I've been to Paradise

That's a picture I took 2 days ago. I have finally been to Paradise. It's the land of the Kuna people, indigenous tribe living on more than 350 islands off the coast of Panama.

As there was a long weekend here due to Independence Day celebrations, we had an offer to go to the Carribean side of Panama, to spend 3 days in the Kuna Yala territory. I am so glad we took it. I had heard of the beauty of the Carribean so many times before, but had not yet had the chance to see it for myself.

Kuna Yala (territory for Kuna people) is quite isolated - there are no proper roads to the area, no modern development. Internal flights from Panama City go there a few times per week, alternative is to take the dirt road across the mountains. We chose the latter one as that's cheaper.The road took us through rainforest and cloudy mountains. The road was so bad and muddy that sometimes I was astonished we didn't get stuck. Naturally we were driving 4x4 cars. Panama is gorgeous and it was a beautiful drive. Check out the video below that shows you the serenity of the rainforest:

At one point the road ended and the only way to continue the ride was to drive through a river - which we did. Never experienced that before. To my surprise it was easier than I thought, no water what so ever came inside the car. I recorded this as well:

Finally we arrived to a tip of a mountain were we saw the Carribean for the first time. Video:

On the coast there was a boat waiting for us ready to take us to a Paradise island. We passed many little islands and made a short stop to change the boat in one. The whole boat ride was jaw-dropping for me as I all of the islands were amazingly beautiful.This was also my first hands-on contact with indigenous people in Panama. Observing their way of life was a one of a kind experience, one that I am very thankful for. Kunas have managed to maintain the way of life their ancestors were living with only a few modernizations, like motors for the boats, gas cookers and sowing machines. Some of them that were involved with tourism had cell phones. Thats about it. The houses were made out of straw. All the clothes hand-made. Fishing equipment made from whatever resources available on the islands.
Some of the Kuna people make their living by allowing tourists to live on their islands. They have constructed cabanas (huts made out of straw and palm branches) for people to sleep in, offer food and boat trips for a small amount of money. The islands itself are a paradise. We were destined to spend 3 days on one of such islands. This was ours:
Yes, the water really comes in the prettiest colors: teal, light blue, green and white (because of the color of the sand in the bottom). We couldn't get enough of swimming. The water was totally transparent, perfect temperature and full of interesting "animals". Sometimes you could see a swarm of little fish (thousands!) swimming by, or some pre-historic fish-like things.That's me in the water. As you can see, the beach and water are really crowded. Kuna Yala (also known as San Blas) is a true undiscovered gem.

Besides our own island we also got to see a different island (Isla de Perros) which is supposedly one of the prettiest around here (and it really was beautiful). It had no dogs, but it did have a cat. As it was the Independence Day of Panama, we went to see how it's being celebrated in a bigger Kuna village. There was a little parade and some performances by the school kids (yes, they have schools on the islands). Check this out:

We learned quite a lot about the Kuna people and their traditions. It's fascinating. The women are more important in the society, and families generally want to have more girls than boys. When young couples get married, its the boy who leaves his family and becomes a part of the girls family. When a girl reaches a certain age, she will have a coming of age ceremony that lasts for 3 days. In the process all of her hair are cut off and she never lets them grow long (only up to shoulders). Kuna religion has 2 gods: a man and a woman who are the beginning of all (like in the nature).

Our tour guide called Robinson (a Kuna) was quite knowledgeable of worldly things - he knew exactly where Estonia is on the map and happily showed it to everybody.

Among other things it was the first time I drank coconut water straight from a coco. I also tried to climb the coco palm and found its not as easy as seen on TV.I also discovered how beautiful can Paradise islands be during the sunset. The mix of colors is quite astounding.Anyways, when you come visit me in Panama, we can go there together too. So better start making your travel plans.
Check out all of my pictures from this trip: http://picasaweb.google.com/peep.laja/KunaYalaTerritory


Liisi said...

oh wow!!! its amazing!
and I like their belief of woman being more important also ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys,

I am going to Panama in April and I was wondering the accomodation in Kuna Yala... which is the cheapest options.. I´ve heard something about 5pounds a CabaƱain front of the beach but no sure... how did you do it? and which are your advised? Cheers! Fernando.

PS: i you dont mind, please reply to licenciadolopez@hotmail.com ... many thanks!

Zola said...

Well written article.

Toenail fungus said...

Cool travel tips... Reminds me Thai islands... I can see you had a great time buddy... :)