About a 45 minute boatride from Panama City, you can spend the day at the beach in San Blas. I loved how quiet and laid back the town was. There were a ton of sea shells on this beach as well. I had fun collecting along the beach and then tossing back. I could see myself living here one day.
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The women of the Kuna (native islanders) wear bright and colorful outfits that seem to match their tropical surroundings perfectly. The Kuna inhabit a stretch of islands located off the Caribbean coast of Panama, near Colombia. The islands are most accessible by plane from Panama City. There are several hundred islands to explore, so it's best to charter a sailboat for a week to visit a handful of them and visit many of the island villages of these remarkable people. We chartered our boat from San Blas Sailing at the following: www.sanblassailing.com
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.
Dugout canoes are the mode of local transportation in Panama’s Kuna Yala (aka Guna Yala and San Blas Islands). They also become floating markets to sell wares to foreigners sailing in the area. My new bride and I were on one such chartered sailboat, which led to a special encounter.
Throughout our honeymoon, we were visited by merchants known by the boat’s owners, Swedish couple Christina and Ulf. Items for sale included lobsters (a local specialty), the catch of the day, mangoes, coconuts, and molas, which are embroidered works of art traditionally worn as vibrant panels on a Kuna woman’s blouse. Most Kuna don’t have electricity, so Ulf often charged cell phones overnight.
One transaction led to an invitation by Kuna couple Pricilliano and Adelaida to visit their family island. Known as Gunboat Island, the entire speck of Caribbean paradise was roughly the diameter of a quarter-mile track. Three generations (more than 10 family members) live in two huts with thatched roofs and sand floors. During the day, clothes hang from the ceiling where hammocks drape at night. Meals are prepared over an open flame. An outhouse sits on a pier.
But cultural differences only run so deep. Over several hours, we bonded with two young girls, Elaida and A., who played in the water and sand and climbed palm trees with us. I let them shoot photos and see them in my viewfinder, and they squealed with delight. It was the perfect encounter for a young couple with dreams of starting a family.