San Blas Islands: Guna Yala (Panama)

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San Blas Islands: Guna Yala (Panama)

The San Blas Islands, also known as the Guna Yala Archipelago, is a stunning group of islands and cays along Panama's northeastern Caribbean coast. Guna Yala is an indigenous territory and home to the Guna people, one of Panama's most distinct and culturally rich indigenous groups.

San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands, also known as the Guna Yala (or Kuna Yala*) Archipelago, is a stunning group of islands within the Caribbean Sea along Panama's northeastern coast.

The Archipelago is renowned for its clear turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and a unique blend of natural beauty and indigenous culture.

The San Blas Islands comprise approximately 365 islands and cays, many uninhabited or sparsely populated. The islands vary in size, with some as tiny sandbars and others more substantial in land area and are located relatively close to one another, making them accessible by boat or small plane.

San Blas and its surrounding area are a haven for ecotourism because of its pristine environs. The area is also popular for sailing, as it is known for its beauty and lack of hurricanes.

Notable locations in the Archipelago are the principal capital, El Porvenir, the densely crowded island village of Carti Sugtupu, and the two keys, Cayos Limones and Cayos Holandeses, both renowned for their clear waters.

The San Blas Islands have a tropical monsoon climate. Temperatures are hot all year round. There is a lengthy wet season from May to January and a short dry season for the rest of the year.

Prominent Islands

Some of the most prominent islands stand out due to their size, cultural significance, and visitor popularity.

  • Ailigandi Island: Ailigandi is one of the larger islands in Guna Yala and is known for its picturesque beaches and vibrant Guna culture. It's a hub for transportation and can serve as a starting point for exploring other nearby islands.

  • Achutupu Island: This island is notable for its tranquil surroundings and clear waters. Visitors can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, and experiencing the local Guna way of life.

  • Yandup Island: Yandup is known for its eco-lodge, allowing visitors to experience Guna culture while enjoying its natural beauty. It's a popular spot for snorkeling and relaxation.

  • El Porvenir Island: El Porvenir is an important hub in Guna Yala as it hosts a small airport and serves as a primary point of entry for visitors. It's also a cultural center where travelers learn about Guna traditions and crafts.

  • Chichime Island: Chichime Island is renowned for its stunning beaches, clear waters, and opportunities for water activities like snorkeling and diving. It's a favorite among tourists seeking a tropical paradise experience.

  • Isla Perro (Dog Island): This island is famous for its sunken shipwreck, making it a popular spot for snorkelers and divers. The wreck has become a haven for marine life and offers a unique underwater experience.

  • Waisaladup Island: Waisaladup is known for its beautiful beach and the option to stay in traditional Guna cabins. It's a great place to unwind, swim, and learn about Guna culture.

  • Isla Pelicano (Pelicano Island): This island is often praised for its laid-back atmosphere, palm-fringed beaches, and crystal-clear waters. It's an ideal spot for relaxation and taking in the natural beauty.

  • Islands near Narganá: The islands around Narganá offer a glimpse into everyday Guna life and provide opportunities to interact with local communities. Narganá itself is known for its Guna marketplace.

  • Islands around Playón Chico: Playón Chico is a Guna village on the mainland that provides access to nearby islands. The islands in this area offer pristine beaches and tranquil surroundings.

Guna Yala

Guna Yala (or Kuna Yala*), formerly known as the San Blas Islands, is an indigenous territory in Panama's northeastern region. It is home to the Guna people, one of Panama's most distinct and culturally rich indigenous groups.

The territory encompasses approximately 365 islands and cays scattered along the Caribbean coast, stretching from the border with Colombia to the Gulf of San Blas.


Guna Yala's geography is characterized by its stunning Caribbean coastline, azure waters, white sandy beaches, and lush tropical vegetation.

The territory is made up of a series of islands, both large and small, along with the surrounding waters. The islands vary in size, with some being no more than tiny sandbars, while others are large enough to support communities and infrastructure.


The Guna people are one of Panama's most culturally distinct indigenous groups. Despite outside influences, they have managed to preserve much of their traditional way of life.

The Guna have their own language, known as "Dulegaya," and their traditional dress is famous for its bright colors and intricate designs. Women often wear distinctive "molas," handmade textiles depicting aspects of Guna culture and mythology.


One of the most remarkable aspects of Guna Yala is its unique governance structure. The Guna people have achieved high autonomy and self-governance within Panama.

The Guna General Congress administers the territory, the highest authority in Guna Yala. This body is responsible for deciding on matters affecting the Guna people and their land.


The Guna people traditionally practiced subsistence farming, fishing, and hunting, relying on the natural resources of the land and sea. However, with the rise of tourism, many Gunas have also become involved in the tourism industry, offering accommodations, guided tours, and cultural experiences for visitors.

Despite modern influences, the Guna continue valuing their traditional way of life and strive to balance their cultural heritage and economic opportunities.


The Guna Yala territory is known for its commitment to environmental conservation. The Guna people have a solid connection to the land and sea and have implemented measures to protect their natural resources.

The Guna General Congress has established regulations and guidelines to ensure sustainable fishing practices, protect coral reefs, and manage waste disposal.

* Note: The name of the area, formerly known as San Blas and later as Kuna Yala, was changed to "Guna Yala" in October 2011. The Panamanian government accepted the claim of the people that "Guna" was a closer representation of the name in their mother tongue than "Kuna."