Lodging in the San Blas Archipelago -- There are no mega resorts or five star hotels in the Kuna Yala Islands. Do not expect to find satellite TV, Internet, widespread telephone service, 24-hour electricity, or even laundry service at lodges and hostels here. This is Panama "unplugged," although there are two lodges in the eastern side of the comarca that provide a few creature comforts to satisfy travelers who do not relish "roughing it." If you're a particularly fussy traveler, you'll want to book with San Blas Sailing Adventures, which has luxury sailboats, or you might want to consider a different beach destination in Panama. Just outside the comarca's border, in the Colón Province, is the newly opened Coral Lodge, an elegant resort that uses El Porvenir as an arrival base and provides tours to islands within the comarca. Some hostels and lodges mentioned in this chapter now have an e-mail address, and some even have websites. E-mails are checked within 2 days; however, you might find it far more convenient to have a travel agency or tour operator book your stay, as most lodge owners speak little or no English. Also, because credit cards are not accepted in the region, you can charge your stay if booking with a tour operator or agency. It is highly recommended that you book ahead of time to secure a room or cabaña, and also to verify that a boat will be waiting at the airport dock to get you there. Spontaneous travelers who just show up will have better luck finding lodging in the El Porvenir area. All prices shown are per person, per night, and are all-inclusive, meaning three meals a day and local tours and transportation. Most hostels have Spanish-only guides, or you can go with a tour operator who will provide a bilingual guide during your trip.
One of the things that makes the Kuna Islands unique compared to other regions of Panama is that the Kuna Indians have not allowed foreign (or even Panamanian) investment on their lands, which accounts for the lack of resorts and high-end hotels favored by foreign investors. While some argue that this strictly enforced Kuna law has slowed possible economic development on the comarca, others believe it is the main reason the Kuna's culture has been able to survive and flourish. There has been recent talk of possibly changing this law in the future, but as of now, all hotels and lodging options must be Kuna owned and run. Personally, I think that the Kuna's determination to keep their land autonomous and free of foreign investments is what makes it so special; unlike Boquete, the Pacific Coast, and Bocas del Toro, which feel somewhat like tropical American/Canadian colonies, the San Blas Islands feel refreshingly free of overdevelopment and foreign encroachment, and as the islands become more and more popular with visitors, the tourism infrastructure will likely slowly catch up.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.