San Blas cruise

The San Blas archipelago is an immense lagoon located on the Atlantic coast of the state of Panama. The lagoon is protected from the ocean by a coral reef that doubles in some places. Within this lagoon emerge about 380 islands and islets rich in lush vegetation. They are small islands, sometimes they look like atolls and are mostly inhabited. In such a context, the only way to visit this archipelago is to use small-medium sized boats as the seabed is low in many parts of the lagoon. The Caribbean beauty of this tropical area has led to the development of tourism based on cruises with sailboats and / or catamarans in the formula of chartering the entire boat or in the cabin charter formula that is sharing the boat with other tourists. Both formulas include the presence of the skipper / captain of the boat and the presence of a support person for activities related to cooking, cleaning, disembarkation, etc.

Sailing boat

As part of the various proposals that I had the opportunity to sift, my choice fell on the Durlindana boat of the skipper Andrea Pestarini. The boat is a 70-foot ketch with two trees, a comfortable and spacious boat with cabins with private bathroom, a large living room and a well-equipped kitchen as can be seen from the photos (Durlindana boat).
Once arrived in San Blas, I got to know Andrea well, with his wife Chicca, sailing for many years and are well known in the field of lovers of this sector. Andrea has traveled all the seas of the world at all latitudes (many times in solitary) reaching sometimes unusual places like Alaska, Antarctica, Cape Horn or well known places like Polynesia, Hawaii, the California baja and many other islands and coasts including the San Blas. Love and passion for the sea is evident in their travel program that does not provide for long periods of time in the place but a continuous crossing and search for new emotions as visible on their website (view website).

How to reach San Blas

To reach the San Blas archipelago it is necessary to arrive in the capital of the state of Panama and then continue by car to the coast where, with a fast spear, you are taken to the island where the sailboat or catamaran awaits its passengers . These transfer activities must be agreed with the skipper who uses local people or agencies for these services.
Considering that intercontinental flights from Europe all arrive in the evening, it becomes necessary to spend a night in Panama City. The next morning, before dawn, a car takes people directly to the hotel for transfer to the small port of Cartì along the coast and inside the Guna Yala region, which includes the San Blas archipelago, inhabited by the Kuna population. . This population lives quite isolated, very linked to the ancient traditions and local customs, it is not ready for changes. a region enjoys a certain autonomy conferred and / or tolerated by the central state so as to have manned borders, a certain administrative autonomy, etc. On the web you can find a lot of information on this population and on the territory. A part of the Kuna population lives along the coasts and a part lives in some islands in incredible conditions of overcrowding, dirt and degradation. The development of tourism has reached levels that many Kuna of the coast no longer accept, so new rules have been imposed (sometimes absurd) that are creating problems for tourists and operators in the sector; it is forbidden to take tourists on board sailing boats (!!!), it is no longer possible to dive, you can not practice kitesurfing, you can not fly drones, etc. When you reach the border of Guna Yala and the port, in case of request for clarification, it is necessary to lie about the time spent and the destination of transfers, which is quite absurd given that the tourist and boat movement in the lagoon is under the eyes of everyone, but it's like that ...     Passed the controls, as mentioned above, you embark on the fast 8-10 seater lances to be then brought near the sailboat or catamaran for the cruise (the proximity is intended in the nearest island and not on board to avoid disputes).
The one described above is NOT the only possibility to reach the San Bals, there is also the alternative of an internal flight with a Panamanian airline that has aircraft from 8-10 seats max which provides the transfer from the airport of the capital to the small island Corazón de Jesús which has a small airport. This solution has higher costs, greater weight restrictions on luggage, requires that there is a minimum number of passengers (otherwise the costs increase), the flights are not guaranteed, the only advantage concerns the times that are slightly lower than the transfer above described.

The cruise

Without this long and necessary premise, let's see how the cruise took place in 8 days of navigation, my first time aboard a sailboat for so long. Andrea and Chicca have been able to make this my first experience really unique and interesting, the other 4 guests who have sailed with me were young people with previous experience, nice people and passionate about sailing with a great spirit of adaptation. This made sure that there was a good feeling from the beginning that then continued throughout the navigation period.
The cruise took place following the criterion of "an island a day", every day we moved following a route established by Andrea (the skipper). I consider it useless to report the names of the individual islands, the map on the left can better summarize the path we have made inside the lagoon. Raised the anchor, we left the bay using the engine of the boat and proceeding very slowly, in some areas the sea bottom was insidious considering that the Durlindana has a drift that plunges for 3.50 meters below the water level for whose eye is on the echo sounder ...

Once out of the bay, the sails were hoisted, first the main sail and then the bow. Transfers lasted from a minimum of 60 minutes up to a maximum of three hours. During the journey you could admire the many islands that we crossed along the route, small and larger, isolated or in succession, with white beaches or surrounded by the sea but always lush with lots of coconut palms.
Once you have arrived at your destination, down the anchor and immediately after with the bathroom or with a rubber boat exit to reach a good snorkeling area, then return by boat and then go ashore on a nearby island, always with the tender, for the visit. The order of activities was not always the same, often changing due to time, sea conditions, etc.
Many of the islands are wild, which gives them a natural beauty that is hard to tell. Several islands offer deserted beaches of fine white sand, only a few conch (large shells) or starfish near the shore. Silence reigns in these places and is broken only by the rustle of the wind. Even the sea in front of these beaches is special, always calm, warm and rich in color, transparent near the shore, progressively turning towards the emerald green and then flowing into infinite shades of blue.
Some islands are inhabited by the population Kuna, a few huts are home to some families dedicated to fishing and harvesting coconuts that are brought to land and exported to neighboring Colombia. The advent of tourism then developed the production of the colorful molas by women Kuna, a finely worked fabric that women apply to their traditional clothes (see page Curiosities). The days were then full of pleasant moments made of talks and relaxation in the cockpit of Durlindana, sipping some drinks, welcome other tourists from nearby boats, observing the beautiful sunsets on the sea (see album islands sunsets) and enjoying rum after dinner.
Eight days of full freedom without even the slippers (if not in the islands), wearing only a costume and a shirt for the evening.
A note of merit to Chicca for its cuisine that can satisfy all tastes even those of an irreducible Italian like me. We tasted fresh lobsters (brought by Kuna fishermen) on the grill, delicious flans, lasagna alla bolognese and many other tasty dishes. On the table there was also nothing missing for breakfast, yoghurt, jams, homemade biscuits and fruit that was brought by some Kuna.


This my first experience on sailing boat was very interesting and engaging, I am convinced that the positive result has contributed the excellent skipper Andrea as Chicca, a beautiful and spacious boat like the Durlindana and a group of very motivated and available travel companions .
San Blas is an archipelago that actually deserves the trip, even if two unpleasant aspects should be pointed out that must make us think;
the first concerns the presence of the plastic that is found in almost all the islands, the open sea is carrying many objects that are accumulating along the coasts exposed to the ocean, bottles, shoes, bags and much more, objects that are often also present for the negligence of the Kuna themselves.
The second aspect is the increase in sea level. These are islands that emerge little, are similar to the Maldives, the rise in sea level is acting on the shores, the beaches are shrinking (comment of those who sail these parts for many years), descending to the ground is evident work of erosion of the water that subtracts sand from the islands, the roots of the outer palms are progressively exposed to the collapse of the plant that then dies. This situation is present in all the islands that I have been able to visit, at this rate, in a few decades, many of these islands will no longer exist


Several curiosities of Panama including the molas made by the Kuna population ....

San Blas
photo albums

Album series with the most interesting photos of the places I visited on my trip to San Blas.

San Blas
photos gallery

Slideshow of the most beautiful photos of San Blas (Panama) collected in a single gallery.

Panama City climate

Graph of the climate of Panama City, month by month with sunny days, temperatures, etc.

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