Hanne Hellvik has been to an incredible 50 countries in her lifetime – and writes about her amazing experiences over at Places Peoples Stories. This week, she is sharing her honeymoon trip to the little explored San Blas Islands of Panama. Imagine an idyllic, unspoilt paradise… well San Blas is that and more…
Over to you, Hanne…
Being on holiday, I love to have days filled with many different activities. I can easily get bored, and many days just lying on the beach is just not for me. I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to leave anything unseen. I love to meet and get to know the local people, and learn about their ways and their culture.
Where did you go?
San Blas (Guna Yala), Panama.
Why did you choose San Blas?
San Blas is still a pretty unknown destination. After my husband and I had booked our honeymoon on a cruise-ship that left from Panama, we decided to stay there afterwards. When we were trying to find out what was worth seeing and doing in Panama, San Blas didn’t come up in our search engines. We only heard about the destination when we were talking to a friend and she recommended it. The combination of awesome beaches, beautiful nature, and experiencing the culture of the Kuna Indians, made us want to visit this destination.
Where did you stay?
San Blas is located around two hours by car outside Panama City, but there are no hotels. The only option you have is to stay on the small islands with the locals – the Kuna Indians. One small island belongs to one family. The Kuna Indians have autonomy over the islands, and no one from the outside is allowed to buy or build any hotels in the province. We stayed in small traditional cabins made of straw. It’s almost like sleeping out in the open, and you can hear the peaceful sound of waves while in bed.
It’s by chance what island you end up on, as the agencies in Panama City organise your food and transport – so they are all assigned different ones. But the cabins look pretty much the same, and though they are traditional, you will always be offered a comfortable bed and bathroom.
Are there plenty of activities for kids?
We went without kids, but I wouldn’t have a problem bringing my children here. There are many activities for children: like playing in the sand, playing games on the beach such as volley ball, snorkeling, and swimming in the crystal clear water. The locals also take you on a boat trip, which is so much fun because of the waves. Plus you can visit the other islands, which the children can explore and play with the local children.
Your most memorable moment/s of the trip?
I remember well the delicious fresh fish by the Kuna Indians. However, the tea served for breakfast was not good and tasted salt. I tried to put a lot of sugar in it, but it didn’t help at all! I also really appreciated learning about the Kuna Indians themselves – it was amazing experiencing their traditional way of life, which dates back centuries. Besides that, the beautiful natural surroundings and the crystal clear water. It looks even more amazing in real life than it does on my photos.
Was it good value for money?
Going to San Blas isn’t cheap. The transfer alone from Panama City by car is $50 per person both ways (+$13 USD in jungle tax). Then there’s the boat transportation, accommodation and food to consider. The accommodation is around $60 USD per night for two people. But it’s worth every penny!
Your top tip/s for the area?
•Get to know the locals. They have a very interesting culture. They have maintained their own economic system, language, culture, dress, music and dance and have avoided traditional tourism development. Most of them live off fishing which they do from traditional canoes and are famous for arts and crafts.
•Try to snorkel for see the beautiful coral reefs. Be careful, though, my husband cut his leg on them as the water in many places are very shallow.
• Try island hopping, and get to know more local families and their islands. Some of the bigger islands have an entry fee. Others are free.
• Be prepared to be without internet for a few days while you are there. Just disconnect with the world. Believe me, it feels very good.
• Bring some bottles of drinking water with you. The water they give you tastes salty. You will also be given fresh juice daily.
Which photo is your favourite and why?
My favorite photo from the trip is of my husband and I out in the sea holding a starfish each. The local people took us in the boat to the middle of nowhere. It was so warm and lovely to be there in the crystal clear water. I like the picture because it shows how much we enjoyed the place, and how beautiful it is there.
Would you recommend to a friend? Would you go back again?
Yes, I would recommend this trip to everyone. I have already recommended it to several friends. Both my husband and I would love to go back again, but next time we want to stay even longer!
What are the five holiday essentials you couldn’t live without?
• Tissue, because you never know when you might need toilet paper!
• Mp3 player. Yeah, I know I’m a bit old fashion, but music is a must, even if you do not have the latest model of the iPod or a fancy phone.
Home in southern Norway. There is no place like home, right? But seriously, after visiting over 50 countries, the fjords and the nature of Norway is still the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It is also where my dear family is, and that contributes to making it my favourite place on earth.
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