The San Blas Archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama is meant for sea kayak expeditions. This area offers a real adventure to those willing to accept the challenges and benefits to genuine adventure travel. Part of the adventure is figuring out how to organize a self-supported trip if you don't want to go with a company, which there are only a few which all go through one local operator that has been doing kayak trips for 20 years. I've been guiding for this company since 2010. I'm not trying to do business here. . I'm a passionate sea kayaker, who happens to be a guide, and believe that this area is one of the most fascinating and beautiful tropical destinations for a sea kayak trip. However, yes, you do need to hire a guide to paddle here. This area, which I call Guna Yala, is the territory to an indigenous group called the Guna (Guna Yala in their language means "land of the Guna"), who I work with, and who are semi-autonomous from the Panamanian government. Guna Yala has an island for each day of the year, with about 44 of them having communities, from a few hundred to a few thousand inhabitants. What makes kayak trips so amazing here are the Guna. You have to hire a Guna kayak guide (there is one in particular who I have worked with since 2010 and who is a phenomenal paddler and cultural guide), which means that you get a firsthand glimpse into the fascinating traditional culture of the Guna.
All that being said, your trip will start and finish in Panama City. From Panama City you hire transport for the 3-hour ride to the coast in Guna Yala. Because you have arranged this trip in advance, the kayaks and all paddling/camping gear will be waiting for you on an island called Isla Tigre, a few hours boat ride from the port (you will have arranged this boat transport in advance). You will have done the menu-planning and food shopping in Panama City and arrive with your food and personal gear. You will need to bring your own water. We have successfully packed 1 gallon of water/person/day for a 6-day trip. It can be difficult to buy water on the islands. When you arrive to Isla Tigre, your paddling expedition will commence. I recommend staying one night on Tigre, as this is a wonderful and very traditional community to explore. You can camp or stay in the simple cabanas, where there is also a restaurant. From Tigre you paddle with the winds (most of the time) back West and eventually end up at the same port where you started. Paddling days are typically 8-18 miles (give-or-take). You camp on different islands each night, paying the Guna who own the island, which is usually $5-$15/person/night. Some of the islands have a Guna family living on them who care for the island and harvest coconuts. They are extremely friendly. You can enjoy watching them fish in their traditional ways. Because you will be with your Guna guide the entire time, you will have many opportunities to immerse yourself in Guna culture and visit Guna communities. They have interesting customs that will fascinate and delight you to learn about.
I know that some of this information is a bit vague. If you are interested in this true paddling adventure please contact me via my website www.ileneinakayak.com and I will more than happy to help plan this once-in-a-lifetime paddling adventure with you:)
2-3 Day Trip, Extended Trip
Kayaking, Kayak Fishing, Fishing, Yoga, Snorkeling, Photography
Flat/Sheltered Water, Open Water/Ocean
Number of Portages:
Good to have VHF radio, cell phone with Panama card, and emergency contacts. It is a tropical environment, so follow precautions regarding heat illnesses.
Pack for tropical warm weather paddling. Because you have to hire a guide, you have the convenient option of having the outfitter provide all of the camping equipment and paddling/safety gear, and hammocks. However, you can pack your own camping/kitchen gear, although it can sometimes be difficult to find the right type of fuel in Panama City. Bring snorkels!
Windy/dry season is Dec-April. This will be the best time to go, and is the only time I've been to this area. Sometimes squalls with heavy rain blow through, but these do not last more than 15 minutes.
Dominant winds are from the north/northeast (usually), so paddling East to West allows us more time with a tailwind.
You will encounter lots of different sea conditions, from flat calm on the leeside of islands and in rivers, to 10-foot swell and whitecaps over reefs in more exposed crossings. You can plan an itinerary to avoid these conditions. I have had many beginner paddlers on trips. A nice tropical breeze most of the time makes it very pleasant for camping and sleeping.