Until 2009 the only way you could get to the San Blas Islands was to fly into one of the few lumps of sand with a runway carved out. This was problematic being that the Archipelago de Las San Blas is one of the most beautiful island groups on the planet and people were dying to get in. So flights were few and prices were high…and a lot of times completely booked up.
Fortunately they’ve built a road connecting Panama’s Caribbean coast to the rest of the country. So these days you won’t break the bank and you don’t have to plan too far ahead. The most common and convenient way to get there is to book a “package deal” as there are no buses that make the journey and private taxi’s are only occasionally allowed in. If you fly in you still need to eat, and that is almost always done at your hotel, guesthouse or hut which can fill up quickly.
DISCLAIMER: Don’t let the term “package deal” scare you, they can range anywhere from luxury packages to a basic hut and rice combo. The term “package deal” is used very loosely.
There are several flights per day leaving from Panama City’s Albrook Airport. Round trip flights range from $60 to $120 USD depending on the season and are operated by Air Panama and Aeroperlas. Flights can be booked to a variety of locations within the archipelago, some on the mainland and some on the islands themselves. Unless your staying near the airstrip, you’ll most likely have to take a boat to your final destination.
The road is pretty rough but at least it will get you there. You can hire a 4WD from Panama City or book a tour that will most likely use this option. Buses and most cars won’t be suited for this stretch of dirt but conditions are rapidly improving. The drive takes about 6 hours and will drop you off at the port of entry, Carti. From here you will take a boat to your island of choice. There will be a small road tax upon entry into Kuna territory. This is the most popular option these days.
The San Blas Islands are inhabited and controlled by the semi-autonomous Kuna people, so the archipelago is free from nearly all modern distractions. They speak their own language and enforce their own laws and as a result, some of the uninhabited islands in the archipelago are allegedly used by Colombian drug runners. It’s unlikely that you’ll run into any issues but something to keep aware of if you get too far off the beaten track.
The San Blas Islands are a great place to relax for a few days. It would take you forever to explore them all but if you stay on one, you’ll probably get board after a few days. Hard to believe, I know! Regardless, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.