Travel south from the rattling maracas and sultry samba of Cuba across the Caribbean Sea, east of the jungles and cloud forests of Costa Rica, west of the regionally divided and conflicting cultures of Colombia, and floating in the sparkling waters off the coast of Panama are the San Blas Islands – a world wholly unto themselves.
You would expect a group of people who fought so tenaciously and relentlessly for independence and autonomy would be hostile toward the people of the very cultures that sought to change them, but that is not the case. The Kuna are warm, inviting people – proud to share their carefully preserved ancient culture with visitors. The Kuna Indians rule 378 islands in the Caribbean off the Panamanian coastline, 49 of which have inhabitants. Here they have lived for centuries, continuing to pay homage to their heritage.
You will find it difficult to believe you are still in the 21st century the second you enter Kuna land. Tourism has yet to develop in this region, and due to the Kuna people’s fierce independence, it probably won’t for a long time to come. Though they live simply, the inherent beauty of their lifestyle will astound you. From their elaborately woven textile dress to the indigo and emerald system of palm-laced islands and crystalline waters among which they live, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more glorious backdrop.
The Kuna people originally adorned themselves with an abundance of colorful designs drawn onto their bodies rather than clothing. When Spanish missionaries arrived and encouraged them to wear a more Western dress, they obliged but only according to their terms. The traditional dress became a reflection of their original designs and an intricate art form that they still wear called ‘molas’ – a beautiful, authentic souvenir for visitors to take home.
The combination of a glorious natural landscape and an incredible indigenous culture makes the San Blas Islands a destination like none other on earth. Come explore the abundance of sea life in the surrounding waters and ample wildlife on land and fully immerse yourself in a simpler way of living.
Experience Panama’s San Blas Islands on our new 7-day Passage Through Panama voyages and our 14-day Panama Canal voyages.
Photo (top) used under Creative Commons from Joachim Pietsch.
Photo (bottom) used under Creative Commons from Rita Wilaert.