Peaceful little Portobelo on Panama’s Caribbean coast with its unrivalled sea views, secluded white-sand beaches and backdrop of lush, tropical jungle should be a busy tourist spot. It remains, however, a tranquil town with an African art and music scene whose roots lie in Congo. It’s hard to imagine that this was once one of the busiest ports in the Americas, a major trading hub, and the embarkation point for gold and silver, which was brought by mules from Peru and Bolivia and was destined for the Spanish Main. Vestiges of cannoned fortresses endure and watch over the spot where Sir Francis Drake came to rest in 1596.
In contrast to the West-Indian influenced Bocas del Toro islands, the archipelago of San Blas hosts the indigenous culture of the Kuna Yala indians, who have enjoyed autonomy since the 1920s. The string of 400 islands includes tiny islets with a just few coconut palms to over forty which are inhabited. The Kuna Yala maintain a deeply traditional, communal lifestyle based at their bamboo, palm-thatched residences, surviving from fishing and agriculture. These conservative people welcome sensitive visitors to their gorgeous palm-dotted beaches; a few days here is a unique experience.
Things to do
We proudly offer the widest range of activities, excursions and one-of-a-kind experiences across all our destinations, tried and tested personally by our travel experts.
Explore Spanish fortresses and pirate history
Go snorkelling in the Panamanian Caribbean
Meet the Kuna indians of San Blas
Panamanian Caribbean kayaking adventure
Where to go when - our guide to Portobelo and San Blas Islands
The weather in Portobelo and San Blas Islands is wide and varied
Portobelo was once one of the busiest ports in Latin America, while the San Blas Islands sit at the most northerly point of the isthmus extending out into the Caribbean Sea. This region is best visited in Dec - Apr, when rainfall is liminal and temperatures remain balmy and warm. The rest of the year ushers in monsoon-like downpours.View our Portobelo and San Blas Islands weather guide
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Juliet Ellwood - Travel Expert
After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and History and having been fascinated by Latin America since childhood by the book featuring photos of Nazca, Juliet first visited the region in 2003. Since then, Juliet has visited the majority of countries in Latin America but has particularly extensive experience with Peru, a country she loves for many reasons but not least, its incredible archaeological richness and delicious food!
Charlotte Daubeney - Travel Expert
Charlotte's fascination with Latin America began with a family holiday to Belize. She went on to study Spanish in school and at university before spending a year living in Santiago, Chile.
Ben Line - Travel Expert
Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.
Sally Dodge - Travel Expert
A former Journey Latin America tour leader, Sally spent 7 years working, travelling and living throughout Latin America before returning to the UK to help people arrange their own adventures to this wonderful destination.
Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Expert
Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours sales team.
Heloise Buxton - Travel Expert
Heloise started her Latin American journey as an exchange student in Santiago, Chile. With extended summer holidays this was the perfect opportunity to backpack through Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.