San Blas

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Panama

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Description & main attractions

The San Blas islands lie off the north coast of Panama in the Caribbean Sea. Lying outside the hurricane zone, with their sandy beaches, clear waters and the rich diversity of their coral reefs, they are a popular destination for sailors and tourists alike.

They are also home to the Guna community, who have preserved their traditional lifestyle over the centuries. The Guna population on San Blas and the Caribbean coast make up the Guna Yala indigenous province in northeast Panama, with their own Assembly and some autonomy over their affairs.

The weather is mainly hot and humid and there is a short dry season from about January to April and a longer rainy season from May to December.

The Guna have a rich culture of legends, music and dance. They speak their own language but Spanish is also spoken. Guna women create unique appliqué cloth panels called Molas, which brings them an important source of income as tourists are ready customers.

The San Blas reef system is considered to be one of the 10 best preserved in the world, home to many types of colourful fish and marine mammals such as porpoises. However, the low-lying islands are now finding themselves under threat from rising sea levels. Warming seas are causing coral reef damage, which is worsened by ocean acidification, as well as coral mining by local people to create more land, which also causes coastal erosion.

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