Had a great sailing experience with San Blas Sailing and wanted to share some comments.
We are sailors and this was our first time hiring a boat with a captain and thus were a little uncertain about the whole thing versus bareboat charter. It turned out fine and saved time from check-in and check-out that would have eaten time from short trip of 4 days.
Operator- San Blas Sailing was easy to work with and professional. Two credit card installments prior to trip, comprehensive paperwork, booked flights from Allbrook to Corazon de Jesus for us, excellent communication- including notice of flight delays. I would recommend them. They may be a bit more expensive than hiring a cruiser (I did not check but they should be) but they offer professionalism in return. We selected them because they have a good relationship with Kula Yala Congress and wanted to have a Kuna captain out of respect for their autonomy. They also have non-Kuna captains. One small example- when the flight leaving was delayed, San Blas Sailing's policy was to have the captain and boat stay until the passenger was on the flight. Another couple flying off was left with a bottle of water by their cruise captain while we were on our boat have an unexpected lunch.
Getting there- Air Panama is the only operator to Corazon de Jesus. The "airport" is a strip to driveway with a shack. They were 4.5 hours late on arrival and 5.5 hours late on departure. No one seemed surprised. Our captain said that they were 3 days late once. The plane is 8 passengers plus 2 pilots. It would fit in the living room of a MacMansion. I am tall and sat with my neck crooked as my head did not fit. The price was good about $150 r/t. The other option is hiring a driver from Panama City to Carti and sailing from there but the access by plane puts you into the heart of excellent sailing/culture.
Boat- charter boats in the area were all over the quality scale. From cruisers trying to pay for their food and fuel with funky, old boats to shiny nice cats. Our boat was a mid-80's production boat (Jeanneau 41) that has been chartering for a long time. The rigging and sails were in excellent shape and everything worked but it was a little "long in the tooth" when it came to niceties. The captain reported that it was be getting some rehab in May. The boat sailed well but given the limited amount of actual sailing vs. time at anchor a catamaran would have been nice in the area. The views from cockpit are amazing. Cats are great for lounging at anchor and the islands were a lounging/snorkeling/swimming off the back destination..
Sailing- Longest sail was a little over 2 hours and meant passing numerous other islands that one could have explored. We were headed to anchor off of an island on which our captain's baby was born and allowed us to visit with the 7 Kuna who live on the island. The sailing was smooth, sight sailing, easy. The physical setting is spectacular. The sailing is challenging due to shallow reefs so I would not want to sail in there at night.
Motored the first day due to late plane. There are so many islands that many trip plans are possible. Tell captain your priorities prior to trip-- sailing, snorkeling, placid sleep spot, isolation, being around other boats, visiting Kuna Yala. All are possible pending winds.
Food- We love seafood and islands of Kuna Yala offer a buffet. We at lobster two nights, crab, conch seviche, barracuda, and chicken one night as a change of pace. If you like seafood, it is heaven. Mix of buying from Kunas who frequent boats to sell catch of the day and captain fishing.
Kuna- From what I could see, Kunas are doing a good job overall of trying to find their place in the world. The environment seemed healthy, there is limited tourism providing some added cash, those that want to continue traditional life seem to have that option, those that choose to become more modern living seem to have that option, and fisheries seemed healthy. I was unable to speak the native language and was only able to use my limited spanish for the most basic communication with the various Kuna we encountered. Smiling faces all around.
Captain- Marcelino, our captain was great. I do not speak Kuna language and have limited spanish so we were a bit concerned how that would go. He is a chatty guy and got me to keep trying to hold a conversation in spanish. He would translate my unconjugated verbs, a noun, and a preposition into a sentence somehow. We ended up knowing a remarkable amount about each other after 4 days and my spanish got better. A phone app helped as well when we got stuck. He knew a little bit of english as well. Marcelino knew everyone on every island and every Kuna in a canoe. He is a networker and communicator in the islands and was always chatting someone up. He would run errands when we were at anchor- charging cell phones for Kuna islanders without electricity and checking on people. This gave us some nice time alone of the boat. I really appreciated his love for the land, water, and people. It was exactly the experience that I was going for, in addition to seeing a beautiful place.
Don't try to fly out of PCY the same day that you return from sailing if you fly Air Panama. Delays and transfer from Allbrook to PCY will create big risk. Expect delays, ask Air Panama to let you into their VIP room if delayed, there is AC and wifi.
Pick priority of comfort (catamaran with non-Kuna) or culture (Kuna captain on monohull)
Four days is minimum, I wish we had done 6-7
Leave a bag in Panama City. It is a small plane and a small boat.
See canal on your way back- Miraflores is 10 minutes from Allbrook airport. We hired driver at Allbrook for $30 to take us to pickup a bag we left at nearby hotel, take us to Miraflores and wait while we watched group of ships go through the canal (and ate a tourist scam lunch), and then to our hotel downtown. Saved a lot of time and money on travel.
Have a big memory card on camera, everything is photo worthy