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Ways to Experience San Blas Islands
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Reviewed 18 February 2014

Dear Bea: I think you already know, but this review has nothing with that trip i was on with you guys !! Although i was seasick the half of the time, just because i become sick seeing a car on a packing lot, it was a journey i will never forget - So much passion, patience and homefeeling on a boat in the middel of the ocean i had never thought i should experience. You was like a mother for all of us on theese 6 days on the ocean, and i could just feel that it was something everybody needed after many weeks and month traveling around the world - So Bea thank you for you heartWarming way to be, your fantasitic ability to make people around feels special and welcome - and a lot of humor and finally thank you for sharing your home (Luka) with me and many other travellers - You and Tom was the best Love from Denmark

Date of experience: March 2013
4  Thank Niklas L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed 16 February 2014

I had an amazing time sailing San Blas on board of Alea. This is my third sailing experience with Alea and its people, Johan and Silvia, it isn't going to be the last one! San Blas is awesome, clear blue waters, Kuna indians, but what makes this trip worth it, it's the boat and the people. Johan is an excellent captain, with lots of experience with sailing, so you feel safe at his hands. Silvia is the best host, an amazing cook and really sweet woman. They look after you really well, always making sure you have what you need. Their boat is their home and you feel as if you are at your friends' home, not just a impersonal charter boat that someone owns as a business. The boat is very clean and well maintained.You decide what places you would like to visit and they will plan the sailing route to make it happen. The food on board is excellent, normally sourced from the local people, according to season. Silvia always surprises you with a tasty and delicious meal from the little kitchen she has on board. I highly recommend saling with Alea, it's like sailing with good friends.

Date of experience: March 2013
1  Thank Pilar I
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed 14 February 2014

There are many "Cabanas" in San Blas, but I recommend one Island, Isla Del Diablo which is owned by a Kuna friend.

It is in front of Isla del Perro (Dog Island). It is a great place for snorkeling, as there is a nice reef and a shipwreck. The island is situated at 45 minutes from the San Blas dock. They offer also free snorkeling gear and free hop on / hop off islands Tours.

Tours are also offered to the deserted Cayos Holandeses. This place is amazing specially if you want to mingle with the Kunas and experience a bit about their culture. Have a look at the pictures to get a better idea of the island.

Take a rain coat with you and/or but your belongings such as camera, mobile phone in a dry place as it can be raining or the sea can be a little rough.

Date of experience: January 2014
1  Thank PanamaTips T
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed 13 February 2014

In February 2014 I travelled from Panama City to Cartagena via the San Blas Islands on the sailboat Amethyst captained by Colombian Juan David and his French girlfriend/first mate Pauline. The cost was $550 in cash. To summarize, it was a great trip…one of the best I have experienced over many years in over 40 countries.

The trip consisted of a 3-hour ground transfer to the Caribbean coast and a speedboat to the Amethyst, which was anchored in the San Blas Islands (total cost to reach the boat was $55…$30 ground transfer, $10 Kuna entrance fee, $15 speedboat transfer). After immigration formalities we anchored at three different islands over the next three days with lots of free time for relaxation, exploring and snorkeling. After dinner on the third day we sailed for 40 hours over the open sea and arrived at Cartagena at Noon on Day 5.

The three days on the islands were fantastic. We sailed for an hour or two in the morning and anchored very close to each island. From there we could either stay on the boat, swim to the beach or take the dinghy to the beach. Each island was more beautiful than the previous one. The Kuna people inhabiting the islands were friendly, but were of course interested in exploiting the tourism by selling handicrafts and charging $1.00 for photos. As beautiful as the islands were, there were some beaches with large amounts of plastic bottles and other trash in some places…an unfortunate 21st century reality. The swimming and snorkeling were fantastic though. Overall, the San Blas are remote and stunning.

The 40 hour open sea crossing was long and rough, but a once in a lifetime experience. I took sea sickness tablets and I was the only passenger who didn’t get sick. Pauline, the first mate, even got sick....and she lives on the boat! Others stayed down below in their beds, but I enjoyed the open sea experience on deck immensely. Bring plenty of sea sickness tablets and enjoy a once in a lifetime experience!

Our sailboat, The Amethyst was a 37 footer with a diesel engine as well. It can hold 7 passengers and 2 crew, but thankfully our trip consisted of only 5 passengers which was a perfect number. The boat is almost 30 years old and shows some wear and tear in some places, but overall it was excellent. It featured all of the modern navigation equipment (radar, GPS auto pilot, etc) and was fully equipped with the expected safety gear. The snorkeling gear supplied was brand new and in excellent condition. I don’t know how luxurious the other boats doing these trips are, but the Amethyst was a strong, well equipped and comfortable boat.

Our crew, Juan David and Pauline were fantastic. The important thing to understand is that these are not fully guided tours and the crew are primarily sailors and not tour guides or entertainers. That said, I met Juan David in Panama City where he was stocking supplies, and he was delightful. His love for sailing, the sea and his boat was obvious. He kept commenting on how uncomfortable he was on land! On the boat though, he was all business….very focused on the work of sailing and cooking. Pauline was also delightful once you got to know her. She was happy to chat and answer questions, but like Juan David, she was very focused on the work at hand. The few times Juan David or Pauline were a bit unfriendly was when the passengers left a mess or otherwise didn’t respect the boat. Understandable considering that not only is the crew responsible for a $100,000 vessel and the safety of the passengers, but the boat is their home as well. I was also very impressed with the amount of respect Juan David commanded from the Kuna people and his fellow sailors. He is obviously very well liked by everyone in the islands and on the sea….which is important because I heard stories of other captains that had poor relationships with the Kuna and were banned from certain islands. The third crew member was Juan David and Pauline’s newly adopted kitten Luna. The kitten was adorable and delightful….always up for a game!

As important as anything on these trips is the food. We were served 3 meals a day and I must say that the food was incredible. Juan David and Pauline went far beyond what you would expect for a backpackers style tour. In the San Blas every breakfast included scrambled eggs and bacon, lunches meat/salad/rice/potatoes and the dinners the freshest seafood imaginable…lobster, crab, octopus, etc. and the portions were enormous…no one ever went hungry! On the open sea the meals were simple but delicious. Great sandwiches, fruit, etc. In between meals the boat was fully stocked with plenty of snacks, nuts and fruit. Again, Juan David and Pauline went far beyond what you would expect for this type of trip ….the food was a fantastic highlight. I was impressed that even though with five passengers (instead of the maximum of seven) that Juan David’s profit margin is slimmer, there was no evidence of cutting costs or corners.

As for safety, it must be understood that sailing is dangerous. While it’s almost impossible to sink these boats, it is easy to slip and fall….hit your head while moving about, etc. Walking on the boat while sailing is a challenge and must be done carefully….and I won’t even mention the challenge of using the bathroom in 3 meter seas. As I said, The Amethyst is fully equipped with the expected safety gear (everyone is issued a life vest). Juan David also gave a comprehensive safety briefing at the beginning of the trip, but you must take reasonable responsibility for your safety on the boat, in the water and on the islands.

In summary, if you approach this trip with an open mind and the right expectations it is one of the great adventure trips in the world. I would rank it near the top in my 20+ years of travel in 40+ countries. You must realize that it is NOT a Royal Caribbean cruise. The captain is NOT a tour guide or entertainer. You will not shower for 5 days, you will be hot, you will probably get sunburned and sea sick. But for me, and my fellow passengers, it was a once in a lifetime experience. Again, I don’t know what the standard is on the other boats sailing this route, but I would wholeheartedly recommend travelling with Juan David and The Amethyst if you get the chance.

Notes: I booked the trip at the Mamallena Hostel in Panama City. While they say to book weeks in advance in the high season, I had a choice of boats on a couple of days notice. Their website www.mamallena.com has detailed and accurate information on this trip. Another great resource is Laurel at Blue Sailing in Cartagena at www.bluesailing.net. There is detailed info on both websites about the trip and each boat and captain. Both Mamallena and Blue Sailing are in direct contact with the boat captains and are very good about responding to e-mail inquiries with the latest departure information.

Date of experience: February 2014
2  Thank kibo1224
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed 12 February 2014

I had an amazing time sailing the islands on Yacht independence! the boat and food were great. The captain was friendly and said we could sleep anywhere we wanted as it was too hot down below in our cabins. The only down side is the open sea sailing. But its expected so just pop a few sea sickness pills and you'll be alright.

Date of experience: December 2013
1  Thank dylanevans90
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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