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Send your booking request until 1pm the day before the tour – we confirm within several hours! No prepayment or deposit required during booking.

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11Armila, San Blas - women walking in the shade

3-day Island Hopping – Boat from Panama to Colombia

0
  • 3-days/2-nights
  • San Blas Islands, Panamá
  • Every Monday
  • Pick-up in P.C. available
  • No pre-payment & free cancelation
  • Covid-19 precautions
  • StartCartí, San Blas, Panamá
  • EndSapzurro, Colombia
  • ViaSan Blas Islands, Panamá

Our most popular boat tour is back! We are returning with our 3-day island-hopping tour in a speed boat from Panama to Colombia. Visit deserted beaches and islands where no other travelers ever go to, sleep in traditional cabins on tropical islands, and immerse yourself into a still intact indigenous culture on this once-in-a-lifetime trip all while crossing the Panama-Colombia border. We travel in speed boats along all 365 islands of the San Blas Islands to Colombia, facilitate the border crossing for you and make your island fantasies come alive! From Sapzurro, you can travel onwards to Cartagena or any other major city in Colombia.

Duration

3-days/2-nights package

Departure & Arrival

Monday: 8:30am Cartí, San Blas (Pick-up at your hotel in Panama City available)
Wednesday: Arrival in Sapzurro, Colombia in the afternoon. Stay here or travel onwards to Cartagena or other cities in Colombia (see below for info) 

Package Includes

  • Boat transfer from Cartí, Panama to Sapzurro, Colombia through the San Blas IslandsIn total max. 2-4 hours per day, incl. safety vests
  • 2 nights in traditional cabins (western-style beds and bathrooms) on two different islands
  • Meals3 meals per day, starting with lunch on Day 1 - vegan/vegetarian options available on request
  • Visits to different islands and Kuna villagesIncl. entrance fees - visits to Kuna villages subject to local restrictions & festivities
  • Immigration support at the borderIncl. immigration fee
  • Kuna guide Knowledgable about our culture and history
  • MANDATORY: Transport from Panama City to Cartí, San Blas+25 USD per person, shared SUV/4x4 for max. 6 people
  • Beverages, drinks, snacksCan be purchased or brought along
  • Sunscreen, towels and personal items
  • Governmental entrance fee to San Blas and dock fee$20+$2 for foreigners, $5+$2 for nations/residents (children up to 8 years: free entrance)

Cabins

Private bungalows (for 2 or 4-6 people) or mixed dormitories – both room types with western-style beds (mattresses, pillow, sheets). Shared bathrooms, equipped with western-style toilet and shower (no hot water). 

Discounts for Groups & Children

  • Groups5 or more: 10% off tour price, 8 or more: 15% off tour price
  • Children: 5-8 years50% of package price
  • Children: 0-4 yearsfree stay (excl. food, can be purchased in the restaurant)

Covid-19 precautions

  • The number of visitors is limited to reduce crowds
  • All areas that customers touch are frequently cleaned
  • Masks are mandatory in all public and crowded spaces (e.g. during transport)
What to Expect

One-way island-hopping trip from Panama to Colombia: We travel in speedboats from island to island and make various stops along the way on different islands and Kuna villages, you will sleep on the islands in traditional Kuna cabins right next to the Caribbean sea and enjoy delicious local, fresh meals. We do change our itinerary every once in a while (also depending on the weather and season) but we always make sure to show you a nice balance between deserted and inhabited islands, a lot of beach time, seeing star fish, eating fresh seafood (vegetarian options also available), visiting a Kuna village and experiencing our culture. Since we make so many stops, you will only travel short distances at a time – in total approx. 2-4 hours per day on the boat but with stops on the islands in between. The boats are equipped with safety vests for each passenger as well as safety gear and licensed captains. People rarely get sea sick because we travel close to the coast line where waves are a lot smaller and we also spend short times on the boat. 

 

  • Travel along all 365 of the San Blas islands and cross the Darien Gap
  • Welcome to paradise - Visit deserted islands and sleep in traditional beach cabins
  • Immerse yourself into a still intact indigenous culture
  • Enjoy fresh lobster and the catch of the day (depending on the season)
  • With a bit of luck, see starfish, dolphins or turtles
Itinerary
Due to current circumstances (Covid-19 pandemic) or weather changes, the itinerary might have to be slightly adapted 

Day 1Arrival in San Blas

We meet in the morning at the dock in Cartí, San Blas to head out to the islands. If necessary, we can arrange transport in a shared 4×4 from Panama City to Cartí for you, incl. pickup at your hotel. From Cartí, we start our trip – passing the first Kuna villages and islands and after ca. 30mins arriving on the first island. Here, we set up base for the first day and night and start exploring some of the surrounding islands during the day.

As beautiful as the islands are during the day, as spectacular are sunsets and night skies in San Blas. Make sure to reserve some time and find a quiet spot to enjoy the magic of nature.

Day 2Moving further into Kuna territory

On Day 2, we head out in the early morning after breakfast with the boat to explore the islands around Nargána, Tupile and Ustupo. This area is so far off from the mainland road that tourists barely ever set foot here and the Kuna people here live their life in tune with nature that hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Throughout the day, we stop on some deserted islands for swimming and relaxing. For lunch, we stop in a Kuna village where a local family invites us to eat in their small restaurant and around night fall we arrive at our cabins, next to another Kuna village.

Day 3Leaving the islands and border-crossing

Today, it’s time to leave the islands behind and cross into Colombia. But before doing so, we make a final stop on one of the largest and most beautiful islands in San Blas. After extensive beach time and delicious local lunch, we head to Puerto Obaldia for the migration papers from Panama. Once done with the paper work and luggage check, we can enter the boat one last time for the ride across the Panama-Colombia border and arrive in the afternoon in Sapzurro, where our trip ends.

Map
11San Blas Frontera - Map of 3-day island hopping trip Panama-Colombia through the San Blas Islands
FAQ

Read this before booking your trip

A trip to the San Blas Islands is most likely very different to your usual vacation. All operations in San Blas are by law 100% owned and operated by local Kuna people, foreign investments are banned and foreigners/Panamanians are not allowed to conduct any business in San Blas. Most of the cabins are run by large families and provide income for a very large number of people. Many of the operators or employees have lived their entire life in San Blas, some never left the Comarca and most have never traveled to another country or stayed in a hotel. Kuna people have for hundreds of years lived a very simple and basic life consisting mainly of fishing and hunting. Tourism is fairly new and only very few have had real experience in the hospitality sector.

At the same time, the islands are very remote and difficult to reach. Everything that the islands themselves cannot provide (building material, gasoline for the boats, food,…) needs to be sourced in Panama City and sent for a high surcharge in a 4WD/SUV to the dock of Carti. From here, it is then redistributed via boats and again for a fee to smaller sellers and cabins. The islands are not provided with any infrastructure (electricity or running water) and locals live a simple life in tune with nature.

As you can imagine, great effort is required to provide a basic service to tourists and the locals do it to the best of their knowledge. As such, we kindly ask you to leave your mainland expectations behind and be open and try not to compare the $-value of a night in San Blas with a night in other parts of Panama. The simplicity of the cabins reflect a mix of the basic traditional lifestyle and the expensive sourcing for material with external financing being not allowed. Similarly, meals reflect local food patterns (fish/sea food with rice) with limited access and the attempt to adapt to foreign tastes with a bit of sides and salads. Drinking water needs to be imported from the City and is a luxury to most locals. Providing electricity and fresh water requires great effort and usage times might be restricted. Bed linens are washed by hand in the river on the mainland or sent to Panama City. There is no communal trash collection or recycling system in place. Only few locals speak English and some don’t even speak Spanish. 

 Nevertheless, we work closely with cabin owners to ensure that you will receive a great service, experience clean and functioning facilities and that your stay will be a remarkable one!

With this in mind, be ready to jump into your island adventure! Once on the island, you’ll most likely find that in such a beautiful setting, most modern-day luxuries are not needed and that there is a point to the simple and relaxing life that the Kuna people live 😊

What should I pack?

You’ll be spending the entire day out on the ocean and in the sun so we highly recommend dressing accordingly!

Please bring mandatory:

  • Passport: mandatory, it will be checked upon entering the Comarca of Kuna Yala (San Blas)
  • Sufficient cash:in US Dollars to pay for the trip in cash, to buy drinks, snacks, souvenirs on the island (small bills of 1 USD and 5 USD highly recommended) – Credit cards are not accepted and there is no ATM in San Blas

Additionally, we recommend:

  • Sun protection: for the island and the boat ride (sun blocker, hat, T-shirt with sleeves, towel)
  • Towels
  • Water to drink: Water/soft drinks are not included in the package, please bring sufficient or purchase on the island
  • Snacks
  • Swimming gear
  • Sandals, flip flops
  • Wetbag or plastic bag for your valuables in case of a wet boat ride or rain
  • Flash light
  • Clothes (to change if you get wet on the boat ride + it might get chilly/windy at night)
  • Snorkeling equipment

Please wrap sensitive items and put them in a waterproof bag as the boat ride to and between islands might get bumpy and wet at times. Have your passport and cash with you during the car ride and ready to present when entering the Comarca of San Blas (passport check + payment of the governmental entrance fee) and in Puerto Obaldia.

How to cross the border to Colombia?

Before leaving Panama and entering Colombia, we make a stop in Puerto Obaldia, Panama to get the paperwork ready. This is the last Panamanian community before entering Colombia. We will take care of the paperwork and visit the different offices in Puerto Obaldia for you while you can have a drink or eat something at a local bakery. Usually this also involves luggage inspection by the local police before being allowed to return to the boat and enter Colombia. Our tour ends 15min later in Sapzurro, Colombia. You can stay in Sapzurro for a night or directly go to the next community, Capurgana, to get your entry stamp into Colombia (simple procedure). This has to be done within 24h after leaving Panama.

How should we plan if travelling from Panama City to Cartagena

Exemplary planning from Panama City to Cartagena (4-days):

  • Sunday evening: latest arrival in Panama City (alternatively, but risky: arrival before 5am at Albrook Bus Terminal with overnight bus, e.g. from Bocas del Toro)
  • Monday: 5am departure in Panama City by 4×4 (no public transport to San Blas), ca. 3-4hours drive to Cartí, San Blas, Panama; we can arrange the ride for you. At 8:30am, our tour starts in Cartí, San Blas, Panama
  • Monday to Wednesday: Island hopping tour
  • Wednesday, afternoon: Arrival in Sapzurro, Colombia. Stay overnight in Sapzurro to enjoy beaches La Miel & Sapzurro. Alternatively, 10min boat to Capurganá, passport stamping and stay overnight.
  • Thursday: departure with ferry from Capurganá to Turbo or Necogli, from there bus ride to Cartagena (alternatively to other major cities in Colombia). Arrival in Cartagena in the evening.

We recommend staying for several days in Sapzurro and Capurganá if time permits. Travelling from Capurganá to Cartagena is possible in 1 day. Passport needs to be stamped in Capurganá within 1 day of arriving in Colombia. 

 

How to travel onwards (from Sapzurro, Colombia)

Our tour ends on Wednesday afternoon in Sapzurro, Colombia.  You can stay here or directly go to Capurgana, where the Colombian immigration office is. We organize a boat that can bring you directly to Capurgana once we arrive in Sapzurro (ca. 15min). Once in Capurgana, please stamp your passport at the immigration office in Capurgana. From Capurgana, ferries leave every morning to Turbo and Necogli, from where you can catch a bus to Cartagena.

How much luggage can we bring?

You can bring your luggage with you. If you have more than 1 largebackpack/suitcase and a smaller carry-on, please inform us ahead of time.
Please also inform us if you have any bulky luggage (surf board, bike). Extra charges might occur. During trade wind season (December to February), there can be heavy winds and high waves, so please consult with us before the trip and ensure to wrap your bulky luggage to prevent it from getting damaged. We are not responsible for any damages that might occur.

Why is there a governmental fee to enter San Blas?

All visitors to the Comarca Kuna Yala, and thus to the San Blas islands, have to pay a fee upon entering. For this purpose, there are inspection points at all entrance points to Kuna Yala, such as along the only road, all ports and all airports. This fee is used to protect the rich biodiversity of the Kuna Yala rainforests.

It is $20 for foreigners and $5 for nationals and residents.

Which currency is most widely accepted on this tour?

San Blas is cash-only, there are no ATMs or card payments in San Blas. Please bring sufficient cash (US Dollars), preferably in bills of $1 or $5 for paying for snacks, water, taxes etc. since locals rarely have sufficient change. 

Is this trip suitable for children?

Yes, this trip is also suitable for children. Children usually love the beaches, the boat rides and being on an island. We recommend that children are at least old enough to walk when joining this trip. Keep in mind that most places do not have special baby equipment (baby beds, baby seats or special food/drinkable water) and that you will need to carry your infant on your lap during the boat ride.

Please also consider our special discounts for children.

How is San Blas Frontera different from other operators?

  1. We are a local company – we are the only local, Kuna company offering this trip. We grew up in the border region between Panama and Colombia with our Kuna traditions and customs. The San Blas Islands are our home. All our guides are from San Blas, we do not employ foreigners or volunteers as guides.
  2. We offer a higher comfort – you will sleep in actual beds (hammocks only if you really wish to) and you can choose between small dorms or a private room
  3. We eat local cuisine – no processed or western food, only local cuisine prepared by local restaurants or families. Of course, we also offer vegan and vegetarian alternatives.
  4. We travel in small groups – Our groups are small enough to feel like you’re exploring San Blas independently, but big enough to create a good social vibe (ca. 8-15 people. vs up to 40 with other operators)
  5. You can stay longer if you like – our tour is planned for 3 days but reach out to us if you would like to extend it by a few days!