San Blas Kuna maintain their culture


November 06, 1994|By New York Times News Service

Q: We will be cruising the southern Caribbean in December and will be going to the San Blas Islands. Information about them seems hard to come by.

A: The archipelago, which extends in a narrow strip off northern Panama, is made up of what the guidebooks say are 365 islands. The Kuna Indians, to whom the islands are home, put the number at 378.

The islands range in size from relative specks with a couple of coconut palms to those with hundreds of Kuna, who exercise internal autonomy over the archipelago. They have their own economic system, language, customs and culture, with distinctive brightly colored dress, music and dance. If you are tempted to take photographs of them, be aware that it is #F customary to pay about 25 cents for each picture.

Some of the islands are uninhabited. The capital is El Porvenir, where the airport is situated. From there boats go out to the other islands, many of which offer good fishing, swimming and snorkeling.

There are a handful of hotels and restaurants on the islands. Two of the most popular places are the 14-room Hotel Anai, (507) 39-3025, on nearby Wichub-Wala island ($55 a person for three meals and a guided boat tour of the islands), and the 21-room Hotel San Blas, (507) 62-5410, that is five minutes away by boat on Nalunega. The trip costs $37.50.

Several airlines operate 10-seater planes between Panama City and Porvenir, including Ansa, (507) 26-7891, and Aerotaxi, (507) 64-8644. All flights leave Panama at 6 a.m., arriving at 6:30 a.m. Return flights leave the next morning at 7 a.m., although day trips can be arranged on Sunday through a hotel or with one of the many travel agencies in Panama City. Round-trip fares are $50.

Chadwick Travel Service, Post Office Box J, Balboa, Panama, (507) 52-2741, fax (507) 28-1409, offers round-trip fare to Porvenir, accommodation at the Anai, meals and a tour of the island for $110 a person. For two nights at the Iskardup Ecoresort, the price is $266 a person based on a minimum of six passengers. The tour runs to Dec. 15.

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