Monday, October 29, 2012

#916 San Blas Islands, Panama

In a hidden corner of Panama, down near the Colombian border on the Caribbean coast lies an archipelago which is quite unique from a political perspective. The San Blas islands are autonomous and pretty much self-ruling despite being part of Panama. Their isolation and lack of valuable resources has meant that throughout history they have been seen as a place of transit rather than somewhere valuable to own in its own right. This has allowed the people of the San Blas to maintain their lifestyle and cultural practices and live similarly to how they have for centuries.
Effectively most islands are windswept sand bars in a picturesque ocean location (100s of them), but the Comarque de Kuna Yala are a proud example of effective indigenous independence, the first of their kind in Latin America. Foreigners (including Panamanians) are not allowed to run businesses here and often foreigners are charged a fee to visit the islands. Subsisting on tropical foods and the abundant marine life, their lifestyles have not changed for decades. 
Diving is forbidden in the Archipelago de San Blas, and other activities are strictly monitored (so no jet skis and cruise ships!). The pretty blue waters with cute yellow starfish and recent sailboat wrecks are a world away from lively Panama City, and disembarking into the jungle is onto a dirt trail up a small creek.

Source: Lonely Planet Central America 7th Edition

A New York Times article on the San Blas:

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