Lured by the romance of the sea, my wife and I booked a chartered sailing trip for part of our Panamanian honeymoon through San Blas Sailing. We had not sailed before, and doing so in Kuna Yala (aka San Blas Islands) seemed unforgettable. Comprised of nearly 400 mostly uninhabited islands and a strip of mainland extending about 200 miles west from Colombia, Kuna Yala is a semiautonomous zone run by the indigenous Kuna people. They have managed to cling to their vibrant culture and limit western influence by not allowing foreigners to own land or run hotels.
The exception is foreign-run sailing trips. Admittedly, we were nervous about spending four days (of our honeymoon!) with strangers in tight, possibly primitive quarters. But, fortunately, we had nothing to fear. The 50-foot Roxy was charming and spacious, and retired Swedish couple, Christina and Ulf Blencke, were remarkable.
They showed us many stunning places, including Ulf’s favorite snorkeling spot in the Cayos Coco Bandero, a remote grouping of pristine islands. We also snorkeled the shallow waters offshore Dog Island through dense coral that has overtaken a World War II-era shipwreck.
But we most appreciated them for sharing Kuna culture with us. Their openness, warmth, and months spent amongst the people in the region had been reciprocated by true friendships. We met a cast of local characters we will never forget, and Christina and Ulf will always stay in our hearts.