There are 2 main ways to get from Colombia to Panama, to either fly or take a boat as the land crossing is thick with impassable jungle and Colombian gorilla fighters!
We chose the sea route and embarked on a 6 day sailing boat trip through the paradise islands of San Blas! The islands are literally something out of a book. White sands, crystal blue water and corals, palm beaches, whilst some are inhabited and some not! The inhabitants of the islands are the Kuna people who are part of (but independent from) Panama.
We were lucky to have a great crew and amazing captain. Our captain could best be described as a pirate! Big beard, long hair and skin that has been open to the elements for many years! He'd sailed the Caribbean for years and the San Blas route for years as well. The crew were great and our tourist shipmates also. Complete random mix of people from about 12 different nations! The boat was small but pretty comfortable. We got lucky with a private cabin but on the open water it only allowed us to roll about more and bang into the walls during the night!
The first few days were sailing on the open sea, even though it was Caribbean water it was still quite choppy. Few beers on deck but after dark we had to head downstairs so no one went overboard on a big wave! The captain made a clear warning that if you go overboard at night the chance of being found are near 0!
After some days sailing we entered San Blas islands! We were to spend 3 days moving from island to island. We snorkelled, met the local Kuna people and chilled on the boat. The seas were calm and weather amazing! One night we made a big bonfire on an island, drunk from coconuts and played music with a few drinks, shipwrecked style! The locals were around to say hello as well.
We were also lucky to be on the islands for the Kuna Independence Day so that involved a big party with the locals on one of the most inhabited islands. The Kuna have a population of about 40,000 but spaced over hundreds of islands and only a couple have more than 1,000 people living on them. On the island we went onto, the locals were partying all evening! The Americans stopped the Panama army wiping out the kuna people in the early 20th century and gained them their independence.
On the evenings moored up we stayed up on deck until the early morning... Woke up only to be calmly sailing to one of the other islands! Food was good on board as well, 3 meals a day, one of which was a big lobster and sea food mix! Some of our ship mates caught a 32lb tuna in the first few days as well so that made for great ceviche and tuna steak!
One of the islands we went to was 'immigration'. As with so many we've been to along the way this literally just consisted of a hut on an island or random place with a few locals pottering about. The captain got our stamps for Panama and the immigration people didn't even want to see any of the tourists! The immigration island also had its own mini airstrip and beach volley ball court, with a few light planes landing whilst we were on the island!
Even though the boat had no showers and 23 of us, including the crew, had to share a small cabin inside the various boat compartments, it was an amazing trip! Sailing around the San Blas islands was definitely one of the highlights of our South American leg! Great crew and ship mates made it all the better as well!
Once we arrived in Panama everyone was sad to see the boat go and head back to dry land. After being at sea for 6 days it made you feel wobbly on flat land for a good few days!
As soon as we got on land we headed to our first 'chicken bus' which would take us to Panama City and into Central America! Onward bound....