Guna Yala comarca, formerly known as “Comarca de San Blas”, is a lovely region in Panama, made of over 350 island and islets. Only 52 of all the islands in this part of the Caribbean are inhabited. In the last years, the touristic activities have increased, with the islands full of hundreds of visitors, not only from outside Panama, but also locals from other Panamanian provinces.
The only road enabled to the comarca Guna Yala is through “Llano Carti”. This road goes from North to South, through the protected area of Nusagandi. There are lots of bumps, ups and downs and curves in the way, which is why many car rentals wouldn’t allow clients to take a rented car to this comarca. As an alternative, there are many little businesses that offer transportation services daily for approximately $50, with drivers that know the areas very well and take you there safely. The depart time is normally at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. from Panama City to Guna Yala and 3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. from Guna Yala back to Panama City.
When arriving in Guna Yala after two hours of driving, the police control asks for visitors’ identification documents (passport or Panamanian cedula). There’s a fixed entry fee for all visitors to pay, used to support the maintenance of the island and the touristic places. It normally goes around $20 for foreigners and $5 for locals. After passing this control is the main port “Puerto de Carti”, where visitors embark to visit the diversity of islands. There are four different piers and the possibility of moving to the four different main townships: Ailigandi, Nargana, “Puerto Obaldia” and Tubuala. The distance varies and therefore the time necessary to reach each of those places.
The price independent drivers offer, oscillates on three dollars per trip. There are also companies that offer a varied tour through many islands and islets with a guide included starting on $20. Most islands offer hotels, cabins, little guna-style houses or tents for night stays and include the three main courses: breakfast, lunch and dinner starting on $30 per night. It’s important to keep in mind that not all islands offer the possibility of staying, therefore it’s recommended to ask directly to the driver if the destination chosen has this option before heading there.
San Blas is an archipelago of white sand beaches with crystal clear waters. This place embraces the beauty of Caribbean islands and offer visitors the opportunity to appreciate gunas customs and learn about their fascinating lifestyle. San Blas is good for diving because of its transparent waters. Snorkeling is very popular in places like “Isla Perro”, which has a sunken ship less than 10 meters from the shore that can be explored. The island is surrounded by coral and has an extensive reef that links this island with its neighbor “Isla Diablo”.
From “Isla Diablo” you can go swimming to a remote island a little further away. However, there are currents between islands and acceptable physical conditions are required to carry out this crossing, always depending on the weather conditions. Visitors often enjoy snorkeling between 7 am and 9 am, to spot stingrays of 3 to 4 meters in length.
The Virgin Islands are located in the regions of Guna Yala comarca which are not inhabited. Many companies or the locals directly, offer trips to these charming hidden places. One of them is “Paraiso” with white sand and green palm trees surrounded by a sea of incredible turquoise color. This island is very close to “Isla Monos”, with the same characteristics, named like this by a guna after spotting two monkeys moving through their leafy landscape.
“Cayos Holandeses” offers lots of interesting remote islands for those who seek places with not many tourists to have a quiet and relaxed time, far from noises and the typical city stress.
It’s imposible to define the prettiest island in Guna Yala, without visiting them all. Get lost in this necklace of coral islands, the most popular ecotourism destination in the Central America and the Caribbean region.