Guna Yala (until recently known as Kuna Yala), the wonderful group of Caribbean islands also known as San Blas Archipelago, is one of the most haunting paradises one has ever had the opportunity to enjoy.
Guna Yala is an archipelago located in the Caribbean Sea formed by approximately three hundred islands, most of them very small and surrounded by a crown of irresistible white and coral sand. These paradisiac beaches of clear and temperate waters, often solitary or crossed only by a small handful of travelers, suppose one of the best tourist claims of Panama.
Guna Yala has remained isolated from civilization for centuries. Until just a few years ago it was only possible to enjoy this paradise thanks to the daily flights that connected Panama City with some of the islands. However, the construction of a road linking the Pan-American with the Port of Carty (from which a good number of these islets can be reached by sea) has made it easier for travelers to navigate this natural wonder more economical. Puerto de Carty is only a couple of hours from the Panamanian capital.
THE GUNA, THE PROUD INHABITANTS OF Guna YALA.
Guna Yala has been populated for some centuries by the Guna Indians who, it seems, could have originated from the Darien. It is they who impose their rules, thanks to a treaty with the Government of Panama that guarantees them a frankly important degree of autonomy.
There are 49 Guna communities in which the Guna Yala region is divided. Although most of them are island communities, some are located on mainland. Each community has a village chief, known as “Saila”, who is elected by universal suffrage. A Saila is the representative of the community before the Guna General Council, which meets twice a year and is responsible for coordinating actions that concern the entire Guna people, although each community has a high degree of Autonomy that allows them to organize themselves according to their own norms. (official page of Congreso Kuna : http://www.gunayala.org.pa)
This almost total autonomy has prompted the Government of Panama to limit education and health in Guna Yala. This is how the Guna, who do not pay taxes to the state, try to preserve their culture and traditions, while trying to remain self-sufficient, something that with the help of responsible tourism, are something closer to achieve.
The Guna are a matriarchal society. It is the daughters who inherit the lands of the fathers. They are also the ones who maintain the traditional dress with which they have been dressed for centuries. Spring is, in this sense, the most outstanding garment. It is a fabric of colorful designs, of the most traditional geometric forms, that the Gunas elaborate of artisan form. Almost all the Guna women still wear with the mola, and colorful dresses. The wine, a kind of colorful beads in the form of bracelets and jambs and a good amount of striking bracelets, rings or necklaces, complete the ornamentation of women Guna.
Men, however, only wear traditional garments on very few occasions. T-shirt and jeans look like they have become their traditional outfit. Many of them are engaged in fishing, one of the activities that underpin the economy of the Guna. The collection of coconuts and, in recent years, tourism, are two other activities that help in the sustenance and self-sufficiency of Guna Yak. I will extend, in a close story, with this interesting town and that we had the opportunity to know thanks to a visit that we made to one of their communities.
VISIT TO GUNA YALA. TWO DAYS IN PARADISE.
Although it is possible to hire a one-day excursion to Guna Yala (which in Panama is known as a posada) we preferred to enjoy the archipelago of San Blas for a couple of days. Thus, beyond being able to know a good amount of these paradisiac islands, we can do the same with the Indians Guna, whose culture seems to us especially interesting. (We would have preferred to go with a sailboat, but prices was a bit too much expensive for us.. – If interested , check out sanblastour.com, they are very friendly and pro)
At 5:30 in the morning, when it has not yet dawned, they pick us up at our Panama City hotel. The journey to the port of Carty lasts just over two and a half hours. The last hour is made with a road opened a few years ago, partly asphalted but not in its entirety and which is a real climb and low in the middle of the jungle. It is worthwhile that those who are especially given to get dizzy take their precautions, using biodramine.
The port of Carty, on the shores of the Caribbean, is an organized chaos where it is distributed to the travelers who have arrived here in the various boats that will distribute them by the different islands of this sector of the Guna Yala region. The usual thing is to have purchased a complete package that includes the 4 × 4 transfer to Puerto Carty, the boat to the island where the traveler will stay, the full board that will be offered by the host and some excursions to neighboring or nearby islands where you can enjoy the temperate and transparent waters that characterize the archipelago.
After taking the boat of Elijah, who will be our host in the Cabañas Yandup that are located in the community of the same name, it is time to cross the Caribbean Sea. Our first objective is Isla Elefante, where we will make breakfast. Before, we will go through some islands where we already realize that life here goes in the traditional way.
In some of the larger islands, there are dozens or hundreds of habitually built huts using the products that nature itself gives them, such as reeds and wooden planks for the walls and straw for the roofs. However, an incipient use of the sheet, threatens to give too colorful to communities that want to advance, or that is little by little, in the sense of a minimum of comfort. Although until a few years ago electricity was unthinkable in Guna Yama, the use of solar panels has become habitual, as well as the presence of some parabolic antennas. The use of cement seems destined, only, to some infrastructures of strategic character, like the school.
In Isla Elefante we enjoy a frugal breakfast that is made up of an omelet with the taste of pat cones. Here we will have the first contact with some Guna Indians, dressed in their traditional attire. Isla Elefante is of medium size and surrounded by the almost omnipresent ones in these latitudes, beaches of white sand. The azure blue of the waters, together with the white of the beaches and the green of the palm trees that slope towards the Caribbean waters, complete a postcard that seems a real dream. Before heading to the next island we enjoyed a first swim in the warm Caribbean waters.
Our next destination is Dog Island. We passed before by an endless of small islands, all cut by the same pattern: a few dozen coconut trees arranged on an islet that rises very few meters above the level of the Caribbean and that is surrounded by beaches of fine white sand and waters that Have a complete palette of blues.
We passed the tiny Pelican Island and Isla Perro, famous for being stranded on it an old sunken ship that has been colonized by the beautiful Caribbean coral.
Isla Perro is medium in size. Not as small as Pelican Island. Its perimeter could be completed in a walk of little more than ten minutes. Here we will have a couple of hours of authentic enjoyment. To simply rest , lying on the fine white sand, previous protection with a good amount of sun cream that is here essential.
NATURAL SWIMMING POOLS AND FOOD ON ISLA HOLLANDES
About 12.30 we take our boat again to a new islet, called Isla Hollandes, where we have lunch.
Before arriving at the destination, however, we make a brief stop at another truly amazing site. These are the ones that are known as natural pools. The Caribbean Sea is, in this location, a shallow sea. And it is in this place, where this fact takes special preponderance, because the depth of the ocean is of little more than half a meter. That is, the Caribbean behaves like authentic natural pools. Marc and I do not hesitate to get off the boat and enjoy a pleasant swim in these warm waters, again beautiful blue and greenish blue. The limited depth of the waters reaches its maximum expression in several sandbanks scattered in the middle of the sea, to which one can climb, giving rise to one of the most curious scenes of the whole trip.
The truth is that the visit to Guna Yala does not stop surprising us.
We arrived at Hollandes Island. It is another half-sized island, somewhat larger than Isla Perro. Here we have lunch where we can taste one of the most traditional dishes of the Guna kitchen. We speak, of course, of fish and, in particular, red snapper, one of the most common in these latitudes. The delicacy, accompanied by rice and pat cones, is exquisite. There is no shortage of Balboa, the most popular Panamanian beer.
Enjoying lunch is time to enjoy the beaches of Hollandes and its seabed. With surprise we observe the great density of sea stars that are found in these waters. In little more than fifteen minutes we can count up to forty of them, most of them more than 20 centimeters in length. An authentic and fragile, precious, that cannot remain outside the water more than a few seconds. It is worth remembering that if you want to take a photograph of the starfish, you should stay slightly submerged in the water. We also find several sea shells, some of them, of considerable size, with their almost 30 centimeters in length.
On this island, Hollandes, has built a small lodge, in the form of five cabins arranged in pylons, above the Caribbean Sea. A small luxury of new construction, although preserving the surroundings.
Elder, march 2017, isla Perro