Sailing the Beautiful San Blas Islands

It’s crazy to think we have completed the South American part of our honeymoon adventure! 3 months have totally flown by. Our last stop in Colombia was Cartagena, which was also the starting point for our incredible 4-day sail to Panama via the beautiful San Blas islands.

We’d been looking forward to our trip with Ave Maria Sailing ever since we booked it. Although Joe has sailed in Croatia before, I am a complete boat newbie so I was super excited just to BE on a boat as well as spend 3 days in the Caribbean paradise that is San Blas.

The day before our scheduled departure from Cartagena we met the captain and his partner, Paul and Sindry, as well as the rest of our shipmates – a young German guy, Swiss guy, older German couple, Swiss/Spanish newlyweds, and two American guys our age. A good mix of people! Everyone seemed really excited for our ocean adventure.

The next day, after stocking up on last minute supplies (sea sickness tablets, suncream, mosquito spray, beer…) we met the boat at the marina ready for our evening sail and it wasn’t long until we were leaving the bright lights of Cartagena behind. Adios South America, you’ve been awesome!

Day 1

So I think it’s safe to say nobody really slept well the first night. Sleeping on a boat was new for most of us so we were all pretty restless due to the waves. The boat itself though was really spacious and although it had been designed to sleep 14, Paul and Sindry only ever take a maximum of 10 passengers so it’s a bit less crowded with 12 in total. Paul sailed through the night and Sindry took over in the morning. That is until Sailor Joe stepped up and took charge of steering for a while.

And he did pretty well! Especially considering he only just realised we were sailing to Panama and not Costa Rica AND he also managed to avoid a huge cruise ship. Good job Joe! So proud.

Day 2

After a second night of open seas (and a pretty rough one at that, the 5m waves made one of the American guys fall out of bed, and he had a top bunk!), we arrived in paradise! Isla Coco Banderas was our home for 24 hours and what a home it was.

The island is tiny, uninhabited and totally beautiful. The biggest decision we had to make was where to build our bonfire and we basically spent our whole time snorkelling, sunbathing and dozing in a hammock. We felt like we were in the movie Castaway and half expected to find Tom Hanks and Wilson camping out on the beach.

We had such an awesome time! The snorkelling was great, it was like being in an aquarium and we even managed to see a manta ray!

That night we enjoyed a beaut sunset on the boat with a couple of beers before heading back to the island. Yes, we were spending the night on our own tropical island!! We cosied up in hammocks and fell asleep under the stars… and under coconut palms, which gave us a fright a few times when coconuts randomly fell during the night. Man, they are flipping LOUD!

Day 3

Waking up in a hammock and watching the sunrise – so amazing! I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, I’m so glad we got the chance to sleep on an uninhabited island. I’m also so glad it didn’t rain, that would’ve been a bit of a disaster.

After breakfast Captain Paul sailed us over to another corner of paradise, Isla Oro. If we’re honest, it wasn’t quite as nice as Isla Coco Banderas. A lot of rubbish from the sea had washed up on to part of the beach, which was a real shame. It’s awful to see how much plastic ends up in the ocean. People, let’s not litter in our seas.

Other parts of the island though were pristine and really beautiful. It was fun being able to walk around the whole thing in 10 minutes! There was also great snorkelling spots close by, including an old ship wreck which was now the home of so many fish.

Another great thing about Isla Oro was its neighbours. We swam out to the tiniest island we’ve ever seen which literally only had about three palm trees on it. In the afternoon we took the dingy and paddled over to Oro’s bigger neighbour then treated ourselves to a cerveza in the sea. That was also when Joe spotted another ray and tried to get a casual photo with the GoPro… while trying not to spill his beer and dodging waves. Laziest photography ever.

Day 4

On our final day at sea we moved from Isla Oro to the island where the Panamanian immigration is based. We were ready to be officially signed into Panama!

The island itself wasn’t so pretty and it was a shame that we couldn’t have spent another day on an uninhabited island, but we managed to entertain ourselves by having our own International Diving Championship with the American guys, Michael and Ian. Joe and I did an incredible synchronised normal dive off the boat whereas Michael and Ian’s synchronised backflip was more of a backflop. Michael flipped like a pro but Ian just let gravity take him. It definitely looked painful from where we were standing!

We then decided to get into the festive spirit… and wear our Santa hats! We’d had the idea of getting a photo of ourselves in the hats and using it to make a Christmas card for our family. Our attempt at the beach in Cartagena wasn’t quite right so we gave it a go on the boat. We’re pretty happy with how it turned out!

We were in for a stormy night as we set sail for Portobelo on the mainland. Sindry had cooked up delicious feasts for us all week and for our final night she made a yummy stew with potatoes, which made us feel all cosy even though the weather was crazy outside. Such a delicious last supper on Ave Maria.

Day 5 – Time for the Mainland

We woke up in the lovely sheltered bay of Portobelo and headed to the mainland after breakfast. Everyone on the boat had been so lovely, it felt weird us all going our separate ways after spending so much time together on the boat. And being crammed on a bus blasting reggaeton music was definitely a shock to the system after 4 days at sea! It took 2 busses and a taxi to get us to our hostel in Panama and by the time we got there, we already felt like we needed some more R&R in San Blas.

To Paul and Sindry on Ave Maria – thanks so much for the amazing journey!

To all our loved ones who chipped in to get us our incredible San Blas gift – thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

To Panama – thanks for the crazy welcome!

We LOVED our sailing trip to the San Blas islands! Is it on your bucket list? Have you already visited? Let us know! Leave us a comment and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for more travel photos.

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