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Bahamas, BVI or the San Blas Islands, Which is Better?

Each destination has its own particularities and offer differentiated activities and highlights.


These 3 locations offer unique opportunities for a dream vacation. In this short guide we will go through the most relevant factors to help you decide the best Caribbean sailing charter destination according to you needs.


Who should visit?


BVI: The BVIs is for the most part the place to see and be seen. This destination does not tick all the boxes when it comes to a family destination but it sure is attractive for groups of friends and those who want to hang out at the bar and meet other boaters alike after their sailing day. Bareboaters with some sailing skills can rent the latest models of catamarans and enjoy the islands at their ease. Other minor yacht charter agencies offer a selection of boats that can be rented as bareboats or fully crewed.

Moorings base in Tortola, BVI
Moorings base in Tortola, BVI

Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: Distances here are longer than any of the 3 destinations and 30-40 miles sailing days are not uncommon. Best it to have some sort of sailing experience as a boater and specially being able to stand long passages. Also not really a family destination due to this factor but very attractive for those sailors looking for sailing experience in isolated locations and shallow waters.


Shroud Cays in the Exumas, Bahamas
Shroud Cays in the Exumas, Bahamas

The San Blas islands: Definitely not a hardcore sailing Meca, not a place for the avid sailors or those looking to see or be seen but more like a family oriented unique destination that provides an enriching experience. Short, 30 min island hops makes this location perfect for couples, families and groups of friends.


Coco Bandero Cays in San Blas
Coco Bandero Cays in San Blas

Weather and Seasons


BVI: During the high season in winter (December- April), trade winds can blow anywhere from 15-30 knots. Winds calm down starting May which marks the beginning of summer and the hurricane season which depending on the year can alter your sailing charter in the BVIs, so best is to have plan B on the table if sailing there during the central months. Expect hot and sunny conditions except in summer. Hot hot! this is tropical weather and having Air conditioning on your catamaran regardless of the season is worth considering.


Moorings base in Tortola after hurricane Irma
Moorings base in Tortola after hurricane Irma

Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: When cruising the Abacos and Exumas and due to the possible long passages, one must observe meteorological forecasts and decide the correct routing or risk nasty conditions. Same as the BVI, the high season in winter (December- April), trade winds can blow anywhere from 15-30 knots. Hurricanes or tropical storms in the Bahamas are not uncommon during the sumner, best is to stay from this location during the central summer months. Expect hot and sunny conditions except in summer.Having air conditioning on your catamaran is also worth considering


Bahamas sailing
Bahamas sailing

The San Blas islands: Milder weather conditions than the destinations above due to the dying trade winds and the location next to the Panama isthmus which alleviates much of the extreme weather that in occasions hit other major Caribbean sailing destinations. Hurricanes do not reach the San Blas islands. Expect to be hot and sunny throughout most of the year. Sailing in Tropical weather makes renting a catamaran in the San Blas islands with A/C a factor to consider.


Sunny and windless day in San Blas
Sunny day with no wind in San Blas

Natural Context


BVI: This location has a long history as a charter destination and lately and most importantly as place for large cruise ships to make stops. Although portrayed as a natural wonder by local travel agencies and tour operators, the reality is that over the years, the impact of mass tourism has somewhat affected important factors that normally attract nature loving visitors such as water visibility in some spots and lack of marine life. Massive inflow of investors and development has altered the landscape. If you have not visited other tropical sailing locations, you will be delighted with the BVI with its greenery-covered hillsides, beaches and the easiness of all, but once visited we recommend you to be quick, mark it as a done task and venture out into other sailing destinations with real unspoiled contexts. Mooring balls are preferred over anchoring in the BVI.


Tortola BVI
Tortola, BVI
Catamaran flotilla charter in BVI
Catamaran charter flotilla BVI
Tortola, BVI
Tortola, BVI

Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: remoteness of this sailing destination with flat deserted islands with little vegetation for the most part and some colorful small towns worth a stroll. Over 700 island and sandbars compose this large sailing destination. Anchoring or docking in small piers is common in these waters. The Bahamas offers the uber rich opportunities to purchase their own private islands. In The Bahamas, you'll be able to have a peek at the oceanfront villas of Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and many other celebrities and super rich folks. All inclusive resorts are also available in some parts.


The Exumas in the Bahamas
The Exumas in Bahamas
Bahamas scenery
Bahamas scenery
Residences in Nassau, Bahamas
Residences Nassau, Bahamas

The San Blas islands: these islands still remain unknown for the most part and even though some islands could be worth millions and millions of USD, the truth is that they are literally sold for a couple of hundred USD between Guna indigenous locals and families. The Guna law prohibits the sale of land to foreigners thus helping to keep the archipelago almost in its original state. Over 365 islands filled with coconut trees, white sand beaches and surrounded by crystal clear waters and pristine reefs filled with marine life.


Dutch Cays in San Blas archipelago, Panama
Dutch Cays in San Blas
Paradise island in San Blas catamaran charter, Panama
Coconut tree filled islands

Catamarans


BVI: has indeed the best catamarans with the latest models. This is the best location for catamaran enthusiasts and bareboating the flashiest Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot or Leopard through one one of the main charter agencies such as Moorings, DYC, Navigare or Sunsail is possible with little experience in sailing. Other minor agencies and catamaran proprietors also offer different types of boats.


Rental catamaran in the BVI
Catamarans for rent in the BVI

Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: The usuall agencies such as Moorings, DYC and Navigare are present in the main islands and are ready to take your reservation whether bareboat or all inclusive.


Exuma yacht charter
Exuma yacht charter

The San Blas islands do not have a huge range of the latest catamaran model but rather a small fleet of very well equipped and maintained boats with knowledgable and super competent crew. San Blas does have its own share of newer catamarans, but since the area has no marinas, no repair facilities and almost no easy provisioning, latest model catamarans which demand a high upkeep are very scarce. The latest catamaran modela do not necessarily have to offer the best experience since they can carry crew that does not have the ties with the Guna indigenous or the absolute control or local knowledge of the area. A nice catamaran is important but most important is the crew on board and how "local" they are. Only full all inclusive charters in San Blas.


Lagoon 450 catamaran charter in San Blas, Panama
Lagoon 450 San Blas
Salina 48 catamaran rental in San Blas
Salina 48 in San Blas

Highlights

BVI: Sailing in one of the new luxury model catamarans in the BVI is second to none. Heading over to a bar for your sundowners and mixing with the rest of the cruisers and putting to test your social skills in a festive atmosphere is also worth experiencing for some. Sun bathing and relaxing onboard is on the list of things to do. Snorkel is not as amazing as in the San Blas islands, but then again, if you have not snorkeled anywhere else, you will, find it great. You will need to include and pay any water toy of your choice with your charter reservation.


Soggy Dollar Bar in White Bay, BVI
Soggy Dollar Bar Location: White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI

Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: Sailing long stretches and enjoying the breeze is a must. Head ashore to meet the famous swimming pigs at Big Major Cay and sail to Allen’s Cays to watch the rare Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas. Go for a stroll around some of the tiny villages. Much like the BVI, Bahama has it share of places to unwind during happy hour. You will need to reserve any water toy and of your choice and prepay it with your charter reservation.


Swimming with pigs in Big Major, Bahamas, also known as Pig Beach
Swimming with pigs in Big Major, Bahamas, also know as "Pig Beach"

The San Blas islands: Pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters in an out-of-this-world context of more than 365 islands. Food served onboard is one of the highlights of San Blas. Meals served mainly consist of catch of the day bought from the indigenous in their wooden carved canoes. Top class snorkeling with abundant marine life and swimming with nurse sharks are some of the activities worth experiencing. Meeting the Guna indigenous and learning from their traditional ways in undeniably what sets apart this location from others around the world. Paddle boards, kayaks, snorkeling equipment and some catamarans even offer seabobs/sea scoorters in their list of free included water toys.


Swimming with Nurse sharks, or Sleeping sharks, named after its calmed nature. San Blas islands
Nurse sharks in San Blas
Guna indigenous of the San Blas islands, Panama
Guna indigenous
Catch of the day on board the Mambo Diablo Salina 48 catamaran
Catch of the day on board Mambo Diablo Salina 48 catamaran

Costs


BVI: Latest catamaran models come with high prices and on top of that consider these extra expenses:

  • captain

  • cook

  • provisioning

  • fuel and gas

  • water toys, kayaks, paddle boards etc.

  • mooring balls

  • dining


Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: same as the BVIs

  • captain

  • cook

  • provisioning

  • fuel and gas

  • water toys, kayaks, paddle boards etc.

  • mooring balls

  • dining.


The San Blas islands: only offers the simple approach of all inclusive charters with all catamaran expenses paid, including provisioning, fuel, gas etc aswell as captain and crew and all meals and drinks. One quote will cover all your expenses and there is no need to spend in anything else unless you want to bring home some local handcrafts or step ashore for a beer with the local indigenous.


Easiness of access: location


BVI: the most direct flight from North America to BVI is Miami (MIA), FL to Beef Island (EIS), BVI on American Airlines on a direct flight which will cost you around $1000/person. From Beef islands you may take a 30 minute taxi to Tortola, home of the biggest Caribbean charter fleet, which will cost you around $100


Map of the BVI
Map of the BVI

Bahamas with Exumas and Abacos: The national airline of The Bahamas ,Bahamas Air, flies to The Bahamas from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, landing at either Nassau (with seven nonstop flights daily) or Freeport (with two nonstop flights daily). Just so you have perspective of the long distances in Bahamas: The popular Pig Beach at Big Major Cay, Exuma is located 82 miles (132kms) away from Nassau and Little Exuma is located 155 miles (249kms) away from Nassau.


Map of the Bahamas
Map of the Bahamas

The San Blas islands: Panama City being a major hub has clear advantages and getting to Panama is quite easy from almost anywhere in the world. Flights costs from the US to Panama PTY are relatively low and various airlines make the trip with no stops, so better check you preferred online travel agency. Once in Panama City you may take one of the private flights we will offer you which will put you in San Blas in 40 minutes or you may take a road transfer that will lasts around 4 hours.


Map of the San Blas islands
Map of the San Blas islands

Conclusion

First and most important advice is to not get stuck visiting only to the same location over and over, year after year, take the plunge and try what other sailing destinations have to offer. Any of the options mentioned in this post will offer a great adventure and a long lasting memory if approached correctly. Check with the best sailing charter companies and compare. Read online reviews, check how responsive they are, ask for personalization of their services and the itineraries proposed. check their faqs. Do your homework, this is an experience of a lifetime.

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