The San Blas islands – locally called Kuna Yala – are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna Indians, who have mostly maintained their traditional lifestyle. The women dress in their colorful attire consisting of hand sewn mola breast pieces, a lively skirt, red headscarves, golden nose ring, long strings of beads wrapped around the calves and other jewelry. Men and kids wear western-style clothes. While there are a few modernized villages with concrete buildings, satellite dishes and a generator producing electricity, most families live in simple thatched-roofed huts without electricity, running water and sewer. Water is obtained from a river, the sky or a well, solar panels or flashlights produce light and outhouses take care of the other business.
Kuna woman cleaning fish for dinner © Liesbet Collaert
Kuna Indians travel in dugout canoes called ulus. They paddle about, use an outboard engine or a sail to get from island to island. They catch fish, crabs, lobster, octopus or conch to survive and tend to plots of land on the mainland or off shore. The impressive string of idyllic islands is chock full with palm trees, containing an abundance of tasty coconuts. These nuts are their livelihood and are sold worldwide or locally or they are traded with the Colombian trading boats passing through the region. Visitors are not allowed to take any.