With white sand and waving palms, the islands of the turquoise Archipiélago de San Blas of the Comarca de Guna Yala are a vision of paradise. This is home to the Guna people, the first indigenous group in Latin America to gain autonomy. Though they have had contact with Europeans since Columbus sailed these waters in 1502, clan identity and the traditional way of life remain paramount.
A decade ago the road to the port of Gardi (Cartí) was finished, making the region more accessible than ever. Still off the beaten track, this narrow, 373km-long strip on the Caribbean coast with 365 offshore islands stretches from the Golfo de San Blas to the Colombian border.
Community (ie populated) islands numbering four dozen are acre-sized cays packed with thatched huts, livestock and people. Visitors often prefer the more remote outer islands with fewer inhabitants. Some islands charge a landing/visitation fee.