San Blas Islands
Ah, the beautiful San Blas islands. The stuff dreams are made of, white sand beaches, palm trees, rustic cabins by the sea, this is where you come to get away from it all. Can you imagine a few days at San Blas? We can, and we can organise tours in the San Blas islands for you. Well, it`s not a tour of San Blas as such, but we`ll explain…….
The San Blas islands, or Kuna Yala, comprise of 365 (one for everyday of the year they say) islands located along the Caribbean coats of Panama. Granted semi independence in 1925, the Kuna Yala is run by an elected Congresso. Some 40 islands are inhabited and run by a chief who is a representative to the Congresso. The Kunas have managed to fiercely retain their culture for over 500 years, despite repression by first the colonial Spanish and then Panamanian governments. Life in the islands is still very traditional, many live as their families have done for generations. The Kunas guard their San Blas islands by only allowing Kunas to own property within their territory. Foreign, or Panamanian , owned businesses are not allowed. Only some communities have running water and cooking is still often done over open fires. Most people still sleep in hammocks in communal areas inside their huts. The women still wear brightly coloured clothing, wide skirts and multi-coloured beaded bracelets wrapped the whole length of their lower legs and arms. It`s not uncommon to see Kuna women dressed like this in all parts of Panama.
Here at Mamallena we provide objective information about San Blas and about what accommodation options you have in the islands. You make a decision about where you`d like to stay and our travel agency Panama Travel Unlimited make the booking for you. We have been sending people to the San Blas islands longer than any other hostel or travel agency with over 13 years experience..But luckily the days of a 7 hour 4×4 ride are over!!
The “Ultimate” San Blas Tour (All Inclusive)
Mamallena has teamed up with Panama Travel Unlimited and Eulogio (Guna) to offer this tour that has it all. Unlike other similar tours at the same price or more, everything is included (Entry taxes, port tax, Boat transport, island beach taxes, 3 meals a day, fruit, water, soda or beer with lunch and dinner, Cuba libre nights, snorkelling equipment, football, volleyball, frisbee, water games, daily tours to other islands as well as better food than most. There is no other tour like it in the whole of the San Blas. English speaking Guna guide who will be with you most of the time. We highly recommend this tour for anyone who wants to enjoy this paradise on a budget with all the extras you cannot find anywhere else. This is the longest running multi day tour in the San Blas islands.
We have done our very best to have this run more smoothly than other options but ultimately we are at the mercy of the Guna’s and frankly they will always be disorganized to a degree so best just accept it before going. We have special discounts and promotions for this tour, please click HERE for details
Pros:Trustworthy/Easy to book/All Inclusive/Daily tours to other islands/Beer-soda with lunch & dinner/Unlimited water/Snorkelling equipment/Games/English speaking Guna guides/Cuba Libre nights/Large beach and great snorkelling close by/Better cabanas and bathrooms/Return in the afternoon/Barbecue when available
Cons:Can be busy on the weekends and on holidays with locals, but same goes for every island, if you can avoid these times then do so if not just be aware it can be busy.
The Original San Blas Options
We don`t claim to know everything about San Blas, but we know more than any other hostel or agency having worked with the Gunas for almost 15 years. In the beginning there were only really 3 options for backpackers called Franklin’s, Robinson’s and later Ina’s. They were known as homestay’s but those days are long gone and now they are your typical cheap tourist cabana outfits. Robinson’s is closed at the time of writing. We do not do tours to these locations instead we just organize your 4×4 transport and check if the island has space, everything else you do on your own, we are not responsible for anything during your stay with them, any problems resolve with them directly.
El Porvenir airport is closed to commercial flights so the only way to this region of the San Blas is via 4×4 transport
Additional Costs :
Well known as one of the first places to open up to toursits, Franklins has become one of the places most people ask for. It has changed a lot from 10 years ago, from a home-stay to a very tourist cabana focused island, especially popular with our Israeli clients.
They have over 20 cabanas and a beach on their half off the island. The island is very small and split into 2 by a wire fence. The island is completely covered in cabanas and for its size it holds a lot of people around 120 when full. The beach is small but pretty. Sand floor cabanas and very basic bucket flush shared bathrooms and shower. This is the most basic option in the islands, book at your own risk.
Cons: Disorganized/$$Extras/No tours/Bathrooms/Overcrowding/
Ina was originally the Nephew of Robinson, now someone else but they keep the name…., it boasts the usual shacks with sand floors and once again is not a homestay but has become another tourist cabana set up. It is located next to Robinsons. Some cabins are shared, some are private. The boat to and from the island is $10 each way. This island is more built up than Franklins but is much bigger and has a nice beach. Quite a lot of people living on the island and rubbish can be an issue both in the water and on the island itself. Like Franklins this is your bare basics options and the cheapest, you get what you pay for and its at your own risk, you can not say we did not warn you.
Robinson’s – CLOSED AT TIME OF WRITING
One of the original and now only homestays on one of the main Carti town Islands. It is still very basic. This is the best way to experience Kuna culture if that is what you prefer, but do not expect much, it’s like a hostel but no people and no service. He charges $45 per person per night, and includes the usual three basic meals per day. The town has 2 small stores where you can buy snacks, drinks and so on. Food is basic and toilets are placed over the sea which is not great, and often full of rubbish. Includes daily tours to the local beach islands. We offer it to those who are happy to rough it and see what Guna town is like.
If your willing to spend a little more and want a true desert island paradise check out Nubesidub on the following link. This is really the best option in the islands, very beautiful, quiet, lovely family and just an overall great experience, we get the best reviews from this place. For this and for all other San Blas options click HERE
Please respect the beautiful islands you visit, even if the Kunas might not seem to, through doing the right thing you can hopefully make a difference and educate the younger Kuna in how they should preserve this amazingly beautiful landscape. Do your best to take whatever rubbish you have out with you and lastly enjoy!