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Join me in Guna Yala (aka San Blas Islands), Caribbean paradise in Panama. This archipelago of 365 islands is one of the most spectacular destinations for a sea kayaking and cultural immersion holiday.
The Comarca Guna Yala is the semi-autonomous territory of the Guna (or Kuna), a prominent Indigenous group with origins in Colombia, where there are still Guna communities. In their language (called Dulegaya), which has no resemblance to Spanish, Guna Yala means “land of the Guna.” The Caribbean territory stretches about 122 miles (230 km) in length and borders with Colombia, as well as includes 25 miles of mainland tropical rainforest. Forty-nine of the hundreds of islands have communities on them, as well as a few on the mainland, consisting of a few families to thousands of inhabitants.
Since I first visited (and fell in love with) Guna Yala in 2010, I have been sea kayak guiding and collaborating with Guna to create a unique eco-friendly tourism focused on providing Guna communities with a viable source of income. The Guna are a colorful and strong-minded people, striving to maintain their fascinating traditional way of life, customs and language, while adapting to global trends. Much of their culture and beliefs are deeply rooted in respect for and living in harmony with nature.
Exciting Trip Itineraries
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Island Appetizer: 3 nights, 4 days
Perfect for the time-strapped traveler who wants to experience the best of Guna Yala. Enjoy a comfortable cabaña on the lovely island of Nurdup (“Almond Island”). This trip includes a tranquil river paddle, visits to neighboring islands and communities, snorkeling, as well as plenty of time to relax in a hammock and soak up the sun.
Island Basecamp: 4 nights, 5 days
Get deeper into your relaxing holiday as we camp on a beautiful tropical island. We’ll explore different islands and communities during the day, snorkel and have plenty of time to sip “coco locos” while swaying in a hammock.
Yoga & Sea Kayak Retreat:
Yoga instructor, Leigh Lubin, joins us for this unique offering that combines yoga and sea kayaking in the beautiful and tranquil setting of both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. What could be more simultaneously relaxing and rejuvenating? The finer details, dates and cost for this trip can be found here.
Island Explorer: 5 nights, 6 days
Combine the best of both worlds; camping and cabañas. We’ll spend the first 3 nights camping on a beautiful tropical island, exploring different islands and communities with our sea kayaks, then go to Nurdup for the final 2 nights, where there are cabañas (and other creature comforts, such as flush toilets and showers). From Nurdup we’ll explore a tranquil river, experience more Guna culture and visit more islands.
Sea Kayak Entree: 8 nights, 9 days (includes 2 nights in Panama City & The Panama Canal)
An all-inclusive trip-of-a-lifetime and one of my most popular trips! Your first and last nights include a hotel in Panama City, meals at traditional Panamanian restaurants, and a visit to the Panama Canal. The rest of the trip consists of an adventurous sea kayak expedition, paddling from island to island. We’ll camp on different islands, snorkel, and explore tranquil rivers and mainland rain forest. Discover the fascinating culture of the Guna as we are guided around communities, getting a unique glimpse into their daily lives. We will be accompanied by a support boat, so no need to pack your kayaks.
Self-Supported Sea Kayak Expedition: 5 nights, 6 days
For the intrepid traveler, those wishing to gain sea kayaking experience, and who want the adventure-of-a-lifetime. A true exploratory expedition, we’ll pack our kayaks and paddle from island to island and experience all that Guna Yala has to offer. This is not your average “packaged” trip. I can’t tell you exactly what will happen on this trip. That’s the beauty of it. . . that’s the fun part! Let’s create an unforgettable adventure together.
So. . Why do the Guna matter and why should you go there?
Guna culture in a changing world:
The Guna matter because they are truly inspiring and amazing people. In this ever-changing world, indigenous groups are losing their traditional way of life, customs and language. The Guna is one group fiercely striving to maintain these. Their semi-autonomous standing provides them with a unique opportunity to create a world for themselves. Currently, the Congreso General Guna is creating educational programs for Guna to teach Guna about their own culture. Many of them realize just how important it is to maintain their way of life, and not just to show tourists, but to continue living in harmony with nature, as they always have.
By working very closely with the Guna the past few years, I have found that one of the most successful and joyful ways the Guna are able to maintain their culture is by educating themselves, as well as visitors (like you and me). Each trip to Guna Yala offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to actively participate in this ongoing education. The trips are full of opportunities to learn about and share Guna culture, as well as share your own culture.
Meet Nemesio, Guna kayak guide extraordinaire:
Nemesio Alfaro, born and raised on an island called Gardi Sugdub in Guna Yala, has been leading kayak trips since 1993. He knows his stuff and is a beast when it comes to paddling! He grew up exploring the rivers and ocean around him. He is extremely passionate and knowledgeable regarding Guna culture, especially when it comes to Guna stories and legends. On most trips, guests become completely engrossed in his stories. He is also an extremely talented artist and is currently working on drawing illustrations for a book telling the most exciting Guna legends. Click here to view his drawings.
I have assisted Nemesio on countless trips in Guna Yala. Each trip he teaches me more and I am honored to call him one of my best friends. Also, don’t let him tell you that he can’t speak English. He pretends to be more shy than he actually is!
Guna love to paddle!
Everywhere we go the Guna are eager to try out the kayaks. There’s a lot of future kayak guides out there!
Thank you for your visit!