adventurepanama paradisetravel

Sailing in the San Blas Islands

By Diana Proemm

Our trip started early, waking up at 4am to shower, eat breakfast and wait for our taxi to show up between 5am – 5:30am, which finally showed at 6:30am. Latin Americans at their finest never show up on time – although there seemed to be some confusion as the original 4×4 scheduled to pick us up broke down. Finally though, after a long anticipated wait, Trevor and I were off to the Caribbean Coast to board the 50-foot Catamaran called the Santana for my first sailing trip. The adventure started when we had to drive over the San Blas “hills” which replicated 40km of mountainous jungle terrain simulating a wooden roller coaster as our driver was trying to get two of our seven passengers to a designated spot on the coast in record time. I kept wishing I had some anxiety pills or something stronger at the time, as fear of something stopping us dead in our tracks would be around the next corner. Without any incidents, we reached the river where our 12-passenger boat would take the majority of the Santana sailors to the boat.


This was our first introduction to our fellow passengers of the Santana being 18 in total including our Captain Gisbert and the first mate Louis. The characters on the boat were three handsome Australian surfers with striking tans and glaring white teeth, two French Canadians traveling from Quebec to Argentina via motorcycle, two English ladies escaping work and school, two young German gals, one Australian super model, one Swiss German traveling for 6 months, a couple from Holland and one Korean traveling the world for a year – along with Trevor and I. After we were introduced to the boat and had brunch we motored to our first island. With haste, we all jumped into our suits and off the boat to catch some underwater snorkeling around a shipwreck with colorful fish and interesting reefs. The water was so clear and crystalline blue. We sailed to paradise.

Our new immediate family gorged on tasty meals, played, swam, laughed attempted self-guided yoga balancing on the front of the boat in the mornings and drank rum everyday while on our sailing trip. The second day of our voyage took us to immigration to get our stamp out of Panama, then 2 hours to another island where in route we were joined by a pod of dolphins. At this second island, we had a Barbeque lunch with the Kuna Yala natives who provided fresh coconut water! We explored the island and the underwater bliss in the afternoon with the magical marine show of minnow type fish surrounding us as we swam in kaleidoscope fashion.

Long, lazy afternoons encouraged those with a little more energy to try their hand at jumping off the boat in various ways. Izzy had us all beat with his “Monsieur Monsieur.” I managed to pull off a front flip, but that was the extent of my craziness.

The anticipation was rising on Day three, as we knew we were headed to the open sea that evening after dinner. Many of us had never sailed the open sea before (including myself) and we all were pondering what that was going to be like, and who would puke overboard first. Before we set sail though, more snorkeling and island exploration, soaking in the last hours in paradise.

As we set full sail away from the sunset further into the Caribbean, the wind at our side, we relaxed into a gentle sway that would stay with us for around 40 some hours. We spent two nights and 1 and half days at sea before seeing the land of Colombia on our Starboard side. Riley, one of the Australians caught a Yellow fin Tuna the first morning at sea and fresh Sashimi was served for lunch! Reading or doing much of anything served purposeless during our day at sea and most of us slept a lot due the copious amounts of Dramamine taken, and the boat rocking back and forth. I slept like a baby being cuddled by a new mother in a rocking chair with the movement of the 2-3 meter waves on the open ocean.


On day five with the land of Colombia in sight, it wasn’t long until we reached the port of Cartagena. My eagerness of reaching land was high, but was feeling emotional about leaving the boat I had come to call home, along with my newfound friends. Stepping onto land after five days of being on the sea my body felt like it was still on the ocean and a slight queasiness ensued that lasted for a few hours after.

We said our goodbyes and went on our separate ways to our hostels in Cartagena. Trevor and I slept soundly that night on still ground. Walking on solid ground and exploring the city the next day felt marvelous. Our fellow sailors were staying at neighboring hostels so we all met up for a nice dinner in the historic district and continued to grow our friendship before saying our final goodbyes.

The Bigger Picture  uses my love for photography to capture real people using recreation to gain wellness and happiness. Diana Proemm is a Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist (CTRS) with a photography and travel problem. She provides RT consulting and photography services throughout the USA and beyond.

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