Crossing the mountains
An overland journey to this indigenous region in 4x4 vehicles has recently gained popularity, a trip that takes three hours from the capital.
Several tourist transportation companies offer expeditions to the Guna Yala, a region with such friendly people that all the visitors leave impressed.
Some of the tourists who have visited Guna Yala report that it is like being swept away to a paradisiacal Caribbean island populated with Indians who are isolated from civilization and carry on the traditions of their ancestors.
Fishing, tourism, subsistence agriculture, and sewing molas (designs on fabric) are the main activities performed both on the indigenous district's mainland and on the countless islands that make up the San Blas Archipelago.
If entering by land, the adventure starts in the district of Chepo in the eastern province of Panama on the Llano-Carti road.
You can sense the transition to a more humid-temperate climate as you go deeper into the mountains and pass by the Nusagandi camp, a biological center for nature conservation, as tourists on an expedition with the tour company Tripod reported.
Along the way, members of the Guna General Congress regularly charge a $10 entrance fee to the comarca, or indigenous district, although it is only a one-time fee to enter the protected area of Nusagandi.
It is notable that experts from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have ranked Nusagandi as one of the 10 most forested regions in the world.
A good resting point is at the overlook atop a hill that provides a view of the populated islands of Cartí, El Porvenir, and the Cayos Limones, as long as fog is not blocking visibility.
Further down the road, you will cross over the Cartí Grande River on a bridge to arrive at the village of Región, where there are strict security checks by the National Border Service (SENAFRONT) to prevent delinquents from entering the region.
The overland journey finally culminates at Barsukun, in the Guna Yala region, the place to leave behind the motor vehicle and continue in boat to the idyllic islands of the San Blas Archipelago, bordering Colombia.
The Guna Indians are known for their decorative art of making molas. Molas tend to be very bright and colorful, and women often wear the embroidered fabric as clothing.
Before the missionaries converted them to Christianity, most Indians dressed in traditional clothing and also painted their bodies in colorful designs.
When the settlers came, many Indians began to discard their garments in favor of the clothing brought by missionaries and abandon most of their body painting.
The Gunas once worshiped a god called Erragon. Many Indians were driven out of Panama during the Spanish colonization, while others fled in their boats to other neighboring islands. The chief of all the islands dwells on an island called Acuadup, which means Rock Island.
The Gunas are hunters and fishermen by nature, though children on some of the islands have the opportunity to attend school. In their culture the people are very well-kept. In terms of language, most of the men now speak Spanish, while the women work to maintain their traditions.
The San Blas Archipelago is conformed by 365 islands and islets, of which only 80 are inhabited by the Gunas.