Today, I’m thrilled to share an experience that stands out among the best in my life. I know, you’ve probably heard countless stories claiming to be life-changing, but this one – the San Blas islands and open-sea crossing – is truly special to me.
Let me take you back to the end of Covid, when the world was slowly reopening. We found ourselves in sunny Panama, ready to head to Colombia. Before Covid, I had heard stories of travellers crossing between these two lands on sailboats, and it instantly struck me as a brilliant idea. However, with all the restrictions, I wasn’t sure if we’d ever make it happen. But happy days, the first boats were crossing again, just when we were exploring the possibility of going from Panama to Colombia by boat.
And so, without hesitation, we cast aside the idea of a regular flight and dove headfirst into a boat adventure with a stop in the San Blas islands. Had we ever sailed before? Not at all, but every adventure has a beginning, right? Besides, the cost was nearly the same as the flights (at that time), but oh-so-different in every other aspect.
If you’re looking for an experience worth sharing with your grandkids someday, then keep reading. The memories are about to be made!
The San Blas Islands
The San Blas islands are an archipelago of over 360 islands, located off the coast of Panama and Colombia, in the Caribbean Sea. With 49 of them inhabited, these islands are known for their white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and vibrant coral reefs, making them a true paradise. The islands are home to the Guna people, who are the native inhabitants of the region and have preserved their traditional way of life.
From Panama to Colombia By Boat
Booking the Trip
We booked our adventure trip with Bluesailing. The sailing trip was a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation, with the first 3 days dedicated to exploring the San Blas islands, followed by a unique open-sea crossing lasting 30-50 hours. I promise, it’s all worth it.
There are two departure points from Panama:
- Puerto Lindo, a quaint seaside town on the Caribbean coast.
- El Porvenir, an island in San Blas.
We opted to leave from Puerto Lindo and the company arranged a convenient shuttle van (approximately 25 USD per person) from Panama City to take us there.
Our boat, Amande, welcomed us as our home for the next few days, and we shared this experience with 7 other travelers. We got a double bed cabin, which was super convenient for us. Solo travelers often end up sharing a small cabin with people they just met, but isn’t that what it’s all about?
For two people, the cost came to around $550, excluding the Kuna local tax of approximately 20 USD per person. The price included three delicious daily meals, skillfully prepared by a chef onboard. Obviously, during the open-sea crossing, meals are a bit more simple.
Our San blas islands trip was scheduled to depart on the evening of the first day and arrive in Cartagena, Colombia, on day 6, subject to weather conditions. The trip length and journey may vary due to unforeseen circumstances, so it’s good to be flexible.
Good to know: if you travel from mid-December to April, which is the windy season, strong winds and rough seas are common, especially for boats departing from Panama. Don’t worry too much though, the captains are experienced and may adjust the routes closer to the coast if necessary. In extreme weather, they might use the engine to motor sail for safety.
4-5 Days at Sea
The first night (from Puerto Lindo to San Blas) may feel weird, sleeping on the water, but your body quickly adjusts. Waking up the first morning in the middle of the San Blas islands is an amazing experience. Unfortunately, we had a bit of rain that day, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We spent our first day visiting nearby islands, meeting locals, enjoying coconut water, and swimming in the stunning waters.
During the three days in the San Blas islands, you’ll hop from one island to another, exploring secluded beaches, swimming, and snorkeling in crystal-clear waters. With the wind in your hair and sun on your skin, you’ll cruise through this tropical paradise, experiencing the warm hospitality of the Kuna people.
As it was just after Covid, there weren’t many other boats or yachts around, and the wildlife seemed super curious. We had a shark and manta ray swim under our boat. The days in the San Blas islands were filled with simple yet incredible moments, jumping into the waters, snorkeling, and sunbathing on the deck.
The last two days of the trip were spent crossing the high seas from Panama to Colombia on a boat. Being alone in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight is an indescribable feeling. You feel tiny compared to the vast expanse of the ocean, and I couldn’t help but wonder if our boat would survive. The skipper even allowed us to take watch at night, making the experience even more special.
As you sail, keep an eye out for a variety of wildlife, including dolphins. Some of them followed us for part of the journey, playfully swimming around our boat. And if you’re lucky, you might spot the humpback whales that migrate through the area in winter. We spent hours sitting on the deck, feeling incredibly happy and free.
Throughout the entire journey, in the San Blas islands and from Panama to Colombia, we felt truly blessed, and we couldn’t have imagined a better way to discover this part of the world. I have used the word ‘free’ or ‘freedom’ a few times because I think it is the best way to describe what I felt. But to be honest, it’s so difficult to express that my best recommendation is to experience it yourself.
- Immigration: At the beginning of the trip, the captain will usually collect all passports and arrange the necessary immigration procedures for your exit from Panama. Your passports will be kept safe until your arrival in Colombia. We had a seamless experience with the immigration officer coming to the boat early in the morning when we were still asleep, not even noticing it, making the process even faster than when entering by plane.
- Packing: All of your luggage will be on the boat, but you will keep a smaller bag with day-to-day essentials that you will need during the trip. The bigger bag will be safely stowed in another cabin or storage area on the boat until you reach Colombia.
- Essentials to Bring: Remember to pack suncream, swimsuits, and any seasickness medication you might need (if you are prone to seasickness). Light clothes are recommended for the tropical climate. You won’t be wearing shoes throughout the journey, so leave your fancy ones behind. Also, be prepared to disconnect from the internet; you can share your adventure on social media when you arrive in Colombia.
Final Thoughts on the San Blas Islands and the Crossing from Panama to Colombia by Boat
As a kid, I never really fancied sailing. But little did I know that I would love so much this sailboat adventure. It turned out to be a magical experience, exploring the San Blas islands, crossing between two countries and pondering the vastness of the ocean. It’s humbling, making you feel small yet incredibly free at the same time. The wind in our hair, the hours spent on the deck, the stunning landscapes, and the feeling of freedom mixed with a sense of petiteness—these are some of my best memories ever.
But not only is it an experience I highly recommend, it’s also a great way to travel from Panama to Colombia, offering a refreshing alternative to flying, all topped off with a few days in the San Blas islands. Convenient, right?