About the San Blas islands and Comarca Guna Yala
- The name San Blas was given to the islands by it first hispanic visitors, and carried on as the official name for the province (now a semi autonomus province of Panama) to the outside world until 1998 when it was changed to Kuna Yala, a name given to the area by it's indigenous residents. Kuna meaning "people" and Yala meaning "land," put together it simply means Kuna land .In 2010 a change was made to the spelling and Kuna was changed to Guna. Guna National Congress decided to remove the letters P, T and K from their alphabet, the latter being replaced by the letter G.
- 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.
The Gunas are an indigenous tribe whom have their origin near Cartagena, Colombia. The Guna migrated into the Darien jungle and the islands they now occupy starting in the late 1400's. The Guna are now a semi-autonomous indigenous nation but their people are also citizens of Panama.The semi-autonomous status allows the Guna to have their own government, which has full authority to make policy decisions and laws within the territory. When entering the Guna Yala Comarca you are subject to the Guna law.
- 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.
- 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.
- Boat rides may be wet and bumpy, sometimes very wet (this is part of the adventure). Make sure to protect all your valuable items such as phone, camera etc. There is not always a dock to help guests in and out of the boat. Guests must be in good enough physical condition to board the boats from the beach.
- Tourism is relatively new and luxury should not be expected. Most accommodations are rustic, meals are basic and timing often not exact. Guna Yala is simple and away from civilization, therefore no running water, no internet and only limited electricity. You will have the pleasure of being away from everything, experience a unique culture and just relax and enjoy the moment.
Government & Laws
- Guna Yala is a semi-autonomous indigenous Comarca (territory). The comarca, it's residents and approved agencies such as ourselves are under the authority of the Guna Congreso (government) when operating within the territory.
- No foreigner are allowed to own any assets or work in the islands and all agencies operating there are subject to the Guna governments rules.
- As guides and an agency Guna Yala law requires us to work within a network of approved Guna contractors for island accommodation, staff and within a similar network for approved regulated transportation services. Non Guna staff members are prohibited in the islands, as are non Guna owned assets being used for commercial purposes. We are required to prepay our contract partners for accommodations and transportation. As such, In the event of a service error we cannot guarantee refunds will be given.
- Ultimately only the Guna government has the authority to dictate and enforce standards. However, the Guna government does not provide any support for guests or tour agencies in resolving complaints. Sometimes the Government decides to close the territory or 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.
At Cacique Cruiser we are guides and an experience curator that provides the most consistently excellent Guna Yala tourism experiences available. We have staff members in the islands and Panama City working everyday to provide the best experiences available. We have demonstrated excellence in our 5 years of leading guests through these islands.
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.
We will always make ourselves available to communicate with guests and help them resolve issues in a fair manner. We will investigate each issue, advocate for the guests and encourage our partners to resolve these things in a fair manner. If a partner fails to resolve an issue in a manner we think is fair we will make that known, encourage change and consider other options within the limited network if problems are not resolved well or are repeated regularly.
Prohibited Items and Activities
- Filming for any public use purpose without a permit
- Kite Surfing
- Sport fishing, non-artisinal fishing
- Scuba Diving
- As noted above use of Drones are prohibited in Guna Yala, and filiming that is used for any public purpose (even if not monitized) requires a permit from the Guna governent. These permits are difficult to get and tak a long time.
- As a visitor you are welcome to take photos of the nature and public areas. If you would like to take pictures of the Guna people please ask for their permission first. Some Gunas will charge you $1 per photo, some might completely refuse because they dont want their picture online. So please respect this.
- The Guna kids love to be in pictures but please also ask them first too. If their parents are around ask them for permission.
- DECEMBER through APRIL are the months of the windy season. The ocean can be rough, boat rides can be wet, sometimes very wet. Please make sure to protect all your items. We recommend you purchase plastic bags for your luggage and zip-lock bags for your valuables (available in the supermarket in the morning of your departure). Bring a wind / rain jacket for the boat rides if you have one.
- MAY through NOVEMBER are the months of the rainy season. Boat rides can be wet, sometimes very wet. Cabanas are made out of natural materials and may leak at times. Please make sure to protect all your items. We recommend you purchase plastic bags for your luggage and zip-lock bags for your valuables (available in the supermarket in the morning of your departure). Bring a rain jacket for the boat rides if you have one and a sweater for the evenings.
Mosiquitos & Bugs
The beds in dorms don't have any mosquitos net because there are not many mosquitos on the island. Most of the bug bites that do occur in the islands come from sand flies. When it is not windy occasionally sand flies can be present and annoying. The sand flies are not so dangerous but they do bite. Generally they bite feet and ankles when you are in the sand. We do our best to avoid islands where this is a problem, but San Blas is a very rugged and natural place so not everything can be avoided.
The best thing guest can do to protect against bugs is to:
Wear long sleeves, pants and bug repellent when entering and exiting the main land port in San Blas. The main land is where most of the mosquitos are. The ports where the boat trips start and finish are muddy, a bit dirty and near rivers.
Use bug repellent in the mornings and evenings.
When it is not windy or breezy wear light long pants that are tight around the ankles in the evenings to avoid sand fly bites on your ankles.
Yes, thats true. Coconuts used to be the primary currency and are still used for trading within the islands. The Guna people trade them for food and other things, so don't take them from the palm trees and also dont take the ones you find on the ground. You can nicely ask them and they will sell it to you and enjoy a coconut in paradise for usually $2 - $3. You are basically on their family owned island and taking a Coconut would be like taken an apple from your garden.