There are not enough positive things I can say about the 5 days we spent with Ignacio and Judit and Pantalasa Charters in the San Blas islands, otherwise known as Kuna Yula, the homeland and semi-autonomous area of Panama managed by the Kuna Indians.
This was our first time on a sailboat and it was an extraordinary experience for myself, my wife and our now adult children (20 yr old daughter and 18 yr old son). We were a little worried about a sailing trip as my wife and daughter have a tendency to motion sickness, but that turned out to a total non-issue. First, the San Blas Islands are protected by a large coral reefs meaning that the water in and around the islands is very calm relative to open ocean sailing (in 5 days there was only one minor bit of "queasiness" on the 2nd day that was easily managed). Second, we generally sailed for a couple of hours each day and then anchored, which was perfect for us. Third, the experience Ignacio and Judit bring to sailing kept us very confident and comfortable. Ignacio is a lifelong sailor and among their extensive experience, he and Judit have multiple transatlantic crossings under their belts. Their deep knowledge of the San Blas islands, reefs and traffic patterns from many years of sailing here had us anchored every day in beautiful locations with few others (they skillfully avoided some very popular spots that get overcrowded).
We are very active and generally pack our trips very full and are always on the go so we were a little worried we might be bored on a 5-day sailing trip. That is the last concern anyone should have. We were as busy as we wanted to be and had lots of options.
While the sailboat is 50 feet long, it felt smaller than I expected. At first I was a little concerned about that, but if turned out to be perfectly sized for the 4 of us plus Judit and Ignacio. The cabins and beds were nice and comfortable with my wife and I sharing the "master cabin", with the kids each having their own cabin.
We spent very high quality time together as a family and with our new friends, Judit and Ignacio relaxing totally undistracted by electronics, which was FANTASTIC. The lack of reliable cell service and no internet access coupled with the size of the sailboat resulted in some great conversations, laughs and really reconnecting away from our very busy lives. I had the time to read a novel (first time in a long time!), and we had time to play games as a family and truly reconnect totally away from high-paced western society.
The snorkeling was FAR beyond what we have experienced in many other locations, with incredible coral formations, unbelievably vivid fish of all shapes and sizes including several rays, a broad array of starfish and even dolphin, amid tropical islands so beautiful and virtually free of people that we felt that we had gone back in time.
We loved the genuine inquisitive and positive attitude that Ignacio and Judit brought to our experience. A sense of friendship quickly developed with them that really added to our trip. They have been in San Blas for years and their relationships with the Kuna definitely enhanced our trip. We were greeted with warm welcomes and handshakes at every island we visited (all the islands are privately "owned" by the Kuna) when we arrived and identified ourselves as with "Captain Ignacio". We ate extremely well based on what Judit and Ignacio had brought aboard supplemented by Ignacio and Judit's fishing (trolling and spear fishing). Two particularly memorable meals included a lunch served on Morrodub (dub means island is Kuna) and a PHENOMENAL Galician octopus dish Ignacio and Judit prepared for us one night. Another highlight was a hike Judit organized for us in the mainland jungle up to a beautiful peak overlooking the islands and then down through a river and several sets of small falls that we swam through complete with a Kuna purification at the last falls. We were led by Lisa, an extremely well respected member of the Kuna society. She toured us up through a Kuna cemetery that was unique and quite interesting.
Lisa returned to our sailboat with us and we bought 2 stunning molas from her. She is a locally renown master mola maker (molas are fabric stitching that have replaced traditional abdominal and lower back tattoos that disappeared after the Spanish conquistadors arrived). The quality of what we bought from Lisa was so much higher than anything we saw in Panama City and far less expensive and we have a great personal connection with it given the time we spent with her.
Judit and Ignacio's relationships with the locals came in very handy on our last day. Unexpected protests occurred the afternoon before we were to leave San Blas and were due to run for 4 days and closed the ONLY road into our pick up point. Quick action from Judit with all her connections allowed us to get last minute arrangements made to get us from San Blas to Panama City for our return flight. Judit took care of everything quickly and it was no issue (other than a tough 3-hour ride in what was little more than a motorized canoe in the open ocean to get us around the road closure and out). Without the relationships that Judit and Ignacio have we could very well have been stuck for 3 days.
I looked at several possible charter options in the San Blas islands and am so happy we went with Pantalasa Charters. After speaking with others who have been to San Blas, I HIGHLY doubt you could get these same kind of experiences all organized with others.
If you want an exceptional vacation in a pristine location with people you will quickly consider friends, book a trip with Pantalasa Charters. You will NOT regret it.
We sought out to visit the 360 pristine islands of San Blas, we wanted a diverse experience, not just one island, so we decided on a boat. We were two couples and we booked Pantalasa. This is the part of the review I am absolutely destroyed to type: It was one of the most memorable three days we have ever spent on vacation, and we don’t want anyone to know about this wonderful boat and these amazing people, but I promised Judit that I would write an honest review, so I have to be honest. Arriving at Pantalasa, a 50-foot sailboat is half the adventure: A drive from Panama City to San Blas Dock over mountain and hill that is half roller coaster, half Grand Prix, a water taxi ride that lasted 45 minutes, and meeting Judit and Nacho for the first time with a comically laughable amount of luggage – seriously, just ask them – we were epically over packed. The sailboat is an immaculate haven and we spent three amazing nights sleeping under a million stars with trade winds keeping us cool, the cabins were comfortable and wonderful. I am not going to say that Judit and Nacho went out of their way to impress us because I can only imagine that they treat all of their guests equally well – we had three solid amazing meals, with cold wine and beer, and fresh caught seafood, every day. We looked forward to every meal and every bite, and we even begged for some of the recipes. Our hosts know the Kuna Yala communities and their people’s customs and cultures, and they were both a delightful combination of historian, adventure guide, chef and sailor. We had a local artist visit the boat with her Mola’s, we shopped off a local floating grocery. Our adventures took us snorkeling to see a massive array of colorful fish, Rays, Starfish and a Sunken Boat; we anchored near islands that we can truly say were postcard worthy. My significant other was in the water from sun up to sun down. We visited a local Kuna Community for dinner on the last evening of our stay. One member of our party had a bit of an issue with mobility, Judit provided assistance in a guided snorkel and even ensured that disabilities weren’t a roadblock to enjoying the sea, the Pantalasa has a little boat to transfer those less mobile to and from the islands, as well as snacks and beer/soda. We had many laughs and shared some great stories, and took a nap or two underneath the sails in the afternoon after a few cold Balboas. We fell in love with our new friends, my September sister, Judit and the whistling Skipper, Nacho. We will go back to visit San Blas, and will only go with Pantalasa. Our only regret is not staying more than three days. Next time we will stay much longer, and we hope our new friends will welcome us as openly as they did the first time….especially with a lot less luggage, but we will still bring Beer, Whiskey and Floaties!
We have spent a week in Panama. The first two days we visited Panama City, the old town and Panama Channel, a very interesting visit for all the family. The third day, we started our little adventure, crossing the jungle with a confortable SUB that picked us up in the hotel in Panama City, everything perfectly organized by Judith and Igancio. When we reached San Blas (Kuna Yala for the inhabitants there) someone was waiting for us to reach Lola, the fantastic sailing boat where we spent four days and nights. We had never had such and experience before and we definitely recomend and will repeat. Our kids (11 and 8) loved living in a boat, everything was amazing for all of us. Turquoise water, thousends of colourfull fish, turtles, stingrays were swiming pacefully around us and... dolphins.... Everyday pods of dolphins would join for our sailing... Days flew by in the sailing boat, with time for swiming and snorkeling, sunbathing, eating the delicious meals Judith and Ignacio prepared for us, reading and enjoying the views of this magnificent land, just like in paradise
We had a lifetime experience this end of the year and the start of the new one with Pantalasa.
Judit and Ignacio are the main reason that made this trip a success. Constantly cheerful, they made us feel like home since the first moment we arrived. There were a lot of laughs, improvised "drums" concerts with the cooking pots and delicious food. I couldn't anticipate that I would eat those delicious meals in such a remote place, in the middle of nowhere.
Moreover, San Blas is a dream come true. We enjoyed every single minute that we spent there. Snorkeling in cristalline waters, sailing to dreamy islands and observing the stars at night (few times in my life I have seen so many stars).
I would highly recommend this experience.
I'm a normal guy, not used to sailing. When we decided to go on a boat for 4 days, I got a little bit scared. Seasickness, boredom, lack of space, problems sharing with others... Fortunately, none of the above happened, instead it was one of the nicest experiences of my life. Let me be clear about it: I didn't know Ignacio and Judit before arriving and when I left, somehow, I felt that I was leaving some friends behind.
Now the practical stuff. Not too much sailing, only to move from one island to the other. For my taste, absolutely balanced. The place, San Blas, the least visited area. Beautiful as heaven. The paradise islands a child would paint. Wonderful snorkling (all provided). Food on the boat. Great. Ignacio is a very talented cook and, as you can imagine, fresh fish or lobsters. All served with nice wine. And last, they are very friendly and know how to empathize with the customers needs. If you want to read, they will leave you alone, if you want to chat they will offer interesting topics to discuss.
Many thanks for such a delightful experience Pantalasa.