All paradises have their downside. Based on traveler feedback and our own experience, we believe important to share with you the reality of the small postcards islands with white sand beaches and palm trees to enjoy better your trip if you know prior departure exactly how it looks like.
The San Blas are run by the indigenous called Kuna Indians. They have their own rules and Panamanian law doesn’t much exist. Their main income is the tourism and foreigners are not authorized to operate tourisms there. It means that as soon as you embark on their small boat after the 4x4 transportation or your flight landed, you are in the hands of the Kuna and it will be difficult to claim back your agency any delays, logistics problems or refunds. The best is to stay on recommended islands with whom the agencies have confidence to work with. (which is something difficult as there a lots of “pirates” agencies which do not care much about the service offered). That is why we, based on our experience and feedback from others travelers, only can recommend Diablo Islands. You will deal directly with the 4x4 transport company and Kuna that we trust and offer good quality service.
To explain the “low” service level sometimes offered, you must understand that San Blas is still very basic and the Kuna operating there have not all studied Hospitality Management, Logistics, ,Gastronomy, nor tourism. There has been a big “boom” during the past years and they have not been trained for that and some just want you to live their lifestyle in their own comfort which is as well part of the trip. Be flexible!
You must expect some delays, lack of communication, waiting for someone or something without knowing the cause, rustic cabanas, no fish but pasta, (yes, sometimes the fish season is low), fried eggs and bread for breakfast, etc… but in the end, everything works out if you can accept the little discomfort and simply enjoy the islands. About their hospitality, they might be a little rude as well. (It all depend the islands).
San Blas have a problem with rubbish collection, so you can expect to see some on the paradise islands and more during summer season because of the strong current. The main rubbish are coming for the sea, cargoes and sailing boat!
About the 4x4 road transportation performed by Panamanians, you can except to be a little squeezed as 7 passengers can fit into the car. As well, you can experience some delays or the car already waiting for you because the pick-up route can change and sometimes others passengers create themselves the delays (alarm clock issues). To avoid that, you can always pay extra fee and request a private charter.
Mandatory items you must take with you:
1. Always your passport with you, in hands and not in your bag and as there are some check-point on the way.
2. The Taxi will stop on the way to the supermarket but at in case it does not stop, make sure to have at least a gallon of water with you and others small snacks.
3. Towel, swimming and snorkeling equipment
4. Rain coat for the boat ride
5. Ziploc or any hermetic bags to put your valuable items in a safe place during the boat ride as everything can get wet
6. Toilet paper
7. Sun block