One of my goals whilst travelling across Central and South America is to push myself out of my comfort zone, so when I found the San Blas Adventures 4 day/3 night boat tour from Panama to Colombia, and when searching on the website it was written ‘Leave your comfort zone’ in large font I knew this was something I needed to do!
The San Blas islands are an archipelago of about 365 islands, most of the islands are deserted but the larger islands are habited by the Kuna Yala indigenous tribe. However each island is owned by a Kuna Yala tribesman and San Blas adventures took care of everything we needed to do to enjoy our stay there.
After booking with a $100USD deposit online, I read the long FAQ section which you must agree to in order to confirm your booking. There was loads of information, and it was very clear that I had signed up for quite the adventure!
For anyone that knows me well, or have been following me on social media- you will know I have a phobia of crabs, spiders, large insects in general, bats and a lot more. Unfortunately despite my searching I had no idea if the islands are full of crabs etc- but I felt too stupid to ask!
The day before leaving we went for a short meeting, where we got to meet our guide Sharon and all the others on the boat. As I walked into our meeting room I saw that everyone was sizing each other up and making their first impressions- we are about to spend 4 pretty intense days together! I introduced myself and quietly mentioned my fears, it was only when we were on the adventure the group knew who they were stuck with for the next 4 days!
As if I wasn’t nervous enough already, Sharon let us know this is the first time he is doing this tour as the main person in charge, and as for his right hand man Jordan- well this is his first time to San Blas so he is just as lost as us! Not very comforting, but at least I’m getting out of my comfort zone!
The next morning is an early start, pick up is at 5am from my hostel in Panama City. The first stop is a supermarket where we can buy any last minute bits and alcohol for the trip. I’m not sure why, but my bag is twice the size as everyone elses…and I have two of them. Everyone else is comfortable with one tiny bag which also includes all their snacks and alcohol. I still don’t know how they managed it but my first tip is to take as little as you can. Hopping on and off the boats trains you to be an amateur gymnast, and having 2 huge bags and a gallon of water was not fun!
I had already met a girl in Bocas del Toro called Tali who was coming on the boat, I met Dan and Amy on my way to Panama City, Nat and John at the meeting as well as Matt and Jamie, and I met Victoria and Erin at my hostel. From being strangers to start with, the 25 of us became like family by the last day. San Blas adventures is the perfect way to travel between Panama and Colombia wether you are in a group, couple or solo.
Victoria, Erin and I spent the previous night ziplocking all our gadgets and ensuring our bags were water safe. We were to say goodbye to our backpacks for a few days, but needed to make sure anything inside will not get damaged incase it gets wet- and you will get wet! After about 10 minutes of trying to explain a ziplock back in my limited Spanish at the supermarket, I found out that the Spanish for ziplock is… Ziplock.
We continue our journey and go through the mountains on our way to Carti- one heck of a drive! Who needs Alton Towers when you can drive to Carti in a 4×4! This might make you a little travel sick, but its quick and fun- and I loved it! We were split into 4 cars, one stopped working half way through, to be honest I’m surprised it was just the one! But help was quickly on the way- travelling with San Blas adventures is adventurous but they have everything covered so you can be assured you are in safe hands!
An hour or so on the boat and we arrived into Isla Pelicana, a tiny island not much bigger than my back garden, but it boasts the most beautiful soft white sand, clear blue waters and gorgeous palm trees. I felt like I spent my afternoon in a postcard. The Kuna island owner came to meet us and bring us lunch. Needless to say there was a lot of seafood on offer- but I was really delighted with the amount of vegetarian food we were provided as well. Boiled veggies, lentils, rice and plenty of Franks chilli sauce filled me up after a long morning.
We swam, sunbathed and got to know each other a little bit better. It seemed too soon that we were back in our boats and en route to Isla Cocobanderas. We were shown our hammocks that we would be sleeping on for the night. I was a bit worried about what this would be like, but they were comfortable and covered by a teepee in case of any rain.
Cocobanderas was another beautiful island, we had our own volleyball net and again clear waters and golden sand. Sharon made us play a ridiculous balloon game which we eventually gave up on and jumped in the sea! The wine started flowing and we had a beautiful rainbow behind us as well! So far no crabs- result! The sunset was breathtaking, it really is paradise!
Dinner was served a little later, and I had some rice, salads and veg which was great. There was so much food that I gave the rest to Jaimie and Matt- which became tradition with every meal. Those boys can eat!
I met a lovely French man Alex, a couple from Switzerland, Germans, a few people from Ireland- we were quite a large group.
After dinner we had a bonfire- complete with marshmallows and chocolate. Carried on drinking some more and gazed at the beautiful starry night. I knew I was in good company when Amy kindly came to my hammock on crab duty for me! Charlotte and I quickly bonded over good wine!
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast we made our way to the next island Tupile which is where one of the 49 Kuna Yala communities reside. Although there is a village on this island it is very serene and peaceful- no loud cars or noise pollution! Tupile was where we were spending our next night, I opted for a bed and there were private rooms for couples and a shared room for 7 others. The others chose the hammocks again.
After some lunch made of sandwiches etc we headed to another island for some snorkelling and relaxation. Here I saw a huge octopus, massive crabs and other sea creatures that the marinero fished out whilst snorkelling. I spent the whole time on edge, but I live to tell the tale!
I should mention, that as someone who never talks about number ones and twos, I made the mistake of telling a few folks that I had never wee’d in the sea. May seems a bit odd to discuss this in a blog post, but I feel like I’m not telling a true story until its mentioned! This ended up becoming a very central conversation for the next few days and my new found friends kept asking me to try it out- and offered their support and were cheering me on! It was really weird now that I think about it, but apparently totally normal to everyone else! I am pleased to report that after 3 days of endless persuasion, I gave it a go. Weird feeling, and although some may find it liberating I was too busy thinking jellyfish may come to attack me! It’s also a VERY weird feeling having to report to 25 people about my progress with my number one’s!!
Moving on… I read, relaxed and drank plenty of water to help me recover from the previous night! After some time we went over to Tulipe again and showered and dressed for dinner. We started playing some drinking games and ended up partying until pretty late! Again we had no rain, cloudless skies and plenty of stars! We danced, laughed and enjoyed a great evening together, and could even see the milky way and possibly a planet but none of us knew enough about stars and constellations to figure it out!
The next day was more of the same, and the wonderful Kuna community did a traditional dance for us, we played volleyball with the kids and enjoyed an afternoon on a nearby island complete with blue seas, chairs in the sea and a bar!
This was our final dinner in San Blas and so we went to the restaurant in the village and the food was wonderful. A few bottles of rum were consumed and it was another glorious starry sky. I can’t believe how much we have seen, and how lucky we were with no rain during the rainy season! San Blas is truly a magical place, and I feel so lucky to have been here with San Blas adventures- I wouldn’t change a thing if I did it again (which in sure I will!)
The next morning, a little bit foggy headed we got onto our boats and made our journey to Colombia. As we sped past hundreds of islands the landscapes changed and the islands became more like small jungles and there were huge rocks surrounding the islands- simply magnificent. At one point our boat engine was not running- the old Ria would be freaking out at this stage, but instead I was crossing my fingers and hoping for an extra night in the islands! But the expert marinero had us back up and running in no time at all and sooner that I realised we arrived into Sapzurro.
You’d think after 4 intense days we would be ready to leave each other, but instead we all had dinner on the shore in the evening and went to a local club called Salsa Reggae.
The next day about 15 of us made our way together to Cartagena- it’s been two weeks now and many of us are still travelling together!
Thank you to Sharon, Jordan, the super marinero, the welcoming Kuna Yala, San Blas adventures and my wonderful new friends for the trip of a lifetime!
Disclaimer: I have been offered a small fee in return for my blog post but all views and opinions are honest and completely my own