The best place to stay in Kuna Yala  is not actually in Kuna Yala. Coral Lodge (tel. 232-0200, cell 6681-2360, lodge tel. 832-0795, www.corallodge.com , high-season rates US$295 s, US$430 d, including all meals and daily activity), which opened in 2006, is on a lovely cove on Escribano Point, right about where the province of Colón stops and Kuna Yala begins. It’s accessible only by sea — in a powerful motorboat.
Accommodations consist of six “water villas” — spacious and comfortable modern bungalows over the water — that are linked by a boardwalk to a small half-moon beach. A larger beach is a short walk away. The bungalows have tall thatched ceilings, air-conditioning, ceiling fans, excellent beds, simple but tasteful teak and rattan furnishings, and small sundecks. Spa bathtubs are in the bedroom right next to windows that look out on the ocean; showers are in the attached bathroom.
All the bungalows are angled for maximum privacy, but number 6, at the end of the boardwalk, has the best unobstructed view — there’s nothing in front of it but sea. (This may change if the planned two-bedroom suite is built at the end of the boardwalk.)
On the beach is a large swimming pool that’s illuminated at night. Meals are served next door in a large modern dining room with a thatched roof 20 meters above the tile floors. The lodge also has a couple of Internet computers and a little game room with a TV and DVD player. There’s an open-air bar over the water. The chef is Peruvian.
Most guests fly into El Porvenir  and travel to the lodge by boat. At the end of the trip, they go by boat to Miramar and return to Panama City  by road. Factor in considerable extra expense for this. The lodge can provide some or all of the transfers, and this is the most seamless way to go. Transfers include a tour and snorkeling trip around El Porvenir on the way over and a visit to Portobelo  on the way back, which is a good way to cover a lot of sightseeing ground.
Kayaks, snorkeling gear, and daily guided activities are included with stays. Possible activities range from forest hikes or horseback riding on the mainland to overnight stays in Kuna Yala . Scuba diving is extra. The Kunas do not allow diving in the comarca (reservation) itself, but there’s a dive master at the lodge who can take guests to little-visited spots just outside Kuna territory. The Escribano reef, for instance, is just two kilometers away.
The American-Peruvian owner, who owns two well-regarded hotels in Peru, plans eventually to add 12 lower-cost accommodations on the beach for divers on a budget.
This is one of my favorite places in all of Panama , but it is not for everyone. The accommodations are luxurious enough to convince potential guests they’re coming to a first-world resort where everything works perfectly. That’s impossible out here; this is a remote spot surrounded by nothing but sea and tropical forest.
The boat ride to and from the lodge can be bumpy when the wind picks up, and diving and fishing conditions can change without warning. The diving and fishing are best Easter–October, which is also the rainy season. And the chitras (sand flies) can be voracious when the wind dies, since there’s a healthy mangrove system near the lodge.
To be happy out here you have to be easy-going and have at least a slight sense of adventure. This is a great spot even during a thunderstorm; the view is gorgeous and the sound of rain falling on the thatch can induce blissful afternoon naps.