Ah, the beautiful San Blas islands, the stuff dreams are made of, white sand beaches, palm trees, rustic cabins by the sea, this is where you come to get away from it all. Can you imagine a few days at San Blas? This is a pristine habitat that is inhabited by the indigenous Kuna Indians that should be included in any visit to Panama.
The San Blas islands, or Kuna Yala, comprise of 365(one for everyday of the year they say) islands located along the Caribbean coats of Panama. Granted semi independence in 1925, the Kuna Yala is run by an elected Congresso. Some 40 islands are inhabited and run by a chief who is a representative to the Congresso. The Kunas have managed to fiercely retain their culture for over 500 years, despite repression by first the colonial Spanish and then Panamanian governments. They have their own customs and laws and in many cases Panamanian law doesn’t apply in Kuna Yala.
Life in the islands is still very traditional, many live as their families have done for generations. As a native people they have fought hard to maintain their dignity and culture and must be one of the most successful indigenous groups in the world for having done so. The Kunas guard their San Blas islands by only allowing Kunas to own property within their areas. Foreign, or Panamanian , owned businesses are not allowed. Only some communities have running water and cooking is still often done over open fires. Most people still sleep in hammocks in communal areas inside their huts. The women still wear brightly coloured clothing, wide skirts and multi-coloured beaded bracelets wrapped the whole length of their lower legs and arms. It`s not uncommon to see Kuna women dressed like this in all parts of Panama.
Tourism is allowed in San Blas only at their discretion and at times they maintain strict controls over it. It’s very difficult for a non Kuna to live within the boundaries of San Blas and practically impossible for a Kuna and non Kuna to marry and remain in San Blas. It’s also forbidden for outsiders to operate businesses within Kuna Yala.