The Guna Yala people live in three separate “comarcas” or reservations in Panama. The largest population of Guna Yala inhabits the San Blas Islands. This archipelago on the northern Caribbean coast of Panama is made up of more than 370 islands (you could visit a different island everyday for a year and still have a few left over). They are a matrilineal society, meaning when they marry the couple will then live with the bride’s family and the groom will take her name.
Their economy subsists mainly on agriculture and fishing as well as international trade and tourism. A large part of their economy is based on their sale of coconuts. While in the islands, please do not remove any coconuts from the ground or trees, they are available for purchase and at 25 cents they are very reasonable. Sale of artisan goods such as bracelets and “molas” also provide additional income. Molas are lovely bright pieces of fabric with beautiful and intricate designs covering them. Though they may seem a little expensive to some backpackers, they are all hand stitched and extremely time consuming to make. A large mola averages around 15 to 20 USD and is available throughout your time in Panama for purchase from the local people.
The Guna Yala have a strong sense of community and hold great value in tradition and autonomy. In the past there have been many tragic bloody battles between the Kuna Yala and outside cultures trying to colonize them or steal their natural resources. Because of this many of the leaders of the community are resistant to the pressures of globalization and “progress”. The younger Guna people tend to be more open to change, wearing less traditional garments and opting for more western style clothing. They maintain their local dialect of Dulegaya but many also speak Spanish and some English. The Guna Yala have refused many large hotels proposing investment in the Islands because they take great pride in their way of life. They are very progressive in their views of homosexuality and transgenders but still maintain their traditional values. They can be quite conservative and we ask that you please respect this and refrain from any risqué behavior or dress (no nudity). We understand that there are bound to be cultural differences and though you may feel free to express your opinion you may not be disrespectful.
Feel free to bring gifts for the kids on the islands; we encourage giving school supplies and small toys instead of sweets and candies.So get ready to experience one of the most beautiful and interesting cultures in the world on our San Blas tours!