Puerto Lindo and San Blas Islands

Written by Kyle Hahn

Photos with captions by Kassandra Henning

December 1, 2015 to December 29, 2015

From our last post, we had just arrived in Puerto Lindo, Panama.  Puerto Lindo is a tiny town on what is called the “Costa Arriba”, which has a strong Afro-Caribe influence.  It is an hour and a half bus ride north from Colon.  The town consists mainly of a strip of concrete houses along  a 1/2 mile section of waterfront. A new marina, Linton Marina, nearby is currently under construction, but providing docking and water.  There are only a few places to have a meal, and the local stores don’t have much to offer aside from cold coca colas, bread, rice, beans, candy, and canned tuna.  We were only planning on staying for a couple days, before heading further east to the San Blas Islands, but circumstances led us to stay for over a week.

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This is a screenshot of our Delorme tracking from Puerto Lindo to our last day in the San Blas. 


Restaurant Casa X was a common hangout for us. The family who owns and operates it are very kind. They have a dinghy dock sailors are welcome to use whether they have a meal or not. 


Restaurant Casa X also has e this pack of nice white dogs. We counted 10 one day. Siesta in paradise.


A dinghy ride through the mangroves will take you to a marina, Panamarina, and on to the neighboring town, Casique.


Dinghy riding with Rico.


On Isla Grande is a light house. We went by dinghy, had a nice walk and enjoyed the view. 


View from Isla Grande out to the Atlantic Ocean. 


View of our anchorage in Puerto Lindo.

One of the first reasons we decided to stay longer was due to an alternator problem we were having.  Our alternator had stopped generating electricity a week or two prior, and I finally ran all the tests I could think of to diagnose our problem.  Not having a working alternator was not much of a problem for us, since we do not have many electrical demands, and the solar panels provide plenty of electricity to keep our batteries topped off.  Regardless, I took the alternator off, Dauphin and I took it apart, and we diagnosed the issue.  A corroded copper wire which connects to the brushes had broken off.  We decided to take the bus 2 hours to Colon to find a shop that could repair it.  We luckily found a shop that carried various alternator brushes (for $1.50/brush) but didn’t work on alternators. We needed someone who could solder it back on.  After asking around, we found Isaac’s Repair Shop which was exactly what we needed.  Although he didn’t speak English, I showed him where I thought it was broken, and he immediately invited me inside his shop to start working on it.  He layed it on the table and taught me how to test various aspects of the alternator, and explained how they work in detail.  He had me help him take it apart, put the new brushes in, and run the new tests.  I was excited and grateful that he took the time to give me a lesson on alternators and how to fix them.  Within 30 minutes we were done, and he would only accept $15 for the repair.  Friendliest mechanic I have ever met!  It was a successful day in the boat world, where most projects take many more hours and days than are usually expected.


We rode chicken busses more times than we can count. Often times the busses are crowded, three to a seat and standing in the aisle. Some drivers will play loud reggaetone music. Dauphin often joked he is going to miss it too much and needs to buy Chicken Bus CDs before departing Panama. 


Isaac is the mechanic who helped us with our alternator. He speaks some English and has a brother living in Texas. We asked him if he would ever live in the States. He shook his head and with a smile said “No. The bad women.”


Kyle and Isaac trying to take the thing off of the thing so the thing will work right.


Transcultural repairing

After our alternator was good to go, we provisioned our boat to stay in the San Blas for a month.  The nearest grocery store was a 45 minute chicken bus ride away.  The buses were always packed with people, sometimes fitting over 100 people on one magic school bus. Our buddy boat, “Monarch”, was also provisioning, as well as getting their sails repaired by a sailmaker in Puerto Lindo.


Down come Monarchs sails.


Tying up the sails into manageable bundles.  

At last, we picked our weather window and decided it would be a good time to depart for the San Blas Islands.  Unfortunately, Rico the parrot decided to take flight the evening before our departure, just before a downpour of rain.  His parents (Dauphin and Jody) were worried and decided they would stay another day or 2 to search for him.  We decided to stay and help look, in solidarity. In under 24 hours, many of the locals had gone in search of Rico, and someone found him and brought him back to them. We spent around 9 days during this stop in Puerto Lindo.  We departed December 10th from Puerto Lindo at 0600, arriving to the San Blas Island of Chichime before sunset.


Winnie sailing in San Blas


Winnie sailing in San Blas. 


Winnie sailing in San Blas. Thank you Dauphin for the photos!


Beautiful San Blas water.



Coffee on Monarch in the mornings was a generous treat.

The next 3-4 weeks would be spent exploring various islands within the San Blas Archipelago. The San Blas Islands are part of the region of Kuna Yala.  It is difficult to describe another culture such as Kuna Yala from the perspective of a passing sailboat, whom doesn’t speak Kuna, and cannot begin to infiltrate the complexities and variables that exist within their society.  I’ll try to say a bit, but know I am only writing a brief summary of the small amount we saw and understood.  The region is within Panama, but is autonomously governed by the Kuna Indians.  The Kuna’s have lived on the islands, and nearby mainland for 1000’s of years. They have been able to resist domination, colonialization, and the disintegration of their traditions.  The fact that the islands are self governed with nearly no tourism infrastructure make them very unique.  Each island community is governed by the Saila (chief) and the congresso.  Some islands have chosen to remain very traditional, whereas others have adapted to conveniences of the modern world.   The most traditional villages consisted of thatched roof huts, dirt paths, dugout canoes, coconut and banana farming, fishing, but disallowed things such as television, cameras, and recorded music.  On the other end of the spectrum, some villages consist of concrete houses, with paved pathways, sometimes a runway nearby, outboard engines, the common “Claro” dish on the roofs, and the influence of television and even internet very evident.  All of the Kuna’s that we met were laid back, stress free, and seemed to smile very easily.  It was a great experience to peek into their way of life.

The San Blas are difficult to reach by way of land, and without a boat, some of the most beautiful islands would still be out of reach.  One of our favorite locations, nicknamed the Swimming Pool, is a perfect anchorage in bright turquoise water, extremely clear due to its distance from the mainland.  There are at least 5 main islands surrounding the anchorage, with numerous reefs to dive on and search for fish. There are just a few thatched huts, on a couple of the islands, where local Kunas tend coconut trees and fish.  We were lucky that a vegetable boat stops by every 4 days or so, with fruits and veggies from the mainland.  Some locals also brought us crab one day, so we had a feast with our friends Dauphin, Jody, and Rico.  Both “Monarch” and “Winnie”  would stay a few days in one place, then decide to pull anchor and sail a short distance to another island. Most days were filled with walking around the islands, dinghy explorations, and snorkeling.  I was trying to get better at spear fishing with the spear pole that my friend Tyler got for me before we left on the trip, but I only managed to hit one small fish.  Dauphin gave us some lessons in snorkeling and free diving a couple days.  We anchored in about 8 different locations through out the San Blas in the 3-4 weeks we stayed.  When we were anchored near land, a common adventure was to take our dinghy up the small rivers to explore, as well as swim in the fresh water, collect water for drinking, and do our laundry with the other locals.  For those familiar with the San Blas, or are into google earth, we made stops in Chichime, “Swimming Pool”, Maquina Island (aka Mola Maker Island), Rio Azucar, Rio Diablo, and East Lemmon Cays.  With Monarch’s 20HP dinghy, we made trips to many nearby islands as well.  We spent Christmas Eve hanging out with Douglas aboard “Gillean”, and had Christmas pizza with “Monarch” the following day.  For New Year’s Eve, we were anchored in the East Lemmon Cays watching fireworks all across the horizon.

January 1st, 2016, we departed the East Lemmon Cays, said goodbye to “Monarch” who was going to stay a little bit longer, and headed towards Puerto Lindo.


Isla Maquina. Winnie is anchored at the Gaigar Anchorage. 


Isla Maquina. Secured the dinghy next to the ulus.


The school boat


The Congresso building on Isla Sidra neighboring Isla Maquina. We arrived on the day of a Chicha ceremony. Chicha is a fermented sugar cane drink. Men and women were divided into different buildings. Men brought coconut shells to the buildings each only carrying one shell. We didn’t want to intrude so we refrained from entering the huts. 



Isla Maquina. On Isla Maquina and Isla Sidra each house had a solar panel and a 12 volt battery. 


A house on Isla Sidra. Propane is subsidized by the Panamanian government and most use propane to cook with.


A house on Isla Maquina. Earlier there was a crowd watching Harry Potter.


Isla Sidra. We didn’t get the story on these stuffed people. We saw them a few times occasionally with a political sign. 


Pig pen on Isla Sidra


Isla Maquina. When the women heard visitors arrived on their island they brought out their molas to sell. Molas are a common craft in the San Blas. It is a form of storytelling through textiles. 



Children are always excited to see Rico.



Two women wearing traditional clothing. Typically the headscarf is red with yellow print of animals or geometric. The blouses have molas on the front and back. The skirts are a rectangle piece of fabric tied at the waist. The fabric is bought from Colombian trading boats or Panama City. They are wearing a continuous string of beads around their calves and forearms. 

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Colombian trading boats come frequently to the San Blas islands. The Kunas sell their coconuts and bananas. The trading boats bring fuel and oil drums, clothing, food, plastic furniture, paper, pens, beads, fabric,  anything the Kunas are wanting to purchase. 


Mola Lisa came to our boat to sell us molas she and other women made. Mola Lisa is transgender. Only women are permitted by the Congresso to make molas. She explained some of the different patterns and designs. Each village’s Congresso decides what may be sewn on the molas. Traditional depictions offer protection and a gateway to heaven, such as yuca plants, geometric patterns, and medicine dolls. If a women dies while wearing a less traditional mola such as monkeys she may be called back to the monkeys and forever live with them in the trees. 




A mola with two yuca plants. The more traditional molas are often symetrical. The pink bird on the one at my side is not a mola. These are crafts for the girls to practice making molas. A mola has several layers of fabric. The shapes are cut out of the top fabric and the color underneath is what will show.  The pink bird is applique. Shapes are cut out of fabric and sewn on to one piece of fabric. 



A medicine doll. A family will have several dolls in their household. If a family member becomes sick the island’s medicine man or women will speak with the medicine doll who has been watching over the sick person and tell the medicine man or women what the sickness is and how it needs to be treated. The medicine doll must be fed, allowed to rest and if ignored will leave the household. 



Near Isla Sidra is a runway planes use to commonly use to fly in and purchase lobster from the Kunas.



We followed the runway and reached a trail through the banana, coconut and breadfruit trees.



In the traditional villages, each family will have an ulu for fishing and reaching mainland. Most are able to be rigged with a sail. 


We took our dinghy up Rio Azucar. A fresh water river on mainland. The men go up the river most days to tend to banana and coconut trees. 


Rio Azucar has beautiful crystal water. The smooth dark stones on the river bottom captured the sun’s heat. We had another fun nature spa day.



River baths are a step up from our cockpit bucket baths. 



We explored several islands of the San Blas and returned to the Swimming Pool. The beautiful water, protected anchorage, distance from mainland and heavily populated islands make the Swimming Pool paradise. It is the most tranquilo place we have been so far. 


One of the several vegetable boats visiting the Swimming Pool. We were able to buy fresh produce at least once a week without having to pick up anchor. 


Crab dinner on Monarch. Kyle is ready to start whacking. 


Swimming Pool anchorage


Swimming Pool anchorage


We are going to miss this view from our companionway hatch. The San Blas are a special place and we are very lucky to have our own boat and the opportunity to experience it. 



  1. Thank you for the pictures of the dogs. We adopted a sweet white puppy from Hans and his wife about 5 years ago when we were sailing through. Best dog ever!



  2. Hey you guys!! Happy Easter Weekend!!
    Thanks so much for the update!! I have been told Panama is a great place to visit and even retire. Looks like you guys found a very special place, but I am sure permanent residents are not welcome to many of them, and I understand why. Great to know such lovely and natural places still exist. I look forward to your next update, and wondering if you plan to spend some time on the SW side of Panama on the Pacific Coast side once you pass through the canal? I suppose I will find out. Enjoy!!



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