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Sailing The San Blas Islands – A Caribbean Dream

Guy and Mo in retirement

Shawna’s Mom and Dad have always dreamed of owning a sail boat. Guy can often be seen hanging around the yacht clubs back home in BC, and Maureen can tie more sailor knots than Popeye. I have visions of these two spending their retirement sailing the world together (and I just hope they will take their son-in-law with them!) So it just made sense that when we found out they were flying down to Panama, that we had better plan a wee sailing excursion together. Our choice? The San Blas Islands aboard the Andiamo!

The San Blas Islands are an archipelago of 365+ Caribbean islands (yup, one for every day of the year!) off the northern coast of Panama. Only around 10-15% of these islands are inhabited by the local Kuna Indians, leaving us with more than enough room to explore. In fact, by the end of our three days we had each named at least two vacant islands for ourselves. :)

The journey begins from our base in Panama City, where we have a 2.5 hour ride full of hills, twists, and turns to the port of El Porvenier. Although we made it without any cookies being tossed, this is definitely a Gravol/Dramamine-recommended road! Fortunately, once we were out of the van and able to take in the fresh air, our spirits were quickly rejuvenated.

Happy as clams, just before boarding the Andiamo

The Kuna-run water taxi picked us up at the dock, and around an hour later we had boarded the Andiamo, our vessel for the next three nights!

The People

The boat was home to the four of us, Nellie and Ferdinand (an Argentinian couple), Captain Robert and First Mate Dino. With the eight of us aboard it was pretty tight quarters, but we were a rather easy-going bunch, so we had virtually no problems getting along. Shawna and I were able to spend time practicing our Spanish with Nellie and Ferdinand. Dino was the strong, silent and capable Kuna, and Robert was typecast (quite correctly) as the drunk and ornery captain who forgot his people skills on the shore. Oh we were quite the Gilligan’s Island crew!

Shawna with the Andiamo’s version of Captain Jack Sparrow, fixing his broken boat

The Scenery

Go ahead, picture that idyllic tropical island. Yup, a small mound of light brown sand, surrounded by the bluest of blue water. Give yourself two swaying palm trees, each holding three almost-ripe coconuts within it’s bright green leaves. Add a hammock. Maybe a small gently-used rowboat. And now multiply this by a few hundred. We painstakingly endured….

The Activities

I have rarely never been on an excursion with my in-laws where I am able to spend more than eight consecutive minutes, in a state of blissful inactivity. Why would this be any different. At least I know my wife comes by her need for speed honestly.

Within minutes of organizing all of are worldly possessions, we were strapping on the fins and masks for the first of many snorkel excursions! I have to admit, I was a little concerned as to how comfortable Maureen would be in floating with the fishies. This was her maiden voyage when it came to snorkelling, and that can be a big thing for someone who spent most of their life in our landlocked province of Saskatchewan! However, my concern was quickly put to rest… my mother-in-law was like a mermaid. (I suspect I may be the first person in history to have ever used ‘mermaid’ to describe his mother-in-law…. hopefully that will score me a few points.)

When we weren’t snorkelling, we spent our time playing beach volleyball on the islands, practicing yoga on the shore, and racing through the sea with our best front crawls.

Dear world… meet my in-laws, and their beautiful daughter!

The Food

The Andiamo isn’t a luxury cruiser where all your meals are served to you. Instead, it is the kind of craft that requires everyone to take their turn in the galley to make sure that nobody went hungry. As all of us love to cook, we had no problem at all with this. In fact, we prefer it… from omelets and pancakes for breakfast to dining on some of the largest crab and lobster I have ever seen for dinner, I can guarantee you that we always went to bed with a full belly! And of course an honourable mention must go to the three hundred and two pineapples we consumed while on board as well…there is no better post-snorkel snack.

Guy in the galley, making up a mean batch of scrambled eggs


Dino with our catch of the day!


The Andiamo

As a boat, the Andiamo was…alright. As we mentioned, there were eight of us on board (inc crew), and we found that this was about as tight as you would want it. They do advertise that they will take as many as eleven (nine passengers plus two crew), and this would have been well overcrowded in our opinion. Although it was definitely in need of a little TLC, it was nothing that affected our trip at all.

The one thing that we loved about the boat was that Shawna and I were able to sleep on deck, under the main sail and the stars for all three nights! With no light pollution around us, we were absolutely smothered in stars!

The Captain

Honestly, Captain Robert probably didn’t do the Andiamo many favours with his bedside manner. On our first night on board, Shawna asked where toothpicks might be found on board. His response was, “yeah, we have them, but I am drunk, and I am tired, and I am not going to look for them now.”


We definitely had the option of letting his ‘mis’behaviour ruin our trip, but really…what’s the point? Here we were, three nights in the Caribbean Sea, and we weren’t going to let anything take away from that.

This was definitely the highlight of our time with Shawna’s folks, and I think they felt the same way. We were so very lucky that they were able to come down to visit us, and enjoyed every single second. Thanks so much Guy and Mo!! We loved our adventure with you guys!

Now here’s hoping you will buy that boat!

Thanks for the memories!!

Kuna fishermen showing us their menu

This new Caribbean hairstyle of yours is really working Dad!

Caribbean sunset

Shawna showing off her noose… there is a hidden message for me in there somewhere

Move over Captain Robert, Gilligan is in charge!

Mother and daughter

Father and son-in-law

Mom and I with our victory cocktails, prepared for us by Shawna and Guy who were soundly defeated in our grueling beach volleyball match

Well, we may have lost the volleyball game but it’s tough to lament a loss when you’re on the Caribbean.

Um, Guy… you’re on my pillow

A happy crew!

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