Lita and Chris Huber moved to Jacksonville Beach from Panama City, Panama a little over one year ago. Lita brought with her, Yacht Latina, her sailboat chartering company. I and three other girlfriends were fortunate enough to tag along with Lita on one of her recent business trips back to Panama and the San Blas Islands to visit several of the yachts that she arranges charters for.

Lita planned every detail of the trip. I just had to pack my bags, and soon I was in the Miami of Central America, Panama City.

We woke up early on our first day there to meet our driver and embark on our journey to the San Blas Islands. After three hours of a twisty, bumpy, scenic, two lane and sometimes unpaved ride over the mountains in a 4×4, we successfully traversed Panama from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

Kuna Yala

We arrived at the Port of Carti, and it is at this moment that it becomes very apparent that not only have we left the country, but we’ve left civilization. The port consists of a gravel lot, a couple of thatched roof buildings and a series of docks. We were in Kuna territory. The Kunas are the indigenous people who live on the San Blas Islands, also known as the Kuna Yala. The Kuna control the area as a camarca, or autonomous region, with little interference by the national government.

There is no true marina, so the sailboats cannot pull into the port. We later learned, this helps to keep boat traffic, tourists and interference with the Kuna’s way of life on the San Blas Islands to a minimum.

We boarded a lancha, or boat shuttle, and got our first glimpse of the San Blas Islands and the way of life of the Kunas. I felt like I just jumped inside of a picture from a National Geographic magazine. Islands dotted the horizon, and thatched-roof huts lined the shores. As we moved further away from land, the islands became less populated, green with swaying palm trees and the water sparkled a transparent turquoise blue.

The San Blas Islands stretch 140 miles along the coast of Panama from the Gulf of San Blas to the border of Columbia. There are 365 islands in the archipelago and only ten percent are inhabited. Most are less than one acre in size. It’s a sailor’s paradise.

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Come Together

Near Isla Elefante we met up with Sailing Yacht “Come Together,” a 40 ft. catamaran. After a delicious lunch onboard, we sailed to a cove near Isla Banedup where we would anchor for the rest of the day and enjoy “island time.” While snorkeling, we spotted a few colorful fish and enjoyed looking at the coral.

Back onboard, two teenaged Kuna boys paddled up to our boat in their canoe. They had a boat- bottom full of local live lobsters to sell us. We bought 5 for less than $20, and the captain’s wife served them up for dinner that evening.

The only thing that rivaled the fresh seafood on this trip was the fruit. The pineapple was deliciously sweet and juicy. Even the bananas tasted better. “It tastes like candy,” Lita says.

Destination Unknown

The next morning, the lancha picked us up and delivered us to S.Y. “Destination Unknown,” a 46 ft. catamaran. We pulled anchor and set sail to Chichéme, where we paddle boarded and kayaked to explore the island. We found gorgeous large orange starfish, bought anklets made by the Kuna women, and tried coconut milk in a coconut. The evening ended with another fresh seafood feast, music, dancing, and drinks. It was the perfect finish to a girls’ getaway vacation.

For more information about Yacht Latina can be found at www.yachtlatina.com.

 

Travel as a VIP

We sat down with travel Agent Leigh Elizabeth Bryan of Avondale Travel to get some advice on why booking a vacation with a professional is the way to go.

Access – Using a travel agent can allow you access to exclusive benefits, such as room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, VIP access to concierge lounges, says Bryan. They also have the local scoop from people that live at your destination, giving you the insider tips which can make your trip less stressful

Advice – Travel agents have experience and knowledge. “If we haven’t been there, we know someone who has,” says Bryan. “We can tell you if a vacation is a fit for you.”

Advocates – Should something go wrong on your trip, a travel agent is your advocate. “We fight for you,” says Bryan. “If you book a trip through a website, no one will be your advocate.”

More information about Avondale Travel can be found at avondaletravel.com.