28 Feb Sailing the Caribbean :: San Blas Islands
Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the San Blas Islands was always going to be a highlight. My travel buddy, Jess, and I were extremely excited and expectations were exceedingly exceeded.
Our voyage was 5 days on Gypsy Moth, a 42ft catamaran with a boutique crew of 11 incl. the captain, Sim, his wife and their 2 kids – a 3 year old and a 1 year old.
The itinerary had us out at open sea for 32 hours followed by 3 days in pristine tropical waters dotted with palm tree islands blessed with crisp white sand, before arriving to the mainland of Panama.
Our departure from Cartagena was delayed by two days due to rough seas. Once we were all aboard Gypsy Moth and out on the open ocean, with no land in sight, the rough seas welcomed us. Sea sickness was inevitable. We all tried hard to keep our composure and not succumb to motion sickness. Bets were made on who was the first to give in.
Most of us were correct when it was Manuel, an Austrian. He had defied captain’s orders and drank beer on the open ocean, contributing to his downfall. Him and his friend had 48 beers between the two of them to consume in 4 days so they thought it was wise to make an early start. We also found out that he complemented his beer with 5 empanadas.
“Sim said to have a hearty breakfast so I had 4 empanadas and one for lunch” he told us. Hearty actually meant eggs, toast, muesli, fruit. Not oily empanadas.
Jess wasn’t too far behind. She was slowly turning green, losing the ability to make any sudden movements.
The only solution for the nauseated was to lie horizontal and be still. Jess and I retreated to our cabin and as we lay on our bed, Jess mumbled through gritted teeth “this better be worth it”.
And it was.
32 hours later we spotted the San Blas archipelago – speckles of palm trees on the horizon. As they came further into sight, the rough seas surrendered to calm turquoise waters which slowly transitioned to a golden hue as they reflected the rays of the setting sun. Dolphins greeted us, playing, swimming and jumping around the the bow of the boat. We anchored at our own island for the evening, jumped off into the warm waters and relaxed under the golden light. This was heaven.
Waking up in the San Blas is something everyone should do. It was absolutely bliss waking up to white sand, palm tree islands and crystal blue waters. After our first morning swim, we sailed to Starfish Island to BBQ fish on the beach. The Austrians cracked open their beers at 10am to continue their consumption. They weren’t going to let any go to waste.
We carved our names in coconuts, handpicked from the local Kuna Indians who scale the heights of the palm trees to acquire them. They inhabit these islands and live in much the same way as their ancestors. Selling coconuts is one of their main sources of income, along with their famous bright and colourful molas, elaborate embroideries sewn by the Kuna women.
We explored deserted islands, played beach soccer, snorkelled through old shipwrecks and lapped up the warm Caribbean waters.
I was blessed to spend my 25th birthday in this untouched land. After an adventurous day of snorkeling, we consumed sunset drinks, a beautiful meal, played card games and drank too much rum, in Caribbean spirit. Too much rum on boats can generally lead to one thing – skinny dipping. Skinny dipping on your birthday in the middle of the tropical Caribbean surrounded by palm speckled islands is in fact one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had.
For transport options from South America into Central America this is your best option. By land is not really an option unless you want to meet Guerilla warfare groups in dense jungle. For the same fare as a flight, the sail option provides a 5 day tour around the San Blas Islands, accommodation, 3 x meals a day, and your transportation from one country to the other.
There are many boat options. However, make sure you read boat reviews before picking one. Some crews can be dodgy, overbooked and overcrowded. Some can be smugglers or big party boats.
Once our voyage was over and we arrived in Panama, it is a fairly long journey through the beautiful country side to Panama City. Make sure your boat organises this transfer for you because there is not much infrastructure once you arrive. After a day at Panama canal, an overnight bus ride over the border to San Jose, a cab, a ferry and another bus we reached our next sought after destination – Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.