I was completely and utterly asleep and having a great dream while sitting in the back of a 4WD trundling along winding roads north of Panama City, when I was rudely awoken by a ‘tap tap tap’. I opened one sleepy eye only to be greeted by the face of a young Panamanian kid in military uniform, a large gun slung over his shoulder. I wound down the window… “Passport”.

Rise repeat approximately seven times within the next half an hour… The road to white sandy beaches, it appears, is paved with military check points.

Waiting for the boat

The San Blas Islands sit just off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The San Blas are technically separate from Panama, and are home to the local Kuna people. There are approximately… 365 white sandy islands littered with palm trees…. Oooh, aahhh, sounds very nice.  So at 5am, we set out in a 4WD with an angry Panamanian man, ready for some beach time.

After about 2 hours or so of driving we arrived at a small shelter next to a river, where we waited for a boat to take us out to an island. There are various islands you can stay at, all with sandy floored huts for accommodation, but with varying prices depending on the amount of privacy you have. We pretty much left it up to our hostel to book us in to wherever they usually send backpackers and ended up on an island called ‘Tony’s island’ run by a small man named… Tony. Funnily enough.

Tony’s Island

As we got into the boats to head out to the island we noticed that it was just the three of us… and a group of 45 Israeli’s (ok maybe it was 11, but you get my drift). Considering our previous experiences with the social skills of groups of Israeli backpackers in South America, we were not happy about the situation, as this pretty much meant that we’d be hanging out with… each other for the next few days. But things didn’t exactly go as we thought they would…

We arrived at the island and Tony gave us all a stern talking to about what would and would not be tolerated on his island. Then he put the three of us in a separate hut to the group of Israeli’s.

Tony’s island was… nice. Very nice in fact. There was white sand, palm trees, and turquoise water. The whole island can we navigated in the time it takes to finish approximately ¾ of a cigarette (not that I smoke… mum) and the opposite side of it has huts rented out by someone else, so we were happy to find that we were not entirely alone. Our hut was made out of bamboo, had five beds and a sand floor. And upon seeing the nice set up, we all promptly fell asleep.

Home on the San Blas

We were awoken by a game of volley ball and ventured out into the sunshine. That night we sat and had dinner with the group of 45 Israeli’s and found them to be… lovely… very friendly in fact. So we had a sociable evening with the 245 Israeli’s, and slowly forged world peace over a few bottles of rum with our feet in the sand.

The power went out at 10pm and after our eyes adjusted to the dark we saw above our heads a sky full of bright stars and the reminence of the miky way… it was one of those magical moments. So I stood at the waters edge, buried my toes in the sand, and stared out at the magical star filled sky with a huge smile.

Star Fishing

The second morning I woke up and literally walked straight into the turquoise water… everyone else had the same idea. Later in the day Tony took us all out on a boat trip to various islands where we snorkeled around an old ship wreck and stopped at a sand bank in the middle of the ocean to swim with huge star fish. It was a day of Wow and then more WOW. That night we ate together again and had a few more nationalities join the table, it was almost like a mini UN meeting (and potentially as useful if only we had a few more bottles of rum on hand).

The following morning a storm came in, which along with the sunburn from the day before, signaled our time to leave. So we packed up our gear and about half of us left the little island and headed back to Panama City and onto more adventure…

 

Kimberley Casey

Founder of Time as a Traveller, where Independent Travellers share their extraordinary experiences. Kim is an Independent Traveller since 1997. Writer. Photographer. Lover of Freedom. Specialist in off the beaten track, adventure, long-term budget travel and everything Latin America. Good at roughing it, long haul trips, and sleeping on all modes of transport. Read her story at https://timeasatraveller.com/founder-kim-casey/

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