The islands of Guna Yala (formerly known as San Blas Islands) are approximately 365 tiny islands (most of which take less than 10 minutes to walk around entirely) along the coast of Panama, home to the fiercely independent Guna people.
49 of the islands are communities, the heart of the the Gunas fascinating culture, and the rest are private or community owned beach islands (some of which have accommodations for visitors), most of which are only occupied by a small family of caretakers.
All boat trip to the islands start from Carti. There is no connection by bus to Carti, because the road is through the jungle and you enter the indigenous territory of Guna Yala (indigenous and official name for San Blas), which is under the regulatory control of the Guna Congreso. The vehicles for visitors are regulated as well.
Pickup in Panama City is every day between 5 and 6am and it's a 2 ½ to 3 hour drive to Carti. Jeeps stop at a market on the way out of town which usually adds about 30 minutes.
Only Guna are allowed to operate in the territory. No foreigner, including Panamanians, are allowed to directly work, manage or enforce policies inside the Gunas autonomous territory. The vast majority of the cost guest pay is paid directly to locals with whom we contract services. At no point is this money in our possession and at no point do we have the authority to decide to give refunds on behalf of these providers.
With each of the trips we offer we request in our agreements that all local contractors abide by internationally recognized standards or safety and professionalism. We also have daily processes on our side to monitor and attempt to influence our local contractor conduct. Our staff works very hard 7 days a week in an attempt to manage excellent outcomes for visitors from beginning to end.
However, ultimately only the Guna government is allowed and able to dictate and enforce standards. Additionally the Guna government does not provide any support for guests or tour agencies in resolving complaints. Sometimes the Government decides to send all visitors out of the territory with little or no notice. Generally this is done due to concerns with weather or closure of the only road in and out. When this happens we must comply. If additional costs are incurred by visitors due to evacuations or closures the Guna government considers those costs the responsibility of the visitors.
Please understand that Guna Yala is unlike anywhere most people have been. It is remote, rustic, and primitive. The behaviors and practices of the locals that conduct operations is not always in line with the level of professionalism that many expect in international tourism. Guna Yala is a beautiful and fascinating place, but it is more of an adventure travel destination than a traditional service oriented tourism destination.