San Blas

“Ooh, San Blas islands.” While reading online about all of the excursions possible for my three day weekend, I was so taken by the word “island” that I never properly registered what I was getting myself into when I booked a trip to San Blas through Panama Travel Unlimited. These are actually desert islands, scattered about in the Gulf of Mexico and inhabited by generations of indigenous Kuna Indians.

From the time my alarm clock first went off at 5 am in Panama City, I was impossibly anxious. I feared languishing on the island, completely alone, tormented by boredom. But I was comforted that I had chosen an island with electricity, and I had my laptop, Nook, iPhone, iPod, two magazines, and a journal. Surely I could thwart misery – someway, somehow! (Later I would discover that introducing electronics to such a humid climate was, in one case, nearly fatal. Consider this a fair warning.)

Upon leaving Panama City, I met numerous other travelers, and we banded together in our pursuit of an exotic adventure. On the two-and-a-half hour car ride to Carti, two Ozzies told me highlights of the first three months in Central America. During the one hour wait for the boat taxi in Carti, a Brit told me how she quit her job and was preparing to sail to Cartagena as the next step in her solo journey through Central and South America. Just before our forty minute boat taxi to the island, a couple (a Kiwi and a Brit) told me about their year working on a private yacht, sailing the Mediterranean and Caribbean waters. Each conversation was a welcomed distraction…and solidarity for what I was about to face.

Panama - Bocas del Toro (2)Had I known exactly how rustic the accommodations would be, I wouldn’t have spent hours online agonizing over which island had the best reviews on meals, rooms, amenities, price and more. Photos are simply incapable of portraying what it feels like to stand in a cabana with sandy floors with the wind tickling the dried palms of your thatched roof.

From the moment I arrived on the island at 11 am, I was on a mission. First, settle in. Second, explore the island. Third, snorkel. Fourth, lie in the hammock and read. Fifth, suntan. Sixth…oh shoot. I hope it will be lunchtime by then.


My first activity was quickly curtailed upon seeing a black lizard exploring my toiletries bag. I freaked (privately, fortunately) and promptly zipped everything and locked it for safety. (Not that a lizard can pick a lock, but…you never know.) I forged ahead to activity number two: exploring the island. I tried to calm my pace as I meandered about the circumference…for all of about eight minutes.

Panama - Bocas del Toro (3)Wow. I’ve seen it all. I am really ahead of schedule. I may just have to row myself off of this island.

Time for activity number three. And that’s when it happened. Something about swimming in the aqua blue and looking back only to realize every edge of the island is completely within your periphery… It was magical.

From that point on, my days were filled with relaxation, laughter, and tranquility; days where the highlights were digging my toes in the sand to rock my hammock back and forth as I watched the sun set – and lay on the pier with sleepy eyes to gaze upon the brilliant stars. All of my anxiety had been in vain. The place I had once feared to be a prison became a haven…that I didn’t want to ever leave.

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