san blas


Blasting through the San Blas Islands

Published August 27th, 2015

Yacht. Check.
Lobsters. Check.
Champagne. Check.

No, these aren’t Leonardo DiCaprio’s lunch plans… It’s a backpacker trip from Colombia to Panama – I’m not joking. Oh, and to make it sound even more disgustingly, ridiculously amazing – there were KITTENS EVERYWHERE!

Lobsters. Can't get much fresher than these!

If you haven’t already got your credit card out then something must have gone horribly wrong during your childhood.

This is a story about the best border crossing I’ve ever done. Not only did we cross borders – but crossed continents – from South America to North America.

Better than Whiskas

The San Blas Islands are a chain of tiny, palm lined, white sand pieces of paradise porn just off the Caribbean coast of southeast Panama. The local people here are known as Guna’s and have done a bang up job taking care of this little slice of heaven. We encountered some of these friendly folk numerous times on our trip like when they sold us a whole canoe full of lobsters or topped up our dwindling supply of booze.

Our Skipper, Juan-David has been sailing this route on numerous yachts for more than five years. He’s built a special relationship with the locals, which helped us secure the freshest catch and the closest moorings on the best islands.

Island life in San Blas

He never does the exact same route twice - always checking the weather and moving to areas where there are fewer boats so his load of backpackers get the real Robinson Crusoe experience. His crew consists of his French girlfriend, a Dutch yacht-hand and a cat called Luna that was caring for her three young kittens. These seafaring felines provided endless entertainment and cuddles over the five-day adventure on the high seas.

The trip started from Cartagena, Colombia. Other travellers had warned us that the two-day open sea crossing to the islands would be hectic. We checked the weather report before leaving and knew we’d be in for a rough ride. A quick stop at the chemist for seasickness pills was made and off to the marina we went. We pulled out of the docks just after 10pm under a ceiling of sparkling stars - although we braced ourselves for the worst.

Spot Matt hanging out in the on board hammock

Two days of four meter “chop” later our trusty catamaran Nacar steered its way past the reefs and into protected waters, huzzah! A Swedish dude appeared from below deck that we hadn’t even known was onboard! I guess not all Vikings make the best sailors… It was smooth sailing from now on!

The remaining three days were spent swimming off the boat in crystal-blue waters, fishing, eating and drinking rum. Sometimes we’d backstroke to deserted islets you could walk around in minutes or take the dinghy for a paddle to sparsely populated islands for a drink at the bar with locals.

Seriously! #KITTENLYFE

Under the star-filled night skies we would laze about on the deck sharing drinks with our new friends and playing card games. There’s just something about sleeping on slowly rocking boats that provides the best dreams and the deepest slumbers.

After a quick stop at the local immigration station (shed) to get our passports stamped our adventure came to an end. We were tendered to shore and put in 4x4s for a one-hour drive to Panama City ($40pp – not mentioned in the tour price).

Enjoy the easy breezy island life

Crossing borders aren’t usually very fun – especially in South/Central America. This one was though – not only was it ridiculously relaxing, but also provided for a great adventure; crossing continents like our ancestors did – by boat.

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Matt Castell

If you could make travel a full-time job would you? I am. I've been called a "jack of all trades" many times over the ten or so years spent wandering the globe. Always looking for new skills to learn, whether it be lion taming or flying helicopters... I'll give it a go! Being a Travel Agent for Student Flights has been the top pick so far though!