The Lodge has no A/C. There is also limited power. Wi-fi is available! Be sure to call ahead or email to get all of the details. *Trash is an issue. Or at least it was five years ago. Just be prepared.