By Raff & Sasha of SV. Spear It Animal
Temperate, crystal clear waters to swim and palm-fringed, white sand beaches to stroll. An archipelago of over 300 unspoiled islands to explore. The painted face and bangled-arm of a tribeswoman selling the intricate stitched artwork of her ancestors and an indigenous community that repelled colonization, banned international development and restricted mass tourism, people who hold firmly to their traditional roots.
The San Blas islands are a living history, a preserved native culture, a protected archipelago; they are a different world from the remainder of the Caribbean cruising grounds and are as close as you can get to experiencing the Pacific islandswithout leaving the Atlantic Ocean.
Located along the Caribbean coast of northern Panama, the San Blas islands stretch 100 miles along the southern Caribbean Sea between the border of Colombia and the Gulf of San Blas. Officially renamed Guna Yala by the Panamanian government in 2011, the majority of islands are small uninhabited islets and cays, and the 49 islands that are inhabited are generally occupied by no more than a family or two living on land passed down to them through the generations.
Tradition runs deep within the Kuna Yala culture, and it would be fair to say it is the best preserved indigenous South American culture to this day. Subsistence fishing and coconut cultivation generates their main income, and sale of the unique layered fabric panels made by the Kuna women, the Mola, is also a large part of the economy.