Let’s clear one thing up straight away: getting to the San Blas islands is not easy, whichever way you’re coming from. And that’s quite deliberate.
The 360 or so tropical islands off Panama’s northern coast are home to the Kuna people, who since a revolution against the Panamanian government in 1925 have maintained political autonomy from the mainland. As such, they control tourism on their own terms – a very rare thing for an indigenous group. They know how many visitors are coming to their islands on a given day, where they will be staying, and they benefit directly from most of the tourist dollars spent. Aside from fuel for their motorboats, much of it goes on education, health or permaculture.
But are these islands actually worth going to in the first place? Well, picture this: the place you’ll stay on will genuinely look like a Robinson Crusoe hideaway. The sand will be white and fine, the sea will be bathwater warm, coconut palms will provide welcome shade, the snorkelling will be excellent, and there probably won’t be more than fifteen of you there. The Kuna will feed you and take you to other islands, but otherwise they will just let you be. It is, genuinely, a little piece of paradise.
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