The Caribbean Islands of Central and Eastern Panama


Of the islands near Panama City, popular Isla Grande is located just two hours east by car (plus a quick boat ride), making it a favored getaway for Panamanians living in the capital and travelers on Panama tours. Visitors are drawn here for the cuisine and active pastimes such as hiking, diving and surfing with conveniently located waterfront accommodations. This mostly forested island is road-less. With delectable menus that feature fresh-caught seafood, most of the cafes here front on a boardwalk that stretches from one end of the population center to the other. The island attracts larger than usual crowds during festivals and when surfing competitions are held.

An archipelago lies at the western end of the almost 400 islands of the Kuna Yala. From there, they dot the coastline, stretching to the Colombian border. Primitive and pristine, the accommodations and attractions of the Kuna Yala are a photographer's paradise and one of Panama's best spots for snorkeling, a place to relax and live in the moment where time stops. If you're looking for the picture postcard of the swaying palm, white sand beach and hammock on your Panama tours, this is the place.

Until the Kuna tribe was given back its lands, this region of Panama was known as the San Blas Islands, the name which identifies them still on many maps and in guidebooks. Getting there is easy since no less than eleven airstrips are located in the Kuna Yala, with frequent flights from the capital and other parts of the isthmus.

Populations inhabiting the islands of the Kuna Yala (called floating populations) are no larger than 5,000. Most of the Kuna communities are friendly to visitors, and some tribal members make a living providing boat transport for Panama tours. Some, but not all, of the islands have names.

For visitors on Panama tours, the uninhabited islands offer the most pristine conditions, since like all aspects of the Kuna lands, infrastructure is primitive, including sanitation systems. Among the most picturesque is tiny Isla Aguja. Some islands have small hotels, ranging from rustic thatched-roof accommodations such as the bamboo cottages on the island of Kuanidup surrounded by idyllic scenery, to fancy lodges on Isla Isakarup and Isla Uaguitupo (Dolphin Island).