"A ship is safe at the harbor, but that's not what ships are built for" - Gael Attal
We had a tough time deciding if this trip would be the right choice for us, but ultimately it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Docking in Colombia on that final morning, these are the things we will remember most about our crazy adventure at sea... 8 reasons you should consider sailing through the San Blas Islands:
1. To travel from Panama City to Cartagena (or vice versa)
Logistically this is a fun alternative to flying. For those of you who are new to the Pan American road trip, the most southern part of Panama (aka Darien Gap) is impassable by car (based on what we’ve read and heard). We were told there was once a ferry, but it shut down. And there was word of a bridge being built, but I think they stopped construction. Before we left, we read of one guy crossing the locks and driving the Darian via motorbike? But more often, we read about engines flooding. If you have any updated info on this please share!
2. It’s one of the most pristine and untouched archipelagos in the world, with 378 tiny islands to explore
Aesthetically it’s breathtaking. The shallow water near the islands are shades of turquoise and baby blue, while the deep parts of the ocean are dark navy, but it’s ALL so clear.
This particular sailboat trip will take you to 3 islands locally managed and inhabited by the Kuna Indians (they occupy 49 of the 378). You’ll need to bring $20 USD to pay the Kuna tax. Lodging is available in the form of hammocks and ecofriendly huts built using materials from the island (this is where you’ll sleep if you take the speedboat transfer instead of the sailboat - otherwise, you'll sleep on the boat).
If your boat has the gear, you’re in luck because the reefs in the middle of the ocean are incredible. Just jump off the back of the boat and start swimming. Not to mention all of the snorkeling closer to the beaches and the shipwreck you can explore near Dog Island. We saw Lobster, a Manta Ray, Starfish, Squid and all kinds of smaller, colorful little swimmers. But the colorful coral itself is worth seeing.
4. The FOOD
The Kuna men will come by your sailboat in canoes to sell you the biggest, fresh lobsters you’ve ever seen in your life. If you have a good captain and cook on board (like we did) you’ll be eating these guys for dinner. With a line on board, we were also able to throw it out while sailing to catch and eat fresh fish. Our amazing chef Lucy even washed and cut Octopus on the back of the boat before turning it into a savory stew. For breakfast we always had fresh fruit and either eggs, muesli or crepes. The coffee was terrible but hey, at least they had it. In other words, $550 definitely covered the food and it was awesome.
5. You’ll have a much better idea of what life as a sailor is like
When we say you could snorkel from your boat and that the Kuna men had to come to YOU to sell their lobsters, that’s because you actually LIVE on the boat for 5 (in our case 6 ½) days. If you want to get OFF the boat, you jump your happy self into the ocean and SWIM to the island. Of course you can always ask the captain to let down the dingy… but you get the point. More often than not, we swam. Not that it mattered, there’s nothing to swim TO per say. Except to feel earth under your feet (which is pretty amazing by the way). Read 5 things to prepare for when sailing the San Blas to better understand why the sailor’s life it NOT the life for us…
6. Sunrises and Sunsets
Just like with camping, you sleep when the sun sleeps so you're always up for sunrise. And although we see a lot of amazing sunsets in Texas, we rarely get to watch them setting over the ocean, while sitting on a sailboat staring at a bunch of tiny islands.
Plus! We happened to be sailing during a super moon and it was amazing. Seriously, being able to walk on an island at night that has no electricity and still be able to see your feet in the sand and the green color on a palm tree more than 100 feet in front of you is crazy.
7. Meeting new people (who REALLY like to party)
So Tyler turned 30 on the boat, which we kind of planned. There’s no better way to hit 30 really hard, than to party with 12 people between the ages of 19 and 22. Right?
I mean honestly, this group brought FIFTEEN bottles of rum, 3 bottles of vodka, and 1 bottle of tequila. We brought club soda, 2 small bottles of vodka, and a 6-pack of beer…
Long story short, we ended up loving these guys. And no matter how old we felt, we had a blast getting to know our crew. We sailed with a super diverse group: 2 from Sweden, 3 from the UK, 2 from France, 2 from Germany, 2 from Italy and 1 from Australia. They were all intelligent, funny, willing to ignore American politics, and made us both take a tequila shot at 10 AM on the morning of Tyler’s birthday… oh and they sang happy birthday to him in 3 different languages after dinner :)
8. Being able to say you did it!!
185 miles of open sea may be nothing for the professional sailor, but we still think it’s pretty impressive. That final stretch from the San Blas to Cartagena is serious business and it's not for the light-hearted... or the weak stomach. Best of luck and don't hesitate to reach out for more info!
See you in South America!