Cruising The Tuamotus

French Polynesia is a vast area, with five major island groups: The Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambier, Austral, and Society Islands. We are traveling west with the winds after crossing from Panama and landing in the magical Marquesas islands. After a few weeks or months in The Marquesas, the next island group is usually the Tuamotus. Cruising the Tuamotus is like nothing we’ve experienced, and a great reason to get the long stay visa. We can’t believe we almost raced through all of these islands, a necessity with the standard French Polynesian three month visa.

beach in Makemo Tuamotus
We had this beach to ourselves for days in Makemo

Introduction to The Tuamotus

Motu in Tahitian means a small islet of coral reef, an atoll. The Tuamotus is a chain of 70+ of these small islets, many sparsely inhabited.

To sail from The Marquesas to anywhere in The Tuamotus takes 3-4 days, depending on departure and arrival points, and, of course, the wind. Once you’re in the chain, you can do short day or overnight hops to get from one motu to the next.

The archipelagos’ total population is only about 15,000 people. That’s right, across almost 80 islands. The main industries include pearl farming, copra cultivation (coconut oil), and a small amount of tourism in a few places.

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Bocas del Toro Boat Life

We’re in our second month in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Time is flying! We’re keeping busy, seeing the sights, and spending time with fellow cruisers. Here’s an overview of Bocas del Toro boat life.

About Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro (or Bocas, familiarly) is a province on the Caribbean side of Panama. Part of it is located on the mainland, but the important part is the chain of islands. Bocas del Toro means Mouth of the Bull, and the island chain has 3 big islands and many smaller islets and atolls.

Bocas del Toro on a map
Map of Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro is a popular tourist destination, and the site of many banana plantations. It has an airport, with several daily flights from Panama City, and multiple water ferries and taxis from the mainland.

There are three big islands in Bocas del Toro, where most of the activity happens and the majority of people live and work.

Bocas del Toro map mural
Bocas del Toro map mural
Isla Colon

Isla Colon is the main island, with the airport and main town, called Bocas Town. That’s where the stores are and lots of hotels and resorts. It’s the “big island” where we go to provision at the supermarkets.

Isla Carenero

Right across from Isla Colon, Carenero has a small marina, and many resorts, beaches, and restaurants.

Marina on Isla Carenero
Marina on Isla Carenero
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Adventures in the San Blas Islands

Since we started living aboard Sava in 2018, we’ve wanted to visit the San Blas islands. Small islands in pristine Caribbean waters, barely inhabited except by friendly people living off the land, and protected reefs you are only allowed to snorkel and free dive, the San Blas Islands sounded like a dream, and in many ways it was. It took us much longer than we thought to get there, but we did, spent 2.5 weeks, and had lots of adventures in the San Blas islands!

About The San Blas Islands

Map of Panama and San Blas archipelago
Panama Map with the San Blas archipelago

The San Blas Islands is an archipelago of 365 islands in the northeastern Caribbean of Panama. Occupied and governed by the Kuna/Guna people, less than half of the islands are inhabited. You may also hear them called the Guna Yala islands for their residents. The San Blas are one of Panama’s top vacation destinations because of their natural beauty in the Caribbean sea.

So yes, you can visit and stay in the islands: in hostels, resorts, or on a boat. Close enough to major cities that you can also do a fun day trip to visit the San Blas Islands! We are lucky to bring our home with us and moved around the San Blas over our 2.5 week visit.

anchorage San Blas Islands
Boats at anchor in The San Blas

Beautiful Anchorages

One of the best things about sailing in the San Blas islands is the assortment of beautiful anchorages. Everywhere we stopped had clear water, gorgeous skies, marine life, and tropical islands to admire from afar or walk along. Anchoring in this paradise wasn’t free: twice we were visited by tribe officials who charged us for use of the waters. Additionally, residents ask for small fees for visiting the beaches or building bonfires. No complaints, as it wasn’t that expensive and is worth it for visiting such lovely places far from the crowds.

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How We Stay Safe in Colombia

Some of our friends asked how we are faring in Colombia during these difficult times. On top of struggling to combat Covid, the country has economic troubles, and citizens are protesting the government. Don’t worry, we are okay and staying out of the fray. Here’s more details about what’s going on here and how we stay safe in Colombia.

country wide covid lockdowns

Santa Marta was our first stop, and the covid protocols tightened in our time there. When we left after six weeks, the city was shutting down and keeping people effectively locked at home for entire weekends, from Friday evening to Monday morning. Unfortunately, these lockdowns are common across Colombia, notably in the major cities like Cali, Medellin and Bogota. The reason for the lockdowns is hospital capacity. Once a city’s ICUs reach capacity or near-capacity, the city shuts down, hoping that will decrease the Covid cases.

where we are

We are on Sava in a marina in Cartagena. The marina is in a residential part of town called Manga, just a short walk across the bridge to the hope neighborhood of Getsemani and a little further walk to the Old City of Cartagena. It’s a great location and we have enjoyed walking, especially in the evenings when all the locals are out getting their exercise.

Map of Manga, Getsemani and Cartagena
Map shows Manga just south of Getsemani and east of Bocagrande, Cartagena

It’s strange being in Cartagena again after so long, especially during the pandemic. Usually a bustling city with multiple cruise ships in port, the UNESCO walled city is relatively empty, and the few tourists are deluged with requests to go on tours and buy trinkets. Despite the emptiness and hungry vendors, Cartagena is safe. Everyone wears masks inside and in the streets and it’s mostly business as usual.

hats in Cartagena
The one time we’ve both worn our authentic Colombian hats purchased in Cartagena
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Where We Are: Anchored in Great Bird Island, Antigua

Brian, Domino and I have been anchored in Great Bird Island, Antigua for a month. We moved here as the island was going into lockdown, quarantine et al due to Coronavirus.

A month is a long time for us! In fact, this is the longest we have stayed in one anchorage since we moved on board Sava. Since this is Sava’s new home, here’s a rundown of the anchorage, with lots of photos.

Where is Great Bird Island?

Located in the northeast of Antigua, Great Bird Island is a tiny uninhabited islet with other even smaller islets surrounding it. While uninhabited, during tourist season it can be busy in the daytime when power boats bring locals and tour groups to the beaches and for snorkeling.

Map of Antigua. Great Bird Island in red
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