Kuna Yala, Panama

We finally left Bocas Del Toro the end of August and after an overnight run arrived in Porvenir, our checkin port for the San Blas Islands (the Spanish name, but it is governed by the Kuna Indians hence the name Kuna Yala). Immediately as we were in the midst of anchoring we were surrounded by 7 ulus (wood dugout canoes) of local Kuna Indians. The women were in the colorful Kuna dress, the young girls dressed like those in the US, the men in pants or trunks. Here the women make molas and bead jewelry to sell while the men are fishermen and have conch, lobster, and fish. They patiently hung around maybe 40 min as the anchor didn't set on the first drop. Molas are beautiful embroidered designs that have multiple layers of color and the women are very "persistent" proving that they are better than me in selling and bartering. We only bought 1 large lobster that day but after clearing in the next morning, we moved to anchor in the East Lemon Cays where we were visited by multiple other Kuna boats. I had been told by other cruisers that the molas of Venancio, and Lisa were the best quality which I could see as they both visited the boat that second day. My mola buying is now on hold after purchasing 6 until we visit the home islands of both Venancio and Lisa. Most molas are 12"X14" in size and can be made into pillows, put on shirts or other objects. We stayed about a week in the Lemons, snorkeling one day and sitting out 3 days of wet, cloudy weather. This time of year, if the morning is clear, there is bright sun and clear water until around 1:30pm when the thunderclouds build up over the Panamanian mountains and gradually blow out to sea bringing showers, squalls, and dark skies. Grocery stores are few and far between however there is a local boat selling fresh fruit and veggies in the Lemons once a week. Internet is now a challenge. There is no wifi. We hook to the internet through our new smart phone but it is very slow and probably will take too long to send images.

Elliptical Star Coral

Star Coral

Bearded Fireworm (lower)

approaching thunderstorm

10 min. between pics

a carpet of Sun Anemones

Caribbean Stingray burrowing in the bottom head on


Moving anchorages involves timing leaving and arrival to the best light. Yesterday we moved from the East Lemons to the Eastern Holandes Cays about 90 min away. Just as we decided to leave the sky became dark rapidly and we could hear the Thunder. We had good light until we got to our new anchoring spot in the Eastern Holandes Cays where we could not see the shallow areas and sand bars at all as the light went very flat. Our chart again bailed us out and we dropped anchor not quite to our destination but in a wide open protected area close by. The noseeums were vicious but we didn't have our screens in fast enough. This morning was clear and we were able to see all the bars and shallow spots and decided that the place we anchored is best. No Kuna women selling Molas here yet but several fishermen selling lobster have visited. The light went totally flat with the overhead clouds today by 1:30 so no exploring by dinghy until the light improves.


Spotted Eagle Ray near Green Island

We have spent many grey, cloudy or rainy days waiting for good light to move or snorkel which is par for the course this time of year. After the East Holandes we spent time in Coco Banderas Cays, Green Island, and now we are in the West Holandes anchorage. Today is a non-snorkel day but at least we have more wind here than in other places and no bugs. Yeah!!

one of the uninhabited Coco Banderas Cays typical of all the islands in Kuna Yala

colorful Tubeworms

Unfortunately we only spent one day snorkeling there as the wind direction changed and we were taking large swells through the anchorage. We saw a new type of parrotfish and would have liked to stay longer-maybe later. The next anchoring spot was tucked in behind an island just east of Green Island for 10 days of wind, clouds and gray days. We visited Nargana (A larger Kuna village with small tiendas selling veggies) with Michael from SV Panda who gave us a tour.

Next stop was Isla Maquina the home of Venancio to buy more molas.

Impressions: The islands are beautiful with clean, clear water. There were very few large fish, many small reef species with only an occasional sighting of Lionfish. Kuna visits to the boat were too frequent though we were not hounded by those wanting to recharge cell phones as I had heard from other cruisers. Almost all Kunas expected free handouts of candy, Coke a Cola, old clothes. I don't have pictures of Kuna traditional dress as they don't like you to photo them.


Bret Bihler 11/9/2011
Nice posts. Good to see your posts again. The Molas are very nice. See you soon. Bret and Bev
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