Panama and Colombia are connecting by a thin peninsula of thick jungles and no roads. Getting a car around involved stuffing it in a container and putting it on a cargo ship. Getting ourselves around there were two options: Fly or Sail.
We chose to sail.
The San Blas Islands are a beautiful archipelago off the coast of Panama. There are many boats taking tourists on a 3 day tour of the islands followed by a day and a half open sea journey to Cartagena (or vice versa). The boats take off from Puerto Lindo on the Caribbean coast of Panama and after 9 hours sailing arrive in the beautiful San Blas Islands. The islands are inhabited by the Kuna people (read about them on Wikipedia). We slept aboard our sailboat, the Big Fish 1, with daily activities of swimming, snorkeling, napping, eating, sunbathing.. And laughing at the guys on our boat as they got ridiculously drunk and sunburned.
After 3 days in paradise, we spent 2 nights and 1 day at sea. We lucked out with calm seas and had no sea sickness. The last night got a bit rough for a bit and Mitzi nearly threw up, but we managed to resettle her and no damage done.
Only a few boats accept dogs on board so we had to book our date well in advance through Blue Sailing. We wanted to sail mid-August, but there were only boats heading out early and late August that would take Mitzi, so we went with the later date. Less than 2 weeks before our departure, we were informed by Blue Sailing that the owner of the boat we booked had spontaneously decided to sell it (found out later, the new captain had nearly sunk the boat with passengers on board – which we would have been on board for had we sailed early August!!). But Blue Sailing had arranged for another boat to take us, with the same departure date as before. The boat doesn’t normally take dogs, but they were amazing and accommodating to Mitzi!
There isn’t much more to say about this trip, except that it was beautiful and we really appreciated the crew on the Big Fish 1! Captain Jari, First Mate Luis, and Crew/Cook Priscilla.
Extra Information: Sailing San Blas with a Dog
- Most important part of this trip is finding a dog friendly captain and boat. Our friends at @justwanderinthrough took this trip at the same time as us on another boat and had a very stressful time. Ask for details about rules your captain has regarding your dog – Captain Jari is a dog lover and the crew were wonderful. They took her to shore on the dingy for pee breaks any time we asked.
- If you expect rough seas, bring Dramamine for you and your dog! Mitzi was fine without, but the last day was a close call.
- We heard some conflicting information about dogs not being allowed on the islands anymore. The Kuna government had issued a statement that dogs should no longer be brought into the San Blas, but this obviously isn’t enforced. The crew said this had to do with the locals not wanting their dogs and foreign dogs getting into fights. We saw one sign on one island stating no dogs allows – so we just steered Mitzi clear of this area. The Kuna we met on the islands loved Mitzi – particularly on the last island we visited where she had 3 very happy little girls gushing over her.
- When nature calls, your dog gets a private shuttle to pee on a wide sand beach. What a lucky pup! While at sea, we brought a cheap bath mat to set on deck for Mitzi to pee on. We cut a hole in the corner that we could loop some string around to dunk into the water for cleaning. This worked well for us, since Mitzi has the habit of peeing on bath mats – for once a benefit!
- The paperwork for entering Colombia with a dog by boat is simple and tough by air. This shouldn’t be your only deciding factor, but it helped tip the scales in favor of sailing for us.