Beaches & Snorkeling
Local tours are included in the price of lodging, but to neighboring islands and attractions only. The beaches at Isla Hierba are the closest to El Porvenir, and visitors to lodges near that island normally head here when they want to loll in the sun. A popular snorkeling site nearby is Isla Perro, which has a sunken ship just off the coast. A stone's throw away is the Isla Pelicano, with fine white-sand beaches. For the best snorkeling, you'll need to head out to Cayos Holandéses, a chain of utterly perfect islands ringed with blue water and coral, and home to more marine life than you'd find closer to the heavily fished area around El Porvenir. There is also a wreck reef that has sunk many drug-running boats from Colombia. There are no tourism facilities. Private sailboats and yachts like to hang out around the Cayos; getting here requires extra time (2-3 hours round-trip by boat from El Porvenir), and extra money ($150-$200/£75-£100) depending on the price of gas and number of people). The Cayos are roughly equidistant from El Porvenir and Río Sidra, about 20km (13 miles).
Adventure-Tour Outfitters & Activities
Kayaking -- There is no outfitter with more experience operating in the comarca, or one that is more dedicated to preserving the Kuna Yala culture, than Xtrop (tel. 317-1279; www.xtrop.com), which is short for Expediciones Tropicales. The Panama City-based company is highly respected, specializing in sea-kayak tours with an emphasis on nature and culture, and employing only local Kuna guides. Xtrop, which works with companies like Mountain Travel Sobek in the U.S., has received permission from Kuna chiefs to operate in some of the areas that are richest in marine life (they call them "aquatic trails"), and they have access to areas no one else can go, including forested coastal areas. Best of all, Xtrop is very active in developing programs in the region for sustainable tourism, so you can feel good about how your money is spent. Trips are from 3 nights to a week long, and lodging is in tents or huts. Xtrop can also book just lodging for you, if that's the only service you need.
Hiking & General Tours -- Ecocircuitos (tel. 314-1586; www.ecocircuitos.com) has guided walks through PEMASKY (Project for the Study and Management of Wilderness Areas of Kuna Yala), a protected coastal jungle in the comarca around the road to Cartí Suitupo, that is ranked as one of the best trails in the world for spotting birds and diverse flora. Ecocircuitos also offers multiday trips around Panama that include a couple of days visiting islands in the comarca. Adventures in Panama (tel. 877/726-6222 in the U.S.; www.panamapeteadventures.com) can also book lodges for travelers having a hard time doing it on their own.
For a truly custom tour of the Kuna Yala Islands (or for that matter, anywhere in Panama) contact freelance guide Gilberto Alemancia, who oversees the Indigenous and Local Communities Department at the ATP (tel. 6688-4623; email@example.com). Gilberto has coordinated expeditions for National Geographic, Photo Safari, PhotoAdventure, Discovery Channel Adventure, and BBC, and is the go-to guy for all things Kuna. Fully bilingual and U.S-educated, Gilberto is himself a Kuna, and extremely knowledgeable about that culture's history and customs. With advance notice, he can organize specialized tours, set up boat transportation and camping trips, or even accompany visitors to the different islands, which can even include a stay at a traditional Kuna hut.
Sailing -- San Blas Sailing (tel. 314-1800; www.sanblassailing.com) is a French-owned company that has a fleet of monohull and multihull sailboats for up to eight passengers. They've been based in the comarca since 1997 and know the area intimately. Trips, which run from 4 to 14 nights and include meals, drinks, tours, and on-board accommodations, involve sailing around the islands, snorkeling, kayaking, and visiting Kuna villages. If you are looking for fine accommodations in the comarca, this is your best bet, but of course you'll spend all your nights on board. There have been customer complaints about poor communication and dangerous road conditions on the Llanos-Carti road, however, which is something you may want to keep in mind.