The Kuna Tribe in the San Blas Archipelago – Panama’s own Drowning Islands


The drowning islands blog deals primarily with climate change impacts on coral atoll “stand alone” countries – Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and the Maldives. However, it also weaves together stories of flood, tsunami, and non “drowning island” locations as a way of illustrating the fact that all individuals, organisms, and locations are impacted by climate change. Bangladesh is rather famously impacted by rising sea levels, many Alaskan villages are somewhere in the process of relocating due to melting permafrost, and many communities from non-independent islands are discussing whether to begin relocating as well.


One example is the Kuna tribe of the San Blas Archipelago off the coast of Panama.


This idyllic chain of islands and their decorated, fascinating inhabitants enjoy relative semi-autonomy from mainland Panama, after achieving their independence in 1938.


I was able to visit the incredible islands and their unique people in October, and was absolutely stunned by the beauty of this place.



It was not the easiest trip I have ever taken, but certainly one of the most beautiful. 


Sadly, this low-lying archipelago is warming, so it’s coral reefs and vegetation are dying at alarming rates.


The islands rise just above sea level, precariously, so naturally the Kuna are talking about leaving for higher ground.


Words do not do this place justice, so I am posting a multitude of pictures in this post, and will write more at a later date. 









6 responses

  1. wow, the photo of the little boy playing in the sand with the woman looking off into the ocean is very moving. Thank you for sharing.

    February 26, 2012 at 6:43 am

  2. Some great shots, Brooke. I’m planning a long trip through South and Central America for next year and visiting this archipelago made the cut to Itinerary v 2.0. How did you get there from Panama City? Drive, fly? Then boat? Besides reading this wikitravel article ( I haven’t done any research yet. Any and all insight would be greatly appreciated.

    March 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    • Hi Bob- thanks for your comments about the pictures! You absolutely have to go to the San Blas- it’s the most amazing, incredible, beautiful place. I would have flown, but the tickets for my timeframe were sold out. I really did enjoy the drive, but truth be told I had to do the drive twice, because the Kuna security wouldn’t let us in my first attempt in. I did get in eventually so it worked, but that part was pretty stressful and probably would have been avoided with a plane ticket! Anyway, I just hired a guide through my hotel, and the rest was really easy. You just drive in, take a very short and pretty boat ride, and then stay on a gorgeous amazing island. You’ll have the best time, eat really delicious food, and have a great time. Feel free to ask any additional questions that you’re wondering about.

      March 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm

  3. Thanks, Brooke, will do. If all goes as planned, it’ll be roughly this time next year.

    March 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm

  4. Magdalena

    I love the way you see the beauty of Kuna Indians land, i love your pictures. I will be visiting them next week and your pictures are letting me feel like I would be there already 🙂 thank you

    June 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    • Hi Magdalena- I’m jealous! You’re going to have an amazing time. I would love to hear about your trip when you get back!

      June 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm

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