Review by: Nicole Lane – Dec. 2016
It is much more than just transport from Colombia to Panama, but is a once in a lifetime opportunity to sail amongst and visit stunning islands that are untouched by tourism, which is a very rare opportunity in today’s world.
Trip Details: The trip leaves from Cartagena (we boarded around 8pm, and set sail by 10pm) where you will sail through open ocean for approx 36 hours, meaning the first full day is spent at sea (keep an eye out for dolphins, they paid us a visit on our first day!) If you are concerned about sea sickness, just take a good supply of dramamine with you on the trip- no one on our boat was sick, because we all took the precaution of using the medicine. When you wake on the second day, you will be in San Blas. Climbing out of the cabin to see tiny white sand islands overflowing with palm trees is a view that you won’t soon forget. You can spend your days on the islands doing whatever it is that you want, from sunbathing on the boat, lazing in a hammock on uninhabited islands, snorkeling the numerous coral reefs, swimming between the islands, or continuously questioning how lucky you are to be in the presence of such natural beauty 🙂 The boat is anchored just off the islands through the first day and night, and you will sail to a different cluster of islands on the morning of each of the next two days! (thats 3 full days visiting different islands!) At sometime during the evening of your 3rd day in San Blas, you will set sail again for another 12 hours approx, to Portobelo, which is where you will sadly make your departure for wherever is next in Panama. Keep in mind that the sail boats that make this trip are not luxury cruises. This is all a part of the experience and giving up your modern luxuries is a small price to pay for experiencing nature in its rawest form.
The Boat/ The Crew: This trip can be made infinitely better if you do your research and choose a reliable boat and Captain. For our trip we were lucky enough to be on board Ave Maria, a beautiful, classic sailboat, with captain Paul and his partner and culinary genius Sindry. From our orientation the day before our trip to our goodbyes in Portobelo, Paul and Sindry went above and beyond for us in every aspect and made our trip so much more special. They have made Ave Maria their home, and they truly make you feel like welcomed family. Every day we were greeted with a smile and a good morning before being given lots of insider information about the best snorkeling places as well as the islands themselves. In between exploring the islands we were treated to huge portions of healthy and DELCIOUS food! Sindry seriously makes magic happen in the small kitchen in the cabin and you will LOVE her for it! On our second day in the islands we had a pork barbecue on the beach for lunch and a lobster dinner made from FRESH lobsters that were delivered to our boat by a local man the morning of. As if our day couldn’t get any better, Sindry also made us cocktails using fresh coconut water, rum and lime juice-YES, we were that spoiled. It is clear that Paul and Sindry have put a lot of thought into the small details that make this trip that more enjoyable such as, coolers with ice for your beverages, snorkeling masks and fins to use, and hammocks that you can bring to the island to relax on. Most importantly, Paul and Sindry’s experience in sailing, dealing with weather conditions, and general knowledge of the islands is evident which allows you to feel the comfort of being in safe hands.
Overall: As a backpacker living on a backpackers budget, the price might seem like a stretch and if you’re wondering if its REALLY worth it… IT IS. We walked away from this trip knowing that we got way more than our money’s worth and memories that will stick with us forever. Definitely do it! You can get in touch with Captain Paul via Ave Maria’s Facebook page or through their website, which a quick google search will turn up!