5-Day Catamaran Adventure around the San Blas Islands
You know those locations you see and think: does this really exist? Welcome to the San Blas Islands. Little tropical islands (approximately 365 of them/of which only 80 are inhabited) that are run by the Guna, a group of people that hold autonomy for the islands over the Republic of Panama and are thus held to their own tribal laws and live by their own customs. The San Blas are scattered in the Caribbean for 235 miles along the coastline of Panama down to Colombia. The Guna people and those that are endeared to the area, are heavily involved in sustainability and keeping the coral reefs and the islands as pristine as possible. If you need to tune out, a catamaran charter through these islands is your answer! No excuse, other than to relax. Every morning, wake up in the comfy bed of your private stateroom (including a bathroom and a shower) with your only question being: what island will I swim to today? Then, dive into the sea and swim to that island, explore a little, and swim back for a fresh breakfast! You may meet someone from another country while out kayaking or wave to some people across the water on their own sailing adventure, but they are far and few between. Anyway, you are more interested in a stingray sighting at night or what the fresh catch of the day is going to be, which is offered up by a Guna member coming alongside the catamaran to share their catch and enable them to earn some income.
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Where to stay
American Trade Hotel
Panama City's stylish and well-located mainstay, with handsome accommodations and a hip coffee shop.
Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo
Set in Panama's Casco Viejo district, this sparkling hotel boasts refined rooms with old-world charm, an outdoor pool and an on-site spa.
$100 food / beverage credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Waldorf Astoria Panama
High-end hotel set in a modern tower in Panama City's financial district located just 10 minutes away from historic Casco Viejo.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade, based on availability.
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Things to do
Sailing for five days and four nights on a 48’ catamaran is idyllic and energizing. Up to eight friends can sail comfortably and spend their days fishing, playing cards, reading, watching the sunrise and the sunset, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, floating, listening to music, dancing, and, of course, eating fabulous food indigenous to the area (i.e.., spiny lobster, coconuts, freshly caught fish, and crab). Time stops and you will chill! Amazingly, you never feel too close for comfort and all sailors can have time alone without a problem.
Remote and tranquil, this slice of paradise is well worth a visit!
There are two ways to reach San Blas: by road, or by air. Road access is not simple, but part of the adventure! There is only one winding potholed hilly road leading to the port, and to reach your charter, you must take a splashy ride in an old wooden water taxi driven by a Guna. It takes about three hours from the city to reach the catamaran.
There are no commercial flights to San Blas, however, air charters in planes seating from 3 to 8 persons can be arranged. The flight time is 40 minutes, with a great aerial view of Panama City, and then San Blas itself. The catamaran anchors next to the airport, so the Captain meets you there. Round-trip by air can easily cost 3 times the cost by road.
When boarding the catamaran, you are greeted by your first mate and chef with lunch and a special passionfruit welcome drink and your San Blas sailing experience begins! By the fifth day, you are relaxed and content and (maybe) ready to rejoin civilization. There will be times you have no internet connection/cell tower communication, which adds to the trip’s allure.
It is also possible to stay on the islands in huts made from thatching if you would like to interact with the local people and get a glimpse into their lifestyle and traditions.
Flying in and out of Panama City is a breeze and spending a night or two on both ends of the catamaran trip is well worth it, to explore and enjoy this vibrant and welcoming city.
One cool area is Cusco Viejo which is the historical part of town undergoing a renaissance with cool boutiques, hotels and restaurants popping up every day. It is also easy to get around the city and see other areas as well as going to see the Panama Canal.
Panama City: I recommend enjoying the sunset and champagne at Blue Bar on top of Star Bay Casino at the Hilton Panama - crazy amazing views!
Places to eat & drink
Places to eat & drink in Casco Viejo
Lunch on the day of arrival at Marea Casco Ceviche and Latin Food! Fun restaurant with swings for bar stools and the food is delicious! Great kick-off for vacation!
Dinner: Marula Restaurant is a fusion-style restaurant set under the stars on the cobblestone paved side street fronting our hotel! Perfect ambiance to start the trip!
Lunch, Tapas and Dinner: Primitivo Steakhouse - the vibe is cavehouse-chic with lots of plants! Great for tapas and wine or craft cocktails served in retro tiki cups!
Drinks: CasaCasco is a good location to have a drink while overlooking Casco Viejo.
Need to Know
If you are looking for a spectacular (yet reasonably priced) vacation mix of city, sand and sea, I would love to help you plan it!
For more travel tips, check out Amy Haefeli's Luxe 3-Day Guide to Visiting Panama City & San Blas Islands.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Panama.