Actual paradise – the San Blas Islands

The only place in Panama I was really aware of before we went, were the San Blas Islands. Cristal clear, blue water, white sand beaches, islands with a ton of palm trees… Yes, please!

San Blas Islands
Sunset on the San Blas Islands

How to get to the San Blas Islands

Where a big chunk of backpackers travels here directly by boat from Colombia (on the way from Cartagena to Panama), 2 days on the open sea didn’t really look appealing to me… It’s also pretty expensive, so we opted to fly and find a way to go from Panama City, which saved us around $200 a person! People that did the sea route told me it was great fun, though, so, totally up to you of course ;)!

But, naturally, there are other ways to get to the San Blas Islands! From Panama City, we booked our transport and accommodation in a package via our hostel (Zebulo Hostel); the price was good, and we simply didn’t feel like doing a ton of research at the time, haha.

From Panama City, Zebulo Hostel to be precise, it’s approximately a 3 hour drive to the point from where you’ll take a boat to the islands. This includes a stop to buy some groceries (water, snacks, etc.). The boat ride to islands will only take about 30 minutes.

San Blas Islands
One of the boats that brings you to and between islands

Accommodation on the islands

If you’re thinking luxury accommodation on the San Blas Island, you better adjust these expectations! All the islands we visited had very basic buildings, all of them made from wood. We stayed in a dorm that had space for 8 people (but it was never full during our stay) and had big windows to let wind in, which was especially nice during the night. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture from inside the dorm…

The restaurant on Perro Chico Island
Dorms on Perro Chico Island
Our dorm room in the San Blas Islands

Excursions on the San Blas Islands

Included in our package were 2 excursions every day. These excursions can be anything from visiting another island in the area, to going to a snorkel spot on the reef. For example, we went snorkeling on the reef, went to a spot where there were a ton of starfish, visited our neighbouring island (with a shipwreck) and another island on another day.

Visit to a submerged island/sandbank
Snorkeling to see starfish

Food on the San Blas Islands

If you’ve been reading along here for a bit, you’ll know I’m vegetarian. Unfortunately, even with all the tourists they get on the San Blas Islands, vegetarian food is foreign to the locals. My food for 4 days, both lunch and dinner, were basically fries (or plain boiled potato), patacones (fried plantain slices), rice, and salad. After day 1, we asked for something extra, like beans or lentils, because there was honestly no protein to be found in what they served me. I think I got some lentils twice, even though we asked for them every day, only to be smiled at and told ‘no, we don’t have’…

Obviously, after several months of travelling through predominantly meat eating countries, I wasn’t expecting a fancy meal or anything. But yeah, I was pretty disappointed with the food I got, which was literally the same every day.

If you eat meat and/or fish, you’ll be fine, they have chicken and several sea food options.

Very basic vegetarian food on the San Blas Islands (don’t expect lentils, though)

How much does it cost

The base package (2D/1N) costs $165 and includes:

  • Transport to and from the islands, via car and boat
  • Accommodation in a dorm
  • All meals (but, no drinks)
  • Excursions

You can choose to stay longer, for each extra night you pay $35. We chose to go for 3 nights, so our final cost was $235 per person. As mentioned, this price doesn’t include any drinks (also no water!), but the price to buy drinks on the island isn’t too bad. Soda’s, beers and water all cost $2. However, on the way to the islands you’ll stop at a supermarket where you can buy big jugs of water, which will be a lot cheaper.

We also bought a souvenir on one of the islands, but besides this we didn’t have any other expenses.

San Blas Islands
We visited in the rainy season, which can look like this

Next time we go, let’s hope the veg food has improved 😛 (do let me know if you go in the meantime, haha!)

Traveller 'in heart and kidneys' (as we would say in Dutch), currently on the road with no end in sight. Started in Brazil, making our way through South and Central America.

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