The San Blas islands and Guna Indians have been the subject of numerous National Geographic articles. Indeed your experience will be right out of the pages of National Geographic. They offer two unbeatable attractions: Caribbean islands of stunning pristine beauty and an opportunity to visit the Guna people, a living Indian culture with a fascinating culture and way of life.
In 2011, Lonely Planet selected San Blas as the #3 tropical paradise in the world:
“Look up ‘tropical paradise’ and there will probably be a picture of the Guna Yala archipelago. These small islands (also known as the San Blas Islands) are part of the semi-autonomous territory of the Guna people with are part of the semi-autonomous territory of the Guna people and feature palm trees, gorgeous beaches, thatched huts and timeless charm. Big business has not gained a foothold because the Guna rule the roost, with a series of laws to preserve the natural environment. So no ugly hotels spoiling the view and no package tourism polluting the vibe, just plenty of uninhabited islands to explore.”
The archipelago has 365 islands picturesque and palm tree covered, uninhabited and set in indescribably beautiful aqua waters. When famous author John Le Carre of The Tailor of Panama stayed in San Blas, his comment upon taking in an island view was, “This is not paradise, and this is heaven.”
This is the place to go if you truly want to “get away from it all” to be seeped in and surrounded by nature. Owned by the Guna Indians, they have kept everything natural and authentic.
Bocas del Toro
Where have 18 countries film their Survivor series? The answer is the exotic Bocas Del Toro Archipelago of Panama’s Caribbean coast.
Bocas is one of Panama’s top tourist attractions. Where else can you can relax on glistening beaches with scarcely a soul in sight and hike through rainforests so nature rich that Lonely Planet Guide calls them “a biologist’s fantasy”?
Bocas is part of an archipelago aqua blue waters, palm-lined white-sand beaches and dense rainforest jungle.
You can choose from lodging in Bocas town on Colon Island or on one of the many nearby islands. The town of Bocas is laid back and has a surprising variety of restaurants and nightlife spots. It is a friendly place and most of the locals speak English.
Lodging on a nearby island means intimate experiences with nature, ecotourism, romantic getaways and fun family’s vacations.
Bocas is also considered mecca for surfers for both beginners and experts.
The most popular activities are boat tours to islands for beaching, snorkeling, diving, a canopy zip line, dolphin observation, rainforest treks, a bat cave tour and indigenous villages.
Just 1.5 hours from Panama City lie the turquoise waters of the Caribbean coast with a variety of excellent attractions. The historic town of Portobelo is one of the most scenic spots in Panama. Set on a turquoise Caribbean bay, it was Spanish Empires’s trade epicenter in the 16th and 17th century. Attractions include a restored Customhouse, the ruins of five Spanish forts, an acclaimed boutique resort, rainforests, diving and snorkeling.
Thirteen miles past Portobello, is Isla Grande, a picturesque island with some good beaches and home to several beach side-lodging options. Palm trees and white-sand beaches form the backdrop to the island, just 15km off the shores of Portobelo. A popular getaway for Panama City locals, Isla Grande is a perfect spot for snorkeling, scuba diving or relaxing. A few hundred people of African descent live in Isla Grande, most of them make a living from fishing and coconut harvesting – you will get a taste of both when you sample the food. Located on Panama’s northern Caribbean coast, Isla Grande gets a lot of rain year-round.
This historical and scenic bayside town is home to the ruins of five 17th century Spanish forts and a restored Spanish Colonial treasure house. Undergoing a renaissance, Portobello now has an excellent bay side restaurant, a local art museum, souvenir shops and attractive lodging choices.
In the 1700’s Portobello was Spain’s major port in the Americas. All the gold and treasure Spain stolen from Peru and Bolivia went through the Portobello Custom house. It was the scene of many fabulous trade fairs, until it was it was bombed English pirates after all that loot. Henry Morgan came through here on his way to sack and burn Panama City. Pirate Sir Francis Drake’s pirate activities body lies in the sea below.
The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just before you come into town are the picturesque ruins of Fort Bacteria Santiago with many cannons and a sentry tower. Up the hill on the other side of the street is another fort ruin. In town, see the restored Customs house, which is next Fort San Geronimo, the best-preserved fort of all.
Portobelo Bay is one of the most scenic spots in Panama- aqua waters, surrounded with historic ruins and dotted with yachts- many foreigners with their yachts stay here.