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Sailing in the San Blas Archipelago – a Caribbean dream!

Karin always wanted to do a Caribbean sailing trip during our North/Central America travels. She had been to the Caribbean a few times before and so she wanted to get an impression of this region again and, above all, show it also to me. However, many classic sailing destinations, such as the Antilles, were not easy to reach from our itinerary, as we had to discover during the course of our trip. The San Blas Islands, located only about 10 km off the Caribbean east coast of Panama, then turned out to be the perfect location… almost at the very last minute before our journey home back to Europe. With their over 360 mostly uninhabited islands and the indigenous Kuna Yala inhabitants, they are also considered as one of the most beautiful and untouched sailing areas in the Caribbean. Hotels or holiday resorts? None!

However, getting there is not as easy as the location initially suggests. At least for us with Shujaa! The Kuna Yala is the only indigenous tribe in Central America that has been able to get extensive autonomy rights and therefore you have to cross a kind of a “border” if you want to go to Carti – the tiny shipping harbor where the boat transfer to the San Blas Islands take off. 99% of the vehicles on this very steep, but now completely asphalted route, which is only approved for 4×4 vehicles, are tour provider jeeps that drive adventurous visitors from Panama City to the start of their sailing trip in Carti. The remaining 1% are Panamanians with their private 4×4 jeeps. Accordingly, the Kuna Yala at the border post are quite amazed when we drive up with Shujaa. It quickly becomes clear: they don’t allow us continuing with Shujaa. Comments from us that a 6×6 is even more suitable for off-road use than a 4×4 and that Shujaa has heroically mastered much more challenging roads than a steep and winding asphalt road are completely ignored. In the end we agree that we can drive our quad Shujoo to the boat dock the next morning and Shujaa can stay well-guarded at the border post for the next three days. Always good when you have alternatives!

The next morning, we go to Carti with small luggage and Shujoo and from there take a small long boat for another two hours to the other end of the San Blas Islands, where our sailing yacht “Martini” is moored. Although the boat shuttle fees are very expensive (the Kuna Yala try to charge money wherever possible), we are sitting in the boat with many other guests in a “collective taxi mode” to be brought to the respective sailing boats. The search for the exact anchorage points of the respective boat begins on site each time, which again takes some time (they probably haven’t yet heard of GPS or anything like that here). When we finally arrive on our sailing yacht “Martini”, we were greeted by our skipper Boris (an Argentinian sailor who plans to sail around the world and currently earns some money with charters in the San Blas area) and his dog.

Boris cooks excellently and gives us great experiences. Since he has now been on the San Blas Islands for a year, he knows every bay, every dream beach, every snorkeling area, every jungle path. After lunch, we start shopping for the next few days: Boris calls some fishermen who then dock right next to us with their small dugout canoes and offer the fish they have caught for sale (so this kind of thing doesn’t just happen in the movies!): One brings lobster, the other brings a huge predatory fish. A supermarket boat also brings the pre-ordered goods (beer, wine, cookies, etc.) and then we are ready to go. Boris tells us that he even buys his SIM cards and other essential things from these local boats.

For the next three days we sail from one end of the archipelago to the next. The colors are amazing, the wind is good for sailing and we spend half the day swimming and snorkeling. Pictures say more than words here! On the morning of the third day, we are picked up again by a longboat and taken back to Carti. The time period of 3 days was exactly right for us: on the one hand, the islands become quite repetitive over time, and on the other hand, the condition of our sailing boat „Martini“ was not perfect. And so we are looking forward to Shujaa again with comfortable beds, a working water pump and sufficient electricity capacity.

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