San Blas Islands

Tags: Coco Bandero Cays, Holandes Cays, Lemon Cays, Ogoppukipdup, Panama, San Blas, food, sailing

Date: November 5, 2022

We returned to Panama in the beginning of October and after getting the boat ready in Shelter Bay Marina, we sailed to the San Blas Islands. They are part of a region of Panama called Guna Yala. It is inhabited by the indigenous Guna people that also govern the region.

There are around 50,000 Guna people and some live on mainland Panama while others live on the San Blas Islands. Many are hunters and fishermen, but some farming is also done on the mainland. They do a lot of trade including with Columbia which neighbors the Guna Yala region in the east.

There are very few roads in Guna Yala. One leads to a town called Carti in the western part of the region. A few tourists are driven here and sailed out to the islands that are close by. These were also the islands that we first reached on the boat. Here we are, anchored in front of a small resort on a group of islands called Lemon Cays:

It was rainy season and in the marina on the mainland it rained a lot every day, but out here it was not so bad, but it was cloudy sometimes and it did also rain at times.

After some days at Lemon Cays, we went on to another more remote group of islands called Holandes Cays. Here are some islands we passed on the way:

Sailing is quite popular here, so some places have many anchored boats:

The mainland with its mountains is never for away in the San Blas Islands:

This is the island of Ogoppukipdup in the Holandes Cays:

If you look closely, you can see a small house on the left side of the island. Many of these small islands are inhabited by a family or two. The Guna have their own language, hence the strange sounding names of some of the islands. Many of them also speak some Spanish.

We anchored behind the island for some days. Here is another boat passing with rain in the distance:

This is our view of Ogoppukipdup from our anchorage:

Many of the anchorages around here are deep. Here our anchor was at around 27 meters.

Later on, we went to the Coco Bandero Cays. We anchored next to this island:

This island is also inhabited. The family living there did not have any power, so they came out to our boat to get their smartphone charged every couple of days.

This is the trimaran owned by our friends Mathias and Birte from Germany:

The Guna often came over to our boat in their dugout canoes. Sometimes, they wanted to sell something and sometimes they asked for water or other things. They were all very friendly. One day we bought two nice lobsters and a fish from one of these boats:

They were of course still alive, so Felicie had some work to do before dinner.

Another thing that they sell from their boats around here are their molas. A mola is a piece of fabric with very intricate patterns of other fabrics sewn on top. The production of these is a tradition among the Guna women who use the molas as the front and back of their shirts. Therefore, molas are usually made as identical pairs. Here are some we bought:

The tradition, however, is not that ancient. Before the Spanish colonization, the tradition was to have patterns tattooed on the upper body. Then the Spanish told the Guna that they should wear some proper clothes and as a response to that, they started painting the clothes in the same patterns as the original tattoos. Eventually, in the late nineteenth century, this lead to the reverse appliqué technique that is used today.