Guna Yala is an indigenous territory governed by the Guna indigenous group. The territory consists of a narrow strip of land on the Caribbean side of the country, as well as an archipelago of 365 islands, of which only 50 are inhabited by Guna people. The islands in Guna Yala are also known as the San Blas Islands, which are considered a top destination in Panama due to their well-protected natural beauty, as stewarded by the native Guna people.
The Gunas are known for crafting the famous Molas, a traditional textile made from layers of colored fabric crafted to form patterns and pictures inspired by their cosmogenic beliefs. The molas, which recreate the Guna vision of a colorful and mythological world, make incredible, one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
A trip to Guna Yala won’t look like any commercial vacation you’ve experienced in the past. Instead, you’ll get to embrace the local customs and cuisine. Keep in mind, there’s no internet access, or credit card payments, and US dollars are the only acceptable form of payment. Expect to lodge in thatched huts without heated water, or go the camping route, by renting tents or hammocks. One of the most popular places to stay, however, is aboard a sailboat. This option will allow you to sail from island to island, rather than just choosing one.
While you’re there, you’ll get to swim in the beautiful crystal clear, turquoise water and learn about Guna culture and traditions. Plan to island hop while in San Blas, and consider stopping at El Porvenir, the capital of GunaYala, Isla Perro, for amazing snorkeling, Playa Chichimei, which is popular amongst backpackers, or take a day trip to other stunning islands like Banedub Island or Robeson Island. When you’re ready for a meal, enjoy the local gastronomy, which includes freshly caught seafood prepared with local spices and ingredients.
From Panama City, you can take a 4x4 ride to Cartí, the main port of the San Blas Islands. The 2.5-hour drive will take you on a scenic journey through the central mountain range. From Cartí, you can access the individual islands by boat in about 20 minutes.