Comarca Guna Yala (San Blas)
The Comarca Guna Yala is, without hesitation, one of the most beautiful places on earth. It consists of around 365 small islands where you will find golden sand and crystal clear waters. Surrounded by palm trees and the sound of the waves gently lapping the shore, this is the perfect place to relax.
Comarca Guna Yala is a semiautonomous region in Panama, governed by 3 local tribe chiefs, with very little influence from the Panamanian government and absolutely no foreign or even Panamanian investment. This place is home to the Gunas, one of the most popular indigenous groups in the country. The tribe is estimated to have around 50,000 Gunas but most of the islands on the Comarca are uninhabited. They actually have chosen to live in only 49 communities under very "crowded" conditions. This high sense of community characterized this indigenous group’s culture, and has brought them the level of independence they enjoy nowadays.
The Comarca is popularly know by the Panamanians as San Blas (this was the official name until 1998) and also referred to as Kuna Yala (this was the official name until Oct 2011) but by request of the Gunas, who expressed that the K was not really an equivalent in pronunciation of how they call each other in their native language, it is now officially named Guna Yala.
Access to this picturesque retreat is by road to the mainland part of Guna Yala and then by boat to your selected island, or directly by plane from Panama city. Island hopping is done by small row boats, canoes and in some cases motor boats depending on the distance. Over there you can snorkel or dive and see some of the oldest coral reef in the world. You can also visit the local villages and witness the native culture. You can see the women making and selling their beautiful handmade molas, reverse stitched embroidery with unique designs.
This magnificent archipelago is perfect to connect with nature. There is no TV, internet, 24 hour electricity (lights normally go off at 10pm) or any fancy accommodation spot. To arrange accommodation, it is better to do it via Tour operators. All the "hotels" are owned and operated by Gunas and there is lack of English speakers in their communities. The hotels normally offer 3 meals and tours to different islands with a Spanish speaking guide. If you want an English speaking guide you need to arrange it in advance with a tour operator.
The most popular islands to stay are El Porvenir and the surrounding islands including Nalunega, Wichub-Huala, Wailidup Island, Corbinski and Ukuptupu. Other popular Islands are Isla Iguana
, Pelicano y Perro Grande. You can also try the Carti community (Yandub island), the closest community to the mainland, where you can live in an actual Guna village. The downside here is that there is no beach on the island. However they will include daily trips to other islands with beaches.
If you are interested in hiking and jungle exploration, you can also ask to visit the virgin forest in the mainland where there are wildlife species not found anywhere else in Panama. Your lodge should be able to help you with this and normally provides a local guide.