Overview

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.

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Where to go when - our guide to Portobelo and San Blas Islands

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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Meet our team

Real Latin american experts

  • Lina
    Lina Fuller - Travel Expert

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Carrie
    Carrie Gallagher - Travel Expert

    A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours department.

  • Kathryn
    Kathryn Rhodes - Travel Expert

    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

  • Juliet
    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!

  • Paul Winrow Giffin
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Expert

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Sophie
    Sophie Barber - Travel Expert

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia and beyond to Antarctica.

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