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“Our island ideal break”

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Sapibenega The Kuna Lodge
Reviewed 2 August 2013

I grew up in the former Canal Zone and spent a lot of time diving in the San Blas islands. Had not been there (SanBlas) in over 35+ years and decided to take my family to the San Blas Islands on their first vist to Panama. Based on recommendations from a cousin - I booked three nights on Sapibenega Kuna Lodge and booked air travel from Pananama (Albrook) to Playon Chico on Air Panama several months in advance (required for air travel due to limited flights and small aircraft).

Alicio met us on arrival at Playon Chico and motored us out to Sapibenega Kuna Lodge (about 10 minutes). We were greeted by the small but wonderful staff and were taken to our lodge before breakfast.

Lodge was one of several all over the water, basic reed/wood construction with balcony over the water with hammock. Comfortable beds 3 doubles for two adults and my 13 year old twins.

Breakast, lunch, and dinner is included as well as regular daily tours to the Kuna Cemetey (recommended), tour of Kuna town (Playon Chico), and trips to secluded islands to snorkel.

We were the ONLY guests until a newly married couple from the U.K. Arrived day before we left. The only other lodge available from Playon Chico - Yandup had many many more guests. Being the only guests on Sapibenega was great - staff treated us wonderfully, we ate Lobsters, crab, fish daily and were well attended by Alicio and the small staff.

Great quiet simple side trip from the hectic Panama City. Good snorkeling too.

Room Tip: Be sure to ask for coconut water and the coconut meat! All lodges are over the water so selection g...
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  • Stayed: July 2013, travelled with family
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2  Thank Oscar R
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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8 - 14 of 57 reviews

Reviewed 8 January 2013

We had a fantastic stay for 3 days there. We were 8 persons and we were the only guests on this tiny island. We did the activities offered to us, including participating in some local dancing (without great success, I'm afraid). The charming cabins on stilts were very simple and basic, yet comfortable and including shower and wc. You sleep to the sound of waves and can watch the sea through the floor. What really made a difference was the fantastic staff. They very much exceeded our expectations. In a natural way they were extraordinary caring and attentive. Please note that it helps to speak some Spanish, as their English is very basic. The food was excellent, simple and uncomplicated but very well prepared. The price for a stay there may be high, but in our opinion this is almost priceless. We made our booking including flight, which was very good because Air Panama is not easy to deal with on your own.

Room Tip: Please note that electricity is not regularly available and there is no cell phone coverage.
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  • Stayed: January 2013, travelled with friends
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3  Thank Teld187438
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 January 2013

We spent an unforgettable time with the staff at Sapibenega. A magical place for those who wants to forget about everything and have the most relaxing time of your life, while getting to know this beautiful people.

Room Tip: Bring a small flashlight. You may need it.
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  • Stayed: December 2012, travelled as a couple
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1  Thank Adrian B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 8 October 2012

We had an amazing time staying with the staff at Sapibenega. We were treated to the most unbelievable experience the 3 days there; snorkeling, fishing, a village tour with local children showing us how to play some local games, a river excursion, a visit to the local cemetary with historical recount, and a visit to the resorts plantation. I feel I lived the life of a local Kuna for 3 days and got a glimpse of what local life really is. Thank you to everyone at Sapibenega for making my Panama trip so memorable!

  • Stayed: September 2012, travelled with friends
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2  Thank magic4l
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 9 August 2012

Feel like robinson cruso in your lodge in the sea. Unstress listening to the waves, staring at the blue sea and white beaches with palmtrees and feel comfortable with the friendly and helpful Kuna staff. We enjoyed this small community very much. Twice à day à tour to nice beaches and snorkling spots, a boat trip on the rivet (spotted many tucans). We can recommand this lovely place. No luxury but very close with nature!

  • Stayed: August 2012
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3  Thank Traveller020563
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 8 March 2012

I don’t rate 5 out of 5 overall very often, but Sapibenaga certainly justifies it for me. Not because it is a 5 star hotel, it absolutely is not – but because it is a 5 star experience. If you can get there, go – don’t hesitate!!

Staying there is not luxurious. The cabins are basic. The beds are adequate; the shower water is cold; you are exposed to the elements and whatever nature has to offer; the windows and doors are pivoting wood screens; there are no chairs and no closet for your clothes; electricity is only intermittent; and you have to pay serious money to stay there.

But, you go to sleep over the ocean, with every sound of the ocean; you throw open the window to see the sun rise; you take your afternoon rest in the hammock on the cabin terrace. Best of all you can completely relax because there are no phones and no internet. I slept better than I have in years and relaxed in a way that our modern world never allows.

Tomas, Ellie and the other Kuna staff welcome you as guests, as if into their home. Food is freshly cooked, simple, small portioned and tasty. There is a always a fish theme, and what you get is very dependent upon what Tomas, or his friends catch the night before. Meals are at set times, announced by a loud note from a conch shell. There is a small bar, but at least there is a bar. It’s reasonably priced and it’s always open.

The price you pay includes your meals and a couple of simple tours each day. The morning tour is to a beach on nearby islands. The afternoon sessions give you a chance to meet and better understand the Kuna communities.

In summary, Sapibenaga is an amazing experience – don’t think of it as just an hotel, where you go to sleep. It is much more than that. Our farewell hug from Ellie echoed how we felt. We missed it, as soon as we left. If you can, go visit. This is a 5 out of 5 experience.

THREE BIG BUT'S - Let me also flag a couple of things that left me feeling uncomfortable. The islands we visited had pristine beaches facing the land – swimming in crystal clear waters was just lovely. The ocean facing side of each island were unsuitable for swimming. They were also littered with huge amounts of debris (I understand most comes from the Kuna community who cast most of their trash into the sea). I picked up syringes and a canula – very danagerous. This could be so easily sorted with half an hour’s effort each day to pick up the debris and to return the island to the way it was meant to be.

The Kuna owner of Sapibenega, I understand, lives in Panama City. I assume that he lives there in some style, given the very high prices you have to pay per night. The Kuna, fiercely independent, live in conditions which are very close to primitive. I would have liked to have known that I wasn’t exploiting the Kuna for my enjoyment and just to line deeply the pockets of the owner.

Finally, you are hugely dependent on Air Panama to get you to Playon Chico and back to Panama City. Air Panama seem to run the airline for their convenience and not of their pasengers. On our return, the flight was over booked. We didn’t make it. The plane returns to pick you up two hours later, but we still missed our connection to Costa Rica – and the day was ruined, spent waiting at airports. So be prepared for problems when you make your travel plans.

  • Stayed: March 2012, travelled as a couple
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7  Thank Peter_R_Smith
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 February 2012

The Kuna Lodge is beautiful offering very rustic, large and comfortable rooms. The common grassy area is not very pretty, looks like artificial grass. I feel like the Lodge offers an honest description of the property on their web site. It is VERY rustic, there is no electricity, except for a couple of hours, no warm water and bamboo walls and thatched roofs. If you're looking for a resort vacation, this is not it...If you're interested in traveling to a unique place and learning about the Kuna and having the opportunity to see a different lifestyle, one that does not want to adapt to other peoples ways, then it is AMAZING. The Kuna want to maintain their identity and I hope they do, that's what is interesting about traveling.
The food was DELICIOUS, fresh and very well prepared-gourmet without pretentiousness. The staff was very pleasant. The tours offered by the hotel are very rudimentary, a trip to a tiny beach island, a visit to the village was really interesting. If you visit the cemetery, wear long pants and insect repellent.
There are many children in the village and it was amazing to see they all looked so happy! We did not have the opportunity to do any snorkeling. It was very windy and the water quite choppy.

The trip to the islands- beware: do not take the auto/boat way. The service showed up at 5:30 in the morning, when they had arranged for a 4: 30-45 a.m pick up...We were not happy so early in the morning to have to wait extra long and not receive communication or being able to reach anyone. Our family was then separated into 2 cars instead of the promised van and the driver had no consideration for the customers--he played very loud music constantly changing it on his phone, while he was driving. He had to stop for gasoline, not being prepared for the journey ahead of time. The final 40 kilometers take you through a curvy, mountainous area with GORGEOUS foliage. Bring your passport, there's a passport checkpoint. The boat ride was worse, the boat was a boat in which we were given plastic sheets to try to keep the water from splashing us. The trip is uncomfortable (over 2.5 hours on the boat) and dangerous. On the return trip, at one point, the 2 motor died. The air strip is just that, and air travel very limited. If you go via airplane, make your own arrangements ahead of time.
We stayed 2 nights, perhaps one would have been enough. Not for families with young children. There is nothing else to do other than the above.

Room Tip: All the cabins are the same, two rooms per cabin. The rooms are very large.
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  • Stayed: January 2012, travelled with family
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1  Thank Listu
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Sapibenega The Kuna Lodge

Address: Comarca de Kuna Yala, Panama
Region: Panama > Guna Yala Region > San Blas Islands
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beach Free Breakfast Free Parking Restaurant
Hotel Style:
Ranked #18 of 31 Speciality Lodging in San Blas Islands
Price Range: £61 - £166 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Number of rooms: 6
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Discover the soul of the Caribbean in a land where time is never ending.Listen to the tales of an ancient sprit inspired by waters so crystalclear,you can see the heart of the sea. More than 365 islands withwhite sands beaches will be waiting for you at Kuna Yala indigenous reserveand we, at SAPIBENEGA THE KUNA LODGE willbe glad to show you the magic of our culture. ... more   less 
Also Known As:
Sapibenega The Kuna Hotel San Blas Islands

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