Ever since I first visited the San Blas Islands, I have been convinced that this large archipelago in the Caribbean makes Panama special. A different palm strewn island for every day of the year, owned and governed by a native population and affordably available to the public – sounds like a dream. My convictions were recently confirmed by a weekend escape to the beautiful island of Kuanidup, located 40 minutes by boat from the airport laden island of El Porvenir.
If you ever want to impress guests visiting to Panama, take them to Kuanidup. The island is no bigger than a soccer field with rugged cabanas and hammocks swinging under the palm trees. The sand is white and fine, and the water off the island is crystal clear and begs to be soaked in. The only sounds playing in the wind are the gentle lapping waves and the breeze rustling the palm frawns. If you have ever once dreamed of being on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean, your dream has just come true.
Like most places to stay in San Blas, Kuanidup comes in one set price that covers your room and three meals per day. At 65$ a night, the island is a little more expensive than some, but the hearty meals of fresh seafood and the ideal setting more than covers the charge. Also included in the price is a daily excursion. The guests that arrived a day before us had been taken to a sunken ship with amazing snorkeling. On the day we arrived, our excursion was to a Kuna village. The cultural experience in the village was unbelievable, and our surprising presence confirms the suspicion that San Blas is still off the tourist radar.
As picture perfect as the San Blas Islands sound, they are not for everyone. There is nothing on the islands but sand and water. If you enjoy a bustling setting, these islands are not for you. Two nights are the most you need on an island, and if you enjoy passing time in a hammock with a cocktail, I suggest bringing your own bottle. Kaunidup sold beer and bottles of wine, which proved to be an added bonus as the night turned into a bit of a party with our new friends who shared the island. Filtered water was free and always available and soft drinks were also sold.
San Blas can be reached by car or airplane. Most travelers we met on the island had hired a car and someone from Kaunidup had picked them up from the mainland Kuna Yala. Taking a car is definitely the affordable way to go, and a ride will cost around 20$ per person one way. Expect the drive to take around 3 hours, depending on the weather. We were under time constraints and flew to El Porvenir, where we were also picked up by a boat to take us to Kuanidup. Airlines Air Panama and Aeroperlas fly to different islands in San Blas. Hotel reservations are necessary for any of the islands in order for someone to meet you at the dock to take you to your respective lodging.
Lonely Planet has various recommendations for places and islands to stay in San Blas. I heavily recommend Kuanidup, however, lodgings are rustic. The floors of the cabanas are sand, and bathrooms and showers are shared. If you are interested in staying on the island, the phone number for the Kuaindup Cabanas is 66356737. More than likely you will speak to a man named Milsiades, who handles the reservations and money. You will need to meet with Milsiades prior to leaving for the islands. He met us in the Albrook airport before our flight and took our money and told us the name of the person who would be meeting us on El Porvenir. If you are driving, you can arrange to meet somewhere prior to heading to Kuna Yala.
|Written by Hilary Campbell|
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