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How to Get to San Blas Islands

It is quite likely that during your trip to Panama you will want to go to San Blas, and you will wonder how to get to San Blas, those paradisiacal islands in the archipelago of the same name, in the province of Guna Yala.

This place is quite special, among other things, because the government of this province is in the Guna Yala Indians. We wrote an article about this territory, with information that I think is important to know before arriving, San Blas, trip to the Guna Yala territory.

San Blas Chichime

Its customs, its history and its 365 paradisiacal islands are an attraction that every year make many tourists come to this Panamanian Caribbean coast.

There are many people who wonder what is the best way to get to San Blas. The fastest, the cheapest or the most spectacular.

When we thought about getting there, we considered several options and finally decided to go on a three-night and four-day tour on the island of Chichimé. It wasn’t a trip “on our own”, since from the time we left the hostel where we were staying in Panama City, until we returned, we didn’t have to worry about anything, just enjoying ourselves.

In any case, we tell you the different options to get there, so you can choose the one that best suits what you are looking for or the time you have.

On your own to San Blas

This is the most adventurous way to get there, and certainly the most complex.

You have to go to Albrook bus station in and there take the bus to Cañita. But you don’t have to get there, but there is a crossing, where you have to stop.

So far it looks easy, and in fact it is. Now comes the more complex part. The road to Cartí is spectacular, but as spectacular as in bad condition, so the only way to travel it is in 4×4.

Since all the vehicles on that road are 4×4, you can try and make a stop. In this way we were told that it was possible to arrive, since sometimes, the 4×4 are not full, and there are some places left (usually they have 6). So if, a charitable driver sees you and the passengers don’t mind you getting on, you can get there.

This depends on many factors, and I’ll tell you what they are below. Most importantly, the time of year and whether or not it is the weekend.

We went in November, which is not exactly the best time of year to travel as far as the weather is concerned. In fact, the day we arrived in Cartí, it was raining as if the world was going to end, I’m not exaggerating at all.

That day was a weekday, so between the rain, and not being a weekend, the influx of travellers was really low. So a day like that would not have been easy, but rather impossible to get transportation.

Maybe it has to be some kind of combination of factors. It’s definitely going to be much easier to cross with 4×4 on weekends, and in the driest time of year.

From Carti, you’ll have to choose which island you want to go to. That is where the boats from the different islands arrive to take you to your accommodation. If you have nothing booked, you can always ask. However, perhaps in high season, or the second of November holiday, it is quite crowded.

But yes, you will save some money. For the return trip, you’ll have to do the same.

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Sailing boat from Portobelo

This was one of the options that had the most weight in what we wanted to do to get to San Blas.

The idea is pretty good. These sailboats leave from Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, and stop in Portobelo. If you decide this option, you have to get to Portobelo on your own. There, we were told that there is a hostel called Captain Jacks, where the owner, Marco, organizes these sailing trips from there to San Blas.

Finally, we didn’t feel like getting to Portobelo and from there making the arrangements, so we sent an email, but we never got an answer. We thought about going there, but since we had to pass through Panama City on the way back from Bocas del Toro, we looked at the tours organized from there.

When we reached San Blas, opposite Chichimé Island, it was a place where these sailing boats would dock for a few days. And frankly, because of the amount of people inside, and the size of these, I don’t think it was what we would have liked most. Besides, we had to ask permission from the Guna on the island to be on it. And at a certain time, they would return to the boat.

Excursion from Panama City

This was the option we chose, and after a few calls, see prices, etc. We found that the best options were available at the Machico Hostel in Panama City.

As we didn’t have accommodation yet, we decided to go there, it is in the Marbella area and there we saw the different options. The truth is that the price fit us quite well from what we had read and looked for. And we took the opportunity to spend the night there and enjoy its swimming pool.

The price included the trip in 4×4 round trip, the boat to and from Marbella, accommodation for three nights, all the meals and an excursion to different islands of San Blas.

Alternative to the Excursion

An alternative, i.e. a semi-planned excursion is to make all arrangements directly with a Guna Yala family. As there are no intermediaries, they will send a 4×4 driver to take you to Carti, and from there get the boat to take you to the island where you stay.

The truth is, if we had had that information, we would have saved a few dollars, but well, at least we got the contact of the family where we stayed on Chichimé Island. They suggested that if we ever came back, we should do it this way. And if we knew someone who was, we’d pass on the contact. They didn’t hesitate to give us their card with their contact.

By plane to San Blas

This is certainly the most expensive option, as well as the fastest. We did not value this alternative, as fortunately we had enough time.

But if you want to get to San Blas by plane, you have to know that these depart from Albrook airport (the same one from which the flights to Bocas del Toro depart).

These flights are made in small planes of Air Panama, and allow you to reach the most remote islands. But the prices are high, around 150 euros each way. The other factor is that there is only one flight a day, in the morning.

Delays or cancellations sometimes occur depending on the weather, so you can either gain time or lose the day.

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