Highlights near Guna Yala

Post-Plunge Panama

When he learned we were on our honeymoon, a knowing smile stretched across Charlie’s face. Gazing pensively across the sea in the direction of a distant palm-tree skyline, the old Kuna man slowly muttered, “Ah, luna de miel en Kuna Yala…”

On our third trip to Central America, my new bride and I were no longer backpacking. No hostels during this trip. Though they do exist in Panama’s Kuna Yala, or San Blas Islands, we had aimed to stay in Caribbean luxury this time. And the Coral Lodge did not disappoint.

After departing from Charlie in El Porvenir, where we had awaited transportation, we took a choppy boat ride eight miles west of the Kuna Yala boundary. Along the way, we passed deserted islands so iconic that Hawaiian Tropic and Playboy shoot there. And the perfection above-ground was matched below the surface offshore. I’ve since snorkeled in oceans around the world, but never seen coral so magnificent.

During our days at the Coral Lodge we stayed in one of six thatch-roofed villas that jut out from the mainland over the turquoise waters of a small bay filled with its own coral reefs. From our back, private balcony we could while away the days in a chaise lounge or hammock, or dive in for a swim or snorkel around the bay. We also spied howler monkeys during rainforest walks, went sea kayaking, and relished the ecolodge’s gourmet food. It was a brief, indulgent taste of how the other half lives, and I can still picture Charlie’s nod of approval.

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We honeymooned in Panama, too! After reading your highlight, I wish we'd spent a few nights at the Coral Lodge...

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I spent 3 days at Coral Lodge last year. It was really aggravating and disappointing. It is not easy to get to and our who purpose for going there was to experience the Kuna Yala. We never saw San Blas, never left the resort. One of their boats broke down transporting us to the resort and it remained broken the entire time and their other boat was not capable of making the trip. While it is an attractive place and I thought I might enjoy Coral Lodge on its own, I found too many sand flees to make sitting outside comfortable, the water was oily and not very good for snorkeling and the chef made us uncomfortable at meals. They served gigantic 5 course meals and when I wouldn't finish each plate, the chef came out to see what was wrong with me. This followed on the heels of very positive experiences elsewhere in Panama, places that didn't bill themselves as luxurious, but offered tremendous experiences. Canopy Lodge and Tower were unforgettable and I want to go back. It makes me angry reading about the Kuna Yala and the great experience I missed (at great expense) because of Coral Lodge's ineptitude.

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Sorry to hear about your experience at the Coral Lodge. Our honeymoon there was in April 2007, so a lot could have changed since then. I don't know if they have the same management or staff--if I recall correctly, the awesome, laidback young couple running it for the season while we were there were backpackers, I believe from Canada. We didn't experience the chef with an attitude (she was very accommodating to me being vegetarian, and it definitely wasn't five-course meals), transportation issues, sand flies, or oily water. In fact, we've since snorkeled in oceans around the world, and the coral there (although not the marine life) was the most spectacular I've seen anywhere. Our entire experience in Coral Lodge, as well as Kuna Yala, was nothing short of excellent. Perhaps some of the issues you experienced were seasonal, though I'm not sure when you were there--perhaps we just had good luck.

I agree that Coral Lodge (and Kuna Yala) is not easy to get to and involves semi-rough travel, and for that reason it's not for everyone. But for us, that was part of the adventure. We really enjoyed the flight from Panama City to El Porvenir on a small propeller plane that landed on a tiny, WWII-era airstrip, followed by the bumpy, circuitous ride in a small boat out to Coral Lodge. We loved the fact that Coral Lodge and Kuna Yala were isolated and not overrun by tourists (at least at the time). But it would have made for an aggravating, disappointing trip if we had experienced what you did. Hopefully, it's a case of bad luck/timing, and not that Coral Lodge has gone downhill.


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Rob, The person running Coral Lodge when we were there (May 2012) was a Czech named Henry. They had a Spaniard doing the excursions. At Canopy Lodge and Tower we had local guides who really knew the territory, flora, fauna, everything! These people at Coral Lodge were not nearly as knowledgeable. How could they be, they had at most been in country for two years? Whereas our local guides at Canopy Lodge had grown up in Panama and had 15 plus years of experience as guides there. I know we did have unfavorable weather that probably brought in some of the trash and oil to the water as they had just had heavy rains before we arrived. That part was bad luck that I was prepared for. The rest was bad management which was in stark contrast to what I experienced elsewhere in Panama. Let me tell you, I LOVED Panama and had great experiences there. Coral Lodge was the one exception. Glad it was good for your honeymoon.


Kuna Yala

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