Visiting Guna Yala with Nativa Tours

This post is also available in: Spanish

By Charles Conn

Kristen Dunlap of Panama Luxury Vacations gets a “wini” tied on.

Kristen Dunlap of Panama Luxury Vacations gets a “wini” tied on.

A quick, 30 minute trip from Albrook Airport on an Air Panamá flight brings you to one of the most coveted travel destinations in Panamá, San Blas, territory of the Guna indigenous tribe they call Guna Yala. There, warm, azure seas await adventurous travelers seeking to disconnect from city life and get in touch with nature.

Bordered by the Province of Colón in the west and stretching all the way to Colombia to the east, San Blas is composed of hundreds of islands. Nativa Tours provides a truly unique way to experience these islands through their sailboat charter company, San Blas Sailing. The boats’ live-aboard accommodations allow travelers safe access to this remote paradise as well as other far-off destinations such as Coiba Island, Las Perlas Islands and Bocas del Toro. This has built a solid reputation around Nativa Tours amongst the savvy and adventurous since their inception 14 years ago.

A trip with Nativa Tours might include a stay at Guanidup Island, where one may relax in the privacy of a remote island where a maximum of 25 guests can stay at a time. After snorkeling in the coral reefs, day trips to the Río Sidra Guna community can be scheduled where one can see life in an authentic native village.

Nativa Tours arranges sailboat charters for that special getaway. (Photo by Eunice Ritter P.)

Nativa Tours arranges sailboat charters for that special getaway. (Photo by Eunice Ritter P.)

A stay at the Ibedi Lodge, located in eastern Guna Yala near Puerto Obaldía, treats visitors to a more immediate experience of the Guna culture. A village dedicated to the preservation of sea turtles, Ibedi, caters to wildlife lovers who will enjoy seeing monkeys, crocodiles and birds in this mangrove sanctuary. Hiking trips through the jungle and horseback riding treks are also available. Nativa Tours can also organize fishing trips by motorboat, all run by the local Gunas. A maximum number of 12 guests can be accommodated at a time.

Nativa Tours also arranges the sailboat charters for trips lasting three days or longer. Deep sea fishing, the exploration of far-away islands and the chance to experience life on the calm Caribbean sea draw many to take this option. With both sailboats and catamarans available, the style and size of ship varies according to budget, taste, and number of travelers. The base of operations for the flotilla is in Corazón de Jesús, the perfect place to visit the Dutch Cayes, Isla Verde and Coco Bandero, the most beautiful and remote islands of the territory.

San Blas Sailing supports the local economy, buying from Guna fishermen. (Photo by Eunice Ritter P.)

San Blas Sailing supports the local economy, buying from Guna fishermen. (Photo by Eunice Ritter P.)

With responsible travel at the forefront of their activities, San Blas Sailing and Nativa Tours are strongly oriented towards the involvement of the Guna people in their staff. Five of their charter boats are exclusively run by Guna personnel. The boats usually employ Guna cooks and the entire fleet contributes to the local economy through the payment of local taxes, the hiring of local services, such as guides, and by bringing tourists and their spending power to remote areas not normally accessed.

For Nativa Tours, ecological sustainability means sailing with an average of three to five persons per craft, with a maximum of eight on board at a time. Travel in small groups allows not only the protection of the islands’ ecology, but grants travelers a better chance of learning about the Guna traditions and territory.

For details on tour packages and rates contact Nativa Tours by writing panama@nativatours.com, call 314-1800 or 314-1288, or visit www.nativatours.com or www.SanBlasSailing.com.

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