Sailing the San Blas Islands – Colombia to Panamá

Sailing the San Blas Islands – Colombia to Panamá

cartagena skyline sail boat

With our final stop in Colombia being Cartagena and our travels continuing into Central America, we had two options of getting from Colombia to Panamá.

Either by water or by air.

Travelling by land simply isn’t an option. There are no roads through the Darién Gap, so it’s an intrepid trek through jungle, mountains and swamps. Let’s not forget the jaguars and poisonous snakes, psycho drug traffickers, paramilitary Colombian guerrillas and the fact you may be killed along the way.

That doesn’t sound like fun at all.

san blas islands panama

We decided to do the 5-night sailing from Cartagena in Colombia to Portobelo in Panamá with Blue Sailing, a company recommended to us by a couple we’d met at a coffee plantation in Salento. They were the ones that suggested we book way in advance as the boats fill up quick.

There we were thinking we could leisurely book something while in Cartagena. Um, no. It doesn’t work like that.

We put in a request with Blue Sailing that we weren’t interested in the ‘party’ boats filled with young backpackers that are up for boozed-up all-nighters. I think I’d prefer to risk it on the Darién Gap than endure a boat filled with hyped-up 20-somethings.

Instead, we were a very chilled and civilised group of nine adults on the Quest that still enjoyed a drink, but it didn’t involve thumping music and hurling into the Caribbean from drinking too much.

hollandus quays san blas

lobsters san blas islands panama

Our five days were filled with plenty of anchoring off stunning palm islands; a mere handful that belong to the 378 islands that make up the San Blas archipelago.

Snorkel gear is provided, so the moment the anchor was dropped, everyone pretty much jumped into that gloriously warm water, snorkelled on colourful reefs teeming with fish. When that all becomes too much you simply swim to shore, plonk yourself on a white sandy beach and forget about the rest of the world.

How could you not?

lobsters san blas islands panama

The meals served weren’t overly gourmet, in general, but they were delicious, wholesome and relatively satisfying. We were hoping there’d be a lot more seafood, considering we were on the ocean, but the closest we got to that was a dinner of lobster.

Everything else was of the pasta, curry, couscous and salad variety.

Coffee, tea and fresh water is provided, so bringing other drinks is suggested – be it booze, juice or the fizzy sweet stuff. There was a small fridge onboard to keep things cool, which did fill up fast.

More info on what to bring at the end of this post.

san blas islands panama

san blas islands panama

The Quest is a 19½ m (64ft) yacht owned and operated by Swedish Goran Persson; a well-seasoned guy that loves what he does and is very firmly stuck in his ways. Get on his good side with plenty of charms and you’ll be besties for the duration of the trip. Open a latch window for fresh air and he won’t give you access to your backpack stored below deck. Simple as that.

Living onboard the yacht for five nights never felt crowded, despite our numbers. When you’re not swimming, you’re on deck laying in the sun, sitting with a book or simply chatting with your new friends.

coco loco san blas islands panama
Goran Persson, our captain, making coco loco.

 

coco loco san blas islands panama

Sleeping, however, can be a tad cramped, which is expected. Our cabin was two small bunks which came with a tiny, ineffective fan by the bed. Not once did I sleep in the cabin as it’s incredibly hot below deck. Unbearably hot, even with the fan going.

You’re not allowed to open the small latch window in the ceiling for fresh air while the boat is moving, which was almost every night. The reason – if sea water happens to splash in, there’s an issue with mould growing. I get that, but I also appreciate some slight customer comfort.

Sweating in bed in a virtual sauna isn’t an option for me, so sleeping on a yoga-style mat on deck, or on the padded lounge upstairs was much more comfortable. Many of us slept this way every night, which wasn’t something I was expecting, but something that simply had to be done.

san blas islands panama
Hollandus Quays.

 

portobelo panama
Portobelo Bay, on our final morning.

 

The details.

 

As I mentioned previously, breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided for the duration of your time onboard, as is water, tea and filter coffee.

With my own high-metabolism, sometimes I found the designated meals simply weren’t enough. I was still hungry afterwards. Had we been more prepared we would have brought snacks, plenty of fruit and more to drink.

Anchoring off Hollandus Quays gave us the opportunity to buy some beer at a small shop on the island. Not quite a liquor store, but better than going without.

If you don’t have sea legs, bring motions sickness pills. It can get pretty rough out there in the open sea, so staying dosed up is the only way to go. Don’t forget the sunscreen, either.

If departing Cartagena, there’s a Carulla supermarket two blocks from the marina that’s very well stocked with all your gourmet and drinking needs. There’s also an arcade near the convention centre in Getsemaní called Pasaje Lecrerc. Here you’ll find a handful of small stores selling cheap-ish spirits and wine.

Check the map for locations.

The cost to sail from Colombia to Panamá on the Quest with Blue Star was US$550 per person.

 

Thinking of going? Why not Pin it?

sailing san blas islands panama

  • What a journey. Still sounds a little torturous even without the thumping music

  • Am I just too old? I want comfort when I travel… especially when I sleep. I am impressed you survived that for five days!!

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