Let’s clear one thing up straight away: getting to the San Blas Islands is not easy, wherever you’re coming from. And that’s quite deliberate.
Rough Guides works with reputable local travel experts in Panama to organise trips to the San Blas Islands. If you're thinking of visiting, get in touch!
For those coming from or going to Colombia and who have plenty of time to spare, you can charter a sailboat that will travel for 4–5 days between Panama City and Cartagena (or vice versa), with a 2-3 day layover in the San Blas Islands. If you're considering this option you really need to do your research to make sure you have a seaworthy boat and a dependable captain. Hostel Mamallena operates in both Panama City and Cartagena, and has the best information on sailboats. Be warned: even with a good boat and captain, this trip involves 30 hours or so on the open ocean; those who get seasick might want to look elsewhere.
The third option is to fly to the islands from Panama City with Air Panama. These flights are in very small aircraft, typically with a capacity of 20 passengers, so should be booked well in advance. Destinations include El Porvenir, from where you can get a water taxi to other islands.
And it’s also a good idea to take:
As the better tour operators will tell you, when you visit the San Blas islands you are doing so as a guest of the Guna – and they are an indigenous group, not a tourist operation. So the jeep that picks you up from Panama City might be late or might make unscheduled stops. The water taxi at the port might take a while to turn up. The toilets will be very basic. And so on. It’s all part of the experience.