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A view of a canoe floating off the coast of Port San Blas Islands Panama

San Blas Islands, Panama

An archipelago of 365 palm-fringed isles surrounded by coral reefs, the San Blas Islands (known to locals as Guna Yala, its official name since 2011, or by its former name of Kuna Yala) lie off Panama’s northeast Caribbean coast. Fewer than 50 of the islands are inhabited, and on ones close to the mainland, residents live in thatched bamboo houses and get around by dugout canoes. Some outer islands are coconut plantations with a lone caretaker as the sole resident. An autonomous province of Panama since 1924, with its own constitution approved in 1945, the San Blas Islands are governed by the Kuna Indians, whose ancestors arrived in the early 19th century from the mainland along the Colombian–Panamanian border. The men farm bananas, plantains and coconuts, while the women, colorfully dressed and adorned with nose rings, metal bracelets and beads wrapped around their ankles and wrists, sell their handiwork to tourists—beautiful reverse appliqué cloth panels known as molas. Here, you can experience a genuine slice of Central American culture from an indigenous people who are staunch protectors of their traditions and environment.