If you only have one week in Panama, you’re probably wondering which places are most worth your time. After spending a couple of days in Panama City, the common question is whether to go east to Boquete, or west to the San Blas Islands. Both are fantastic destinations, and each offers a unique experience. While […]
If you only have one week in Panama, you’re probably wondering which places are most worth your time. After spending a couple of days in Panama City, the common question is whether to go east to Boquete, or west to the San Blas Islands.
Both are fantastic destinations, and each offers a unique experience. While Boquete is hidden in the mountainous rainforest, the San Blas islands are located in the tranquil Caribbean Sea. To help you make the best decision for your one week in Panama, we’ve compared both destinations, including activities, costs, time considerations, and travel tips.
Surrounded by lush cloud forest in the northern region of Chiriquí, Boquete is a beautiful, vibrant mountain town and one of the most popular destinations in Panama.
The town has a large expat community, so expect an international vibe as opposed to a traditional cultural offering. You should devote at least 3 days to enjoy all the activities it has to offer.
Things to Do in Boquete
The area is renowned for its natural beauty and pleasant climate, which is cooler and drier than Panama City and makes for excellent birdwatching and local hikes, as well as perfect coffee-growing conditions. Adventure-seekers will find a variety of things to do in Boquete:
In stark contrast to Boquete’s mountainous landscape and backpacker vibe, San Blas is an incredible archipelago of over 400 islands in the Caribbean Sea.
These islands are home to the Kuna tribe, an indigenous group which has been independent from Panama since 1925. Their land was declared the Kuna Yala Reserve in 1957, and the Kuna have maintained their cultural heritage and traditions.
Only 1 out of 10 of the islands are inhabited, and even fewer are open to tourists! A few days here offers travelers a rare chance to experience this unique indigenous culture.
Things to Do in San Blas
There is a slower pace of life here, so the islands are the perfect place to escape the rush and simply enjoy the sun on the picturesque, palm-lined beaches. You can enjoy activities such as snorkeling, windsurfing, beach volleyball, sailing, and sea kayaking. Or, if you like, you can spend most of your time lazing on the beach, listening to the sound of the ocean.
Whether you decide on Boquete or San Blas for your one week in Panama might depend on your budget. Are you doing a backpacking tour on a shoestring, or are you on annual vacation?
As with any trip, prices can vary depending on the time of year you are traveling and the type of accommodation you would like, as well as what you plan to do and eat while you’re there. Overall, Boquete is a more budget-friendly option than San Blas.
|Activities & Excursions||$200 – $400||$5+ (snorkel rental)|
|Transportation from Panama City (one-way)||$25 – $200||$50 – $300|
|Accommodation (per night)||$10 – $30||$90 – $130|
|Food (per day)||$20 – $60||$10 (extra snacks)|
|Total Budget for 7 days:||~$460||$800+|
*It is almost impossible to access San Blas without a tour – the above prices are just intended as a rough guide. Bear in mind, tours are usually all-inclusive and the most economical and hassle-free way to visit the San Blas Islands.
Activities & Excursions
The price of tours and activities vary in Boquete. You can do day hikes for free in your own time and local coffee tours start from around $60. If you decide to do a multi-day hike or summit Volcan Baru, you’re looking at at least $100. If you want the full experience of everything the region has to offer, you could spend around $400 on tours.
At San Blas, you can find activities such as sailing and kayaking near the islands. If you wish to go snorkeling, try to bring your own gear or rent in Panama City from ~$5 a day. All-inclusive tours can cost anything from $600 to $1000+, depending on the length and what is included, but these include day trips and activities.
How to Get from Panama City to Boquete
The most budget-friendly option to arrive in Boquete is by bus from Panama City. Take a bus to David which will take around 7 hours and costs $25. Buses from David’s bus terminal to Boquete leave regularly throughout the day and cost about $3 for a 45-minute to 1-hour bus ride.
If you have less time, you can fly from Panama City to David (1 hour, ~$150 with Copa Airlines) and then take the bus. Don’t forget to factor in your transfer costs to/from the airports.
A taxi from Panama City to the Tocumen International Airport costs about $25. Once you get to David, you can take a taxi to the bus terminal from the airport for about $5. Then, take a local bus to Boquete for $3, as described above.
How to Get from Panama City to San Blas
It’s nearly impossible to get to San Blas without a tour. While you can make your way to the port, the strict tourism restrictions by the Kuna tribe mean that you will need to have a tour booked to access the islands. The reserve operates as an autonomous region, so you must have your passport to cross the border into Kuna Yala territory, where the San Blas Islands lie.
There is no public transportation to the port, but there are options to get a transfer from Panama City which costs from $45 one-way. Alternatively, you could rent an SUV from Panama City (from $70 per day) and park at the port of Cartí for an additional $5. Finally, there are flights to various airports along the coastline with Air Panama which take around 45 minutes and cost $50 – 150.
Traveler Tip: If you want to fly to San Blas you can search for any of the following airports: Achutupo (ACU), Corazón de Jesús (CZJ), El Porvenir (PVE), Malatupo (MPP), Playón Chico (PYC) and Puerto Obaldía (PUE). Prices vary according to the season and how far in advance you book. When we looked for a flight to Playón Chico in March, a month in advance, prices were around $157.
Boquete has a range of accommodation options for all budgets. You can find a dormitory bed from as little as $10 a night. If you want something more private and luxurious, expect to pay upwards of $50.
Accommodation in San Blas is more limited and basic, but much more unique, in oceanfront wooden cabins. Expect to pay between $90 – $130 a night, plus taxes.
Restaurants in Boquete
There are plenty of options in Boquete and a lot of international eateries run by expats, so you’ll easily be able to find familiar food such as pizza and ice cream. If you’re on a budget you could spend as little as $5-$6 per meal in an inexpensive restaurant, but if you go to more mid-range, speciality eateries, you could be looking at ~$20 per meal.
Restaurants in San Blas
Food on San Blas consists of traditional Kuna fare: local seafood, chicken, rice, beans, and coconuts. Expect to find dishes such as red snapper fish with coconut-flavored rice which is served year-round. Make sure to take your own snacks to the islands as you won’t be able to buy any there.
Panama has a tropical climate, meaning it is warm year-round with a long, humid rainy season between April/May and December and a dry season from December to April. July and August see frequent tropical thunderstorms, but in the other months of the wet season, such as May, expect afternoon showers to last an hour or two. Check Accuweather for up-to-date forecasts and historical averages for the time of year.
As you can see, both are amazing destinations and you’ll have a great experience whichever you choose! However, it might be quite clear now which one is more suited to the kind of trip you want to have for your one week in Panama.
If you’re traveling on a budget or want to stay active with plenty of activities, then Boquete is probably the way to go. However, if budget isn’t an issue and you want to spend more time relaxing or experiencing the traditional culture, then San Blas may be the best option.
For more information on other destinations throughout Panama, you can also read our post on how to maximize your vacation time. If you have any further questions, need additional guidance, or would like us to plan your next trip to Panama for you, contact us and we’d be happy to help.