Sailing Through the San Blas Islands to Panama

January 4, 2016

To get from Panama to Colombia is a little more difficult than it might seem by just glancing at a world map. They’re connected overland, so you’d figure you could just take the Pan-American Highway straight through. Unfortunately, that road abruptly ends in a stretch known as the Darién Gap–an area of thick jungle and people who want to kill you. I love adventure, but realistically there is no way to make it to Colombia overland. Your other options are flying or taking a boat. The boat trips typically island hop in the San Blas Islands for the first three days before making the sea crossing. Yeah, easy choice.

I got on a 52 foot catamaran called El Gitano Del Mar (The Sea Gypsy) with about 15 other travelers. We sailed with another boat by the same owner called La Gitanita (The little Gypsy). We left early the day before New Year’s Eve and, after several delays, finally made it onto our new home for the next five days.

We spent the first three days moving from island to island, snorkeling, kayaking, and relaxing. It was incredible.

The cook on the boat was an American girl named Lucy, who cooked us all kinds of delicious meals. We had several octopus dishes and on New Year’s Eve we feasted on a lobster dinner.

San Blas Islands
Delicious with butter.
San Blas Islands

That night we all went to an island and partied with people on boats from all over.

The fourth day we were supposed to leave to make the sea crossing, but for whatever reason we got a pretty late start. Then when we met up with the other boat, they hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so we decided to head to another island and hang out until they had eaten. That was a great choice, because we went to the most beautiful island we had been to so far.

San Blas Islands
The water was unbelievably colorful, these pictures do it no justice!
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
We posted up on the beach and drank coconut water and ate coconut meat. You could run around the island in a minute. I'm pretty sure it was paradise.
San Blas Islands

Every day was just some form of relaxing–whichever you chose. Typically Always with beer. There was a hammock in the back, and two big nets that hung over the water between the two hulls. There were always bodies lying somewhere along the boat, reading, just sleeping out in the sun, talking and laughing.

Here’s some more pictures:

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
Four days of sailing around the tiniest little islands.
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
We anchored at this particularly shallow spot and played volleyball and drank beer in the water. Definitely a highlight!
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands
San Blas Islands

Just before we finally started leaving on the fourth day, the captain gave us some scary advice. He basically said it’s super normal for people to get seasick and what to do when it happens. He also started telling us what to do if we fell off the boat while it’s moving, what to do if we fell off while it was night (hope to Hell someone hears you fall), and all kinds of ways you can fall off the boat. And also what to do if we sink. At this point, I had been prolonging three hangovers by all-day drinking, but decided to stop for the sea crossing, and I was feeling pretty bad. My stomach already felt terrible from three nights of New Year’s binge-drinking and we were about to go to the high seas.

We even made bets on who would throw up first! I was started to get worried it would be me. I had no appetite and I felt terrible. When we started moving and got to rougher seas I pretty much stayed lying down most of the time. I didn’t eat much until the afternoon on the fifth day, when I was finally starting to feel hungry again. I somehow ended up keeping everything down though!

We also caught a couple huge Mahi Mahi and feasted on them. Lucy cooked some of it and also made sashimi. Unbelievably delicious!

San Blas Islands - Mahi Mahi
Me with one of the trophies.
San Blas Islands - Mahi Mahi

San Blas Islands - Mahi Mahi
We pulled into Cartagena at around 8:30PM and then enjoyed a delicious meal in the bay. We were all excited for a real bed, particularly one that doesn't rock back and forth!
San Blas Islands - Mahi Mahi

All in all, it was an amazing five days with an amazing group of people. It was definitely a highlight of my trip and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Penned on January 4, 2016 by Kevin Sweet.

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