A Remote Visit to the Guna Yala and the Yandup Island Lodge
I am lazing in our cabana’s hammocks on a tiny island off the coast of Panama, mesmerized by a sky that shifts from neon pink to deep violet as the sun sets into the Caribbean sea. The long, trumpeting noise of a conch shell brings me out of my daze, alerting me that it’s time for dinner.
Life at the Yandup Island Lodge is simple. My day revolves around three things: eating, tours, and relaxing. Mornings involve beach tours to one of the small, neighboring islands in the San Blas archipelago, a group of 378 tropical islands strung along the Caribbean coast of the northeastern part of the country. The majority of them—like the one we visit—are deserted, cradled by clear turquoise waters and studded with palm trees and white sand. We grab our snorkel gear and swim offshore to explore coral reefs teeming with colorful sea creatures, chubby orange starfish, and giant clams. We return to the beach and dry off by the heat of the sun until it is time to return to the lodge for a simple and satisfying vegetarian meal of soup, beans and rice, and veggies, followed by freshly sliced mango for dessert (meat-eaters are also served seafood).
Afternoon tours are my favorite—we take cultural excursions to meet and learn more about the Guna Yala community in nearby Playon Chico. The Guna Yala Indians are a semi-autonomous nation who inhabit the San Blas archipelago and have retained their own culture, language, and economic system. A walk around the Playon Chico gives us a glimpse into village life and local government. Community is the foundation of society here. The house serves as an important symbol for unity, support, and interdependence. On another tour, we hike to a nearby burial ground and learn about the Guna’s spiritual beliefs and customs. Instead of tombstones, small huts equipped with hammocks are built over grave sites. The huts protect against erosion, but more importantly serve as a resting place for the deceased before embarking on the long journey from earth back to the heavens.
No roads lead to this dense jungle area — since the Guna Yala is a semi-autonomous territory, there is little involvement from the federal government and therefore little infrastructure. The only way to get to the remote Playon Chico is by a five-hour boat ride or via the daily, early morning flight that departs from Panama City on a 20-passenger plane (contact Panomaric Panama for help booking flights). Yes, getting here may be difficult, but staying here is easy.
About Yandup Island Lodge
The family-owned Yandup Island Lodge is considered one of the nicest accommodations in San Blas. The property is lined with a small strip of white sand beach that is surrounded by coral reefs. Guests may choose from a handful of over-water bungalows or beach-front cabins that are all equipped with wrap-around terraces and powered by solar electricity. Cabanas are basic but comfortable, equipped with mosquito-netted beds, ceiling fans, and bathrooms with running (and slightly salty) water. Transportation, meals, and two daily cultural and/or nature-based tours with a local guide are included in the lodge’s all-inclusive package. Rates start at $90 per person. For more information, visit www.yandupisland.com
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of seeing the world. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as the Art Director for the branding firm, Belmont Inc., in Alexandria, VA. In her spare time, she instructs high-energy Zumba dance classes, contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.
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