Everything you need to know about travelling from Panama to Colombia through the San Blas Islands by Speedboat.
You wake up in your hammock and a soft sea breeze passes. You step out and the cool sand greets you as it hugs your feet. You walk 20 meters to soak up the morning sun and dip into the warm Caribbean Sea as a school of fish envelope you. It feels like you’re in paradise because you are. You’re on a San Blas Island.
I liken the San Blas Islands to a backpacker’s paradise. For a backpacker on a budget, it’s definitely a stretch but it won’t completely break the bank so you’ll find that many backpackers manage to squeeze it in.
The first time I heard of the San Blas Islands of Panama it was instantly on my bucket list. White sand, crystal clear waters, tiny islands to myself – what wasn’t there to love? Well, for one, a long 30 hour crossing if you’re travelling between Colombia and Panama by sailboat. Daniel gets sea sick and I get bored. A long 30 hour rough crossing wasn’t even an option.
Thankfully there is an alternative – a speedboat.
Table of Contents
- How Much Does The San Blas Islands Speedboat Cost?
- How Many Days Do I Need?
How Much Does The San Blas Islands Speedboat Cost?
At the moment most companies offer the sailboat option and there are only 2 companies offering a speedboat option. The most popular company is San Blas Adventures.
The other company has no online presence and I wasn’t aware that it even existed until the guide from San Blas Adventures told me about it.
San Blas Adventures charges $399USD for the speedboat to San Blas Islands which includes travel from Sazpurro, Colombia to Cartí, Panama (or vice versa), food, accommodation, immigration, Kuna Yala taxes and gear for activities (such as snorkelling and beach volleyball).
- Alcohol – bring your own as no alcohol is sold on the islands
- Drinks on the island – around $1USD each
- Travel to/from Sazpurro from Cartegana (approximately 220,000 pesos / $80USD incl 2 nights accom)
- Jeep to/from Cartí ($30USD)
How Many Days Do I Need?
Although the tour itself is only 4 days and 3 nights, it takes at least 2 days and 1night to travel to/from Sazpurro and 3 hours by jeep to/from Cartí, Panama. So really, it’s almost a week all up.
Beware for travellers who plan to fly out after the tour. I recommend that you don’t book any flights or have immediately plans within a day of finishing your tour. The weather is totally unpredictable so if it’s bad and the boat can’t leave, you’re stuck (there could be worse places to be stuck) for another day or so.
If you’re travelling to Colombia, we recommend you allow at least 3 days after finishing your tour for travel time to get to Cartegena.
When is the best time to visit San Blas Islands?
Although there are 2 seasons – rainy season (June to December) and dry season (January to May), there really isn’t a best time to go. The weather is super unpredictable out there – we travelled in early August and had super calm water, sunny days and clear skies most of the time.
Style Of Accommodation
Paradise is by no means luxurious. The San Blas Islands have very basic facilities which means that you should expect drop toilets (yep, right into the sea – the fishies eat it all), bucket showers and hammocks rather than beds. So, embrace the change in basic comforts and you’ll be right.
How’s The Food?
We had no idea what to expect in terms of food and were very pleasantly surprised. Breakfast was a buffet of fruits, cereals, oatmeal, bread, tea and coffee.
We never had the same meal twice and during the course of our tour we had: tamale, fried chicken, salads, sandwiches, curry, fish and lobster. Everything was delicious and there was always an abundance of food.
What Does A Typical Day Look Like?
You’ll usually stop at 1-2 islands each day and are free to do whatever you like. Between reading, chilling, snorkelling, fishing and swimming between islands, we could still summon energy for some afternoon volleyball before our nightly activities. We had a talent show one night and a great bonfire under the stars on another.
What To Bring:
- USDs – cash & plenty of it. There are no ATMs in Sazpurro, Carpugana or on the islands. What you have is all you’ve got. If you’re coming from Colombia, you can exchange for USDs in Cartagena.
- Day bag (you won’t have access to your main bag)
- 1 change of clothes – you just end up wearing the same thing everyday anyway so keep it light.
- Sunscreen and insect repellent (yes, there are mosquitos)
- Bathers / swimmers
- Sarong or towel – doubles as a blanket if you get cold at night on the hammocks
- A good book
- Camera gear / electronics charged up and ready. There are no plugs / power on the islands so don’t expect to be able to charge anything.
- Alcohol (if you’re travelling from Colombia to Panama wait until you get to Sazpurro to buy your booze. You can walk from Sazpurro to the border and buy duty-free booze in Panama for next to nothing)
- Garbage bags – big thick ones and get a few. Your main bag is likely to get wet at some point during the tour. Since you don’t have access to it anyway, we recommend that you waterproof everything (the lined our backpacks with a garbage bag and then wrapped our backpack in 2 or 3 garbage bags).
What’s The Difference Between The Sailboat and Speedboat To San Blas Islands?
This is probably the most common question. Cost wise, they are relatively the same although the price for sailing really varies depending on the size of the sailboat. The main differences between the two are below:
|Day trips to the islands||More time on the islands (we spent a total of 6 hours over 4 days on the speedboat)|
|Opportunities for fishing during sailing||Fishing is an additional activity if available and costs extra ($5USD)|
|Eat and sleep on the boat||Eat and sleep on the islands|
|Approx 30 hours open sea crossing||No sea sickness|
|Direct to/from Cartagena||More land travel time required|
So that’s everything you need to do the San Blas Islands by speedboat. Personally, we loved every second of it and thought it was worth every penny. Let us know in the comments what you decide to do and if you choose the speedboat option, let us know how you enjoyed it!