Accommodations and Food
Most of the phone numbers listed for lodgings are in Panama City, where nearly all the hotels have offices. Typical hotel packages include room, meals, pickup and drop-off at the airstrip, and one or two daily boat tours to a snorkeling spot or Kuna village. Some will also arrange plane reservations.
Some hotels allow guests to opt out of the full package and fend for themselves for meals and transport. However, unless you have your own boat you’ll probably find it cheaper, and certainly simpler, to go with a package deal. Remember that nearly all accommodations out here vary from fairly rustic to very rustic. Also, there are no true restaurants in Kuna Yala. Most visitors eat all their meals in their hotel’s simple dining area.
The food is usually mediocre at best. Bring snacks. Once you’ve had your third straight meal of tasteless fried fish and rice, your hotel’s offer of lobster might be tempting. Bear in mind that lobster, once a subsistence food for the Kuna, has been so commercially overexploited it’s in danger of local extinction. At the very least, do not eat lobster during the mating season, which runs from March–July. Also, even those with a package deal will probably pay extra for lobster, something you may not realize until you’re presented the bill.
It’s probably also wise to avoid squid. Kuna fishermen typically chase squid out of aquatic caves by squeezing bleach into the cave entrance. It’s bad for the environment and bad for you.
Beer and sodas are widely available on the islands; wine and spirits are not.
Kuna hotels have unpredictable life spans. Make sure your hotel of choice still exists before making too many plans.
Do not camp on a “deserted” island without permission from the island’s owner—every island belongs to a person or community. Even then, don’t camp except with an organized group. Smugglers, including drug traffickers, run these waters. You really wouldn’t want them to stumble upon you in the middle of the night.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition