Panama's Colorful Coast
The vibrant people of the San Blas Islands
Photos by Matt Payne
The island of Ukupseni, or Playon Chico in Spanish, is one of more than 400 that make up the beautiful San Blas Islands off the northern coast of Panama’s Guna Yala territory, in the Caribbean Sea. It is a tiny and tightly occupied indigenous community of 3,000 Guna (or Kuna) Yala, one of seven indigenous groups across Panama.
I found the indigenous-owned and -operated Yandup Island Lodge through a company called Greenspot Travel, which puts together trips across Central America, and prides itself on providing guests with culturally immersive experiences to accompany moving adventures in nature. Yandup itself is a modest but beautiful eco-lodge that occupies its own small island, a 10-minute boat ride from Ukupseni, and features 10 over-the-water bungalows, its own beach and daily excursions to the surrounding mangroves and deserted tropical islands. There, guests can snorkel spectacular reefs, eat lobster plucked fresh from the water and relax while gazing out into the uninterrupted sea.
(pictured above) The Guna didn’t traditionally keep birthdays, so this elder Guna’s age is unknown
With no cell service, no Wi-Fi and endless beauty, it is an ideal place to disconnect from life and reconnect with your spirit – but no experience can compare to an afternoon visiting and learning about the native Guna Yala and experiencing their way of life. The Guna are believed to be the second shortest group of people in the world; they have the largest per capita number of albinos in the community and were the first autonomous indigenous territory in Panama. If you’re into color, the women’s traditional dress is nothing shy of kaleidoscopic.
► The coast of Panama is beautiful in many ways - see below for more of Matt's captivating pictures from these tranquil islands.