Wednesday, March 5, 2008

San Blas Islands- Cabanas Ukuptupu

March 5, 2008

Susan and I have often thought that if given the chance to pick our dream job it may well be as travel writers. Unless we win the lottery or develop the next computer operating system and can just travel full time that is probably not likely, and since I cannot ever remember buying a lottery ticket and sometimes it seems a challenge to merely turn a computer on I had better not hold my breath. I feel like this may be my one opportunity to take a shot at it.

Getting to Panama is relatively easy and once there travel within the country is easy, safe and economical. Once there make sure you book time in the San Blas Islands. Flights are available daily and the round-trip flight from Panama City is under $100 on either Air Perlas or Air Panama. You will leave vibrant cosmopolitan Panama City and in 30 minutes arrive in the San Blas and feel as if you have stepped back in time. The island of Porvenir exists solely as an airport, but from there you will have a number of options, one of which is Cabanas Ukuptupu just a few islands away from Porvenir run by Juan and Albertina Garcia.

Juan began building up the island in 1966. From then until 1974 he built seawalls on the island edge and began hauling sand to the island to increase its footprint. I must hasten to say that the entire island occupies about the same footprint as the average home lot in the Treasure Valley. The usable square footage is increased by the fact that many buildings are built out over the water. In 1974 the Smithsonian contracted with him to build a research station which they operated for 24 years. The Smithsonian has moved their Panamanian research station to Bocas Del Toro and Juan's island now serves travelers to the San Blas.

The rooms are simple but clean and many of the cabanas are located on stilts over the water with a little patio and hammock. The daily rate is $45 with children under 5 free and ages 5-10 at half price. Included in the rate are 3 meals (mostly seafood; fish, crab, lobster etc.) daily and numerous activities at your choosing. This is not Club Med so do not expect a turndown service, jet skis, poolside drinks and a nightclub. Do expect to observe and be a part of Kuna life. Lie in a hammock and read or just be quiet and marvel at the beauty of the islands and their people. This is Kuna Yala and Cabanas Ukuptupu reflects their lifestyle.

Daily excursions to beaches and snorkeling are available and included in the cost, or have them take you to one of the neighboring islands and just walk around and enjoy these wonderful people and their villages. The ladies sell molas from their porch and we found small bakeries at some islands as well. Juan speaks good English and we are sure you will fall in love with his quiet gentle spirit just as we did. Panama is worth exploring and the San Blas should not be missed.

We spoke with a number of guests and all were very complimentary of their visit. There is no internet here but Juan and Albertina's son lives in Panama City and handles email for them at and additional information is available at Until next time adios from the wannabe travel writers.

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