NEW YORK -- Beyond the canal, one of the most recognized images of
Panama is the mola, the applique that adorns the everyday dress of
the Kuna Indians who inhabit the San Blas Islands.
Clients shopping in Panama City will find this handwork
everywhere, fashioned into items from pocketbooks to pillows.
Clients cruising through the Panama Canal will anchor off the
islands where the Kuna paddle out in boats to sell their molas or
greet shore excursionists with their crafts on landings.
Clients opting for overnight stays will have a bit of time to
watch molas being made and select from among the finest.
They also will have time to swim, snorkel and dive or just swing
in a hammock.
The San Blas form an archipelago of roughly 365 islands, ranging
in size from desert islets with a few coconut palms to some 50
inhabited islands, as a chain stretching along the northeast
The Kuna are autonomous, self-governing people -- each community
has its own chief -- who live independently within the Republic of
Although Spanish is widely spoken, the Kuna have their own
language. The men fish and farm produce on their mainland
plantations; the women not only wear gold nose rings and earrings
but fashion their daily dress with handworked molas, whose designs
are based on geometric patterns, stylized fauna and flora and often
pictorial representations of current events or political
Although staying in the San Blas Islands -- and it's a shame not
to stay a night or two -- is no grand resort experience, it is the
essential island experience.
Top of the line in lodgings in the islands are the Kwadule
Eco-lodge, with several cabanas built over the sea, and the
Iskardup Eco-resort, with 14 comfortable bamboo cabanas; both have
private facilities and dining/bar areas.
No matter where clients overnight in the islands, they will be
going from airport landing strips to their hotels by dugout canoe,
which also is the transport method for interisland excursions and
Kuna kids going to school.
Daily flights leave from Panama City's domestic airport for El
Porvenir, the islands' biggest airport; however, charters are
available to this and other San Blas Islands.
Scheduled flights operate early-morning only, making it
difficult to make single-day excursions to San Blas, unless by
Making advance arrangements in the islands through a U.S. tour
company or Panama-based ground operator is close to essential;
avoid booking into the islands in the rainy months of June, July
For additional information, contact the Panama Tourism Institute
(IPAT) at (800) 231-0568 or visit the IPAT Web site at www.ipat.gob.pa.