Our trip to the San Blas Islands was quite an adventure for Elise and I! The only way to really get there is by plane. It is just a short, low-flying flight in a small plane via AirPanama out of Albrook International Airport.
The flight is early (6:00 am!) so you may want to stay in the city the night before. The Tryp Hotel at the Albrook Mall is quite nice and so close to the airport. We bargained with the hotel shuttle guy, who wanted $12 for a three-minute ride, but we got him down to $8. Always bargain!
The flight is delightful — you’re so low to the ground the entire way, you can really enjoy the beauty of the Panama wilderness below. It’s also a great flight over Panama City. Wow!
After 45 minutes we landed on a single small airstrip on the mainland in Kuna territory: Achutupu. We were picked up by our lodge host and taken by boat (20 minutes) to the island of Akwadup, where the lodge shares the name. It has seven small, over-the-water cabins: very primitive, very modest, but do-able.
(The hammocks in the cabin terrace area over the water more than make up for any shortcomings.) This is anything but luxury and not for the faint of heart, but the setting is unbelievable and worth it if you have a sense of adventure! Bring loads of bug spray, though. We never saw a single mosquito, but we were chewed up by the no-see-ums!
It is the Caribbean! Clear water, lots of beautiful islands, friendly hosts, and lots of friendly folks bending over backward to make the best of the primitive lifestyle. The Kuna native tribe runs the operation. Don’t expect Cancun, but the exquisite beauty makes up for any luxuries or conveniences you might long for.
Food is also modest, to say the least. We had a pulpo (octopus) stew one night and fabulous lobster the next. We were treated to some dances and music performed by a local tribe, who came by boat from another island to entertain us at the main building one night. The lodge even had a bar — wel,l sort of. I highly recommend you BYOB if you partake. They charge extra for everything, including water.
The other guests there immediately bonded with each other and with us. We had such a good time with them all. When we arrived, there was only one couple from Sweden. We came on the flight with a young couple from Spain and then on the second day along came two guys from Switzerland on their way to Bogota, Columbia, and a couple from Uruguay. This is such an interesting country. Where else would you find such an eclectic international group by sheer chance in such a remote spot?
On the first day, the lodge folks took us on a tour to a small, uninhabited island. We were totally by ourselves for the day. For $10
each, we were served lunch and snorkeled along the reefs just a few feet from the shore. We brought our small, point-and-shoot waterproof camera with us and took some great underwater shots. Not bad for two complete amateurs.
The next day we went to the nearby native village of Achutupu, which was also delightful. We felt as if we had stepped into a time warp. We were the only gringos in sight, and we got a chance to see how the Kuna live on a daily basis. We saw their town meeting hall and visited inside some typical dirt-floor thatched huts. The people are very orderly in going about their daily activities, and only the children were curious about us and wanted pictures taken. Finally we found some absolutely beautiful handcrafted molas from a couple of women. Elise never saw such beautiful ones and had been reluctant to buy before. This was our chance. Bargain, of course. Can’t wait to frame them!
In the late afternoon, we were taken by boat up a river on the mainland to do some birdwatching. There was so much beauty there, unbelievably breathtaking. We were the only ones who went on that trip. Saw a lone monkey playing in a tree and a number of birds that are very rare. I asked our guide if anyone lived up river and he told me that a century ago there was a band of 30 people who were given an island of their own, and they are the ones who now inhabit Achutupu.
The next morning we were shuttled back to the airstrip and the adventure was over, but we felt complete and happy. We were gone only for a couple of days but it seemed much longer — in a good way! Very relaxing and very enriching.
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