The Kuna Yala people of San Blas
Paradise-postcard images of Panama’s San Blas islands may whet the appetite for a taste of the archipelago’s away-from-the-real-world vibe, but they don’t reveal the vibrant community life that percolates throughout the inhabited isles and makes spending time with locals such a pleasure. Fishing villages living among bamboo homes, the 70,000-strong Kuna Yala work hard to retain their independence, language and traditions, and their devotion to their way of life is palpable, most strikingly in the mola. These intricately embroidered panels are sewn into blouses and worn with patterned blue cotton skirts, vividly coloured headscarves, beads and elaborate jewellery. It makes for a striking ensemble, as much a symbol of the Kuna Yala’s autonomy as it is daily attire, and is as strong a reminder that you’re a world away from Panama City’s rush and bustle as the white sand beneath your feet.