After my recent trip to the blissful islands of San Blas (or Guna Yala), I felt compelled to create an ultimate packing guide for others that may want to experience this paradise.
It wasn’t long in to my trip that I realized much of the information out there concerning the San Blas islands is still quite outdated and therefore not as helpful as it could be. Yes, you will be roughing it a bit but not as much as you might think! Especially if you book with Cacique Cruiser–their island has electricity at night and fresh water showers.
All that being said, I feel I under-packed a little for my 4 day, 3 night excursion and if I had had some of the up-to-date information, I could have been able to plan much better so I’m hoping to help you do the same!
I’ve outlined 2 different packing guides for you on the blog. I’ll cover the minimalist version here.
If you want to check out my packing guide for those who are more ‘maximalists’ and don’t want to leave the fashion at home, even for a day, check out my Stylish Packing Guide for the San Blas Islands.
It’s easy to be a minimalist in the San Blas because you really don’t need much and it’s such a short trip but you must pack smartly to ensure you have the absolute best time possible.
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Here’s the long and short of it: You will be spending most of your time in the water or on the beach and therefore in your bathing suit. Bring 2 so you always have 1 that’s dry, though 3 wouldn’t be excessive if you stayed for 4 days like I did.
Pro tip: I am a curvy girl and feel most comfortable in a one piece but I wish to god I brought a two-piece with me and here’s why: Going to the bathroom in a wet one piece is a HUGE pain in the ass! It’s actually like a full workout. If I could go back, I would’ve brought 1 high-waist bikini with me.
Other than your swimsuits, bring a sarong, 2 maxi dresses, a set of pajamas and a long sleeve water shirt.
I PROMISE, PROMISE, PROMISE, NONE of the things I am listing are non-essential. Don’t make the same mistake I did and skip the water shirt. You will be exposed to the sun, in water for 8+ hours a day. Even the most diligent of sunscreen wearers is likely to get burned and you don’t want to miss the snorkeling on days 2 or 3 because you can’t go in the sun!
You’ll be able to basically live in the 2 maxi dresses and should always have one that’s dry. If you’re not a dress kinda’ gal, swap it out for 2 crop tops and 2 pairs of flowy beach pants.
The sunglasses are obvious, right? My personal pro tip: Bring a second pair in case you lose or break your first. You do NOT want to be without sunnies out here!
Make sure you don’t forget your wide brimmed sun hat. Want to skip it because it takes too much room in your suitcase? WHAT ARE YOU, CRAZY!? I almost did the same and couldn’t be more grateful I brought it with me. I also used it frequently as a shield from the spray on the speedboat and others in my group were jealous they hadn’t thought of it!
Flip flops. That’s it. One pair is all you’ll need. No fancy water shoes necessary. Make sure they’re durable though! You don’t want a strap breaking and to be without shoes! (The islands won’t be a big problem, it’ll be when you leave that things get tricky).
Microfiber towel. God bless whoever invented these things. They sure aren’t luxurious but they get the job D-O-N-E. The last thing you’ll want out here is a terrycloth towel. It will never dry.
Waterproof phone case. You know how most modern phone are water proof in shallow depths nowadays? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to salt water! Protect your prized possession with this bad boy like I did. (Even better if you can get one with a floating wrist strap in case you drop it in deeper water).
Dry Bag. If you get a 20L one, it can be what you pack everything in. Otherwise, your belongings will get wet on the boat ride to the islands.
Passport. The Guna Yala is an autonomous territory, meaning you will not be allowed entry without your passport and paying the entrance fee ($22). Do. Not. Forget. This!
Cash. You will find no ATMs or card machines out here, and people will not have change. Other than your entrance fee, you won’t be spending more than a few dollars here and there (unless you want a lobster dinner–HEYO!) so pack small bills, nothing larger than a $5.
Reusable water bottle. Keep our oceans beautiful and bring a reusable bottle. Your tour company will have fresh water to refill it.
Reef safe sunscreen. If you also live in the US, I’ll save you the hassle I experienced researching reef safe sunscreens… Basically, you don’t want anything that starts with oxy- in the ingredient list. Look for a Zinc Oxide sunscreen and you will not find this in an aerosol or spray. It will only be in lotions or creams you have to physically apply. I used Australian Gold’s Botanical Mineral version in SPF 50 and really loved it. It will leave white streaks in places (better than cancer!) but it smells lovely, and is great for sensitive/acne-prone skin. I even used it on my face.
Sunscreen pro tip: However much you think you need, bring MORE! I brought one 8oz tube for my 4 days and it wasn’t enough. Thankfully, our last day was overcast because I was almost entirely out by the end of day 3. Remember, you will be in water a lot and even the best sunscreens wear off quicker in water!
Hand Sanitizer. I don’t know why I was the only person who thought to bring this but I was the belle of the ball once everyone found out I had! Between the salt, sand and sunscreen, your hands can feel really gross and as I said, fresh water is limited. I guess being a city girl pays off!
Gentle wipes. Another item no one else thought to bring! As I was pulling out my hand sanitizer for our group, they found out I had Cetaphil wipes (equivalent to baby wipes but better for your face) and everyone FLIPPED. I love my face too much to leave it exposed to the elements and had to use these at the end of each day. They are my new favorite face wipe and I’ll never pay more because these were perfect. You won’t regret bringing these, I promise.
After Sun. You’ll want some sort of Aloe product on hand to soothe any sun burns you may incur. Hopefully you don’t! But better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You never know, you may miss a spot! (I know I did).
Not pictured: A good book. Something you’ll enjoy reading on a beach listening to waves softly lapping at sunset.
Not pictured: Toothbrush & toothpaste. Duh.
Personal to you
If you take medications, you’ll of course want to make sure to bring those.
Same goes for contact lenses. I also packed a back up pair, as well as my glasses. I can’t imagine anything worse than being in paradise and not being able to SEE it!
One last item…
This is an item that won’t be totally necessary but after bringing mine, I would highly suggest to others the same. I was gifted a travel size lantern from a client and packed it since this would be my first chance to use it. I couldn’t be happier I did! As I said, the Cacique island does have electricity at night but it may go out, the bulb in your room may die or… you need to use the restroom (which is on the other side of the island) in the middle of the night. While the one I received isn’t available anywhere I could find, here is a very similar one. I love that it illuminates 360°, is a perfect size, and I was able to easily hang it to illuminate my entire hut if need be. I promise you won’t regret bringing this little gadget.