Bocas del Toro, las Perlas or the San Blas Islands. Which is the Best Sailing Destination in Panama?

Panama has for long been the favourite yacht charter destination for many of those who seek a true sailing holiday. It’s up to you to choose the location that best suits your needs, either in the Caribbean or the Pacific.

Located south of the hurricane zone, Panama, unlike the rest of the other sailing destinations in the Caribbean such as for example the BVI, Antigua, the Grenadines or St. Martin has never been hit by any major hurricane and is also not on the way of any tropical storm. With this info, it’s no wonder both the Caribbean and Pacific side of Panama are a great year-round attraction for boaters and yacht charter enthusiasts alike.


The main cruising attractions in Panama are the 365 islands of the San Blas region and that is simply because of it’s wondrous uniqueness, but there is more to Panama than just San Blas; Bocas del Toro also in the Caribbean side like San Blas and las Perlas on the Pacific side, also offer all-inclusive catamaran charters and must be considered as an option when traveling. There are few other sailing areas in panama that we will not consider in this post and this is because they are either too small, isolated or do not have the minimum safety requirements.

What are the differences between these 3 main cruising locations in Panama and what should you know before booking a sailing charter in one of them?


HOW TO REACH THE SAILING LOCATIONS

  • Las Perlas: to get to the archipelago of las Perlas on a sailing charter you usually embark the night before in Marina Flamingo in Panama City. Next morning you will start sailing at 6:00 Am and after 12 hours you will reach Las Perlas. From there you can easily sail to the rest of the locations.

  • Bocas del Toro: book a one hour flight that departs from Albrook terminal in Panama City to Bocas del Toro’s main island Isla Colon. Once in the main island, you can easily access your catamaran/sailboat with a quick taxi ride. Main cruising grounds in Cayo Zapatilla are around a 2 hours sail.

  • San Blas islands: take a 40 min private flight to the heart of San Blas also from Albrook terminal in Panama City or take a 4 hour land/water taxi transfer from Panama City to the catamaran

TRANSFER COSTS

  • Las Perlas: taxi within Panama City to Flamingo marina is cheap but embarking and paying for one more charter night in order to sail 12 hours the next day can easily increase your charter quote by a couple of thousand $, so take that into consideration when booking your sailing charter in las Perlas.

  • Bocas del Toro: local flights from Panama City to Bocas del Toro departing from Albrook terminal in Panama City cost around $150/person/way and will put you right on the main island where your catamaran is most likely to be located.

  • San Blas islands: Road transfers from Panama City cost $75/person/way and the other option of a private plane for up to 8 guests costs $1,337.50/way. If you were 8 guests, then price/person/way is $167,

FOOD

  • Las Perlas: Food in this archipelago is very similar to the one found in Panama City since the proximity of capital makes it easier to provision there.

  • Bocas del Toro: The busy main island and the adjacent Bastimentos islands offer a variety of both international and local restaurants

  • San Blas islands: Cuisine in San Blas is elaborated mainly with the fish and live lobster and other sea delicacies that the Kuna indigenous bring us to our catamarans. Tropical fruits grown in the jungles around are also provided to us by the locals.

NATURE

  • Las Perlas: the Pacific side of Panama has always been a major spot for whale watching while on season (August - September), but bring a rain coat because those months mark the peak of the raining season. Fish are plenty in las Perlas and snorkelling is a must although visibility can be poor most of the times because of the abundance in plancton and other organisms. Commercial/sport fishing have made their mark in the recent years. Mosquitos are present throughout most of the islands and anchorages

  • Bocas del Toro: Caribbean tropical fish are abundant in the non fishing areas of this archipelago. Reefs and corals that are outside of the wave breaking zone can be easily visited. Snorkeling is also a must but due to the proximity of the rivers around the sailing area, mud on the water can make water visibility poor at times. Mosquitos are abundant in some places, including anchorage