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The Story Behind How the San Blas Islands Got Their Name

The Story Behind How the San Blas Islands Got Their Name

Picture of Brittney Schering
Updated: 30 January 2018

The official name of the San Blas Islands is Guna Yala. The native indigenous people who call it home still refer to it as such today, though other variations also suffice: San Blas, Kuna Yala, or Comarca de Kuna Yala. This is the story of how the 378 islands of Guna Yala came to be called and now named San Blas.

Isla Iguana, Panama | © José Manuel Castrellón / WikiCommons

The name San Blas was actually given to the archipelago by the Panamanian government long ago because the region was located in and bordering the Golfo de San Blas, which borders the Caribbean Sea with large reefs and sandbanks.

Later, upon the result of the revolution, the Guna people took back their ownership of the islands and returned to calling it Guna Yala or Kuna Yala, respectively, though San Blas is also still used.

Isla Carenero | © HH Oldman / WiKicommons

It does not really matter which name you prefer to use, though when looking on a world map, the name of the islands will still be San Blas. Ask anyone in Panama for directions to San Blas, or Kuna Yala, or Guna Yala, and they will tell you the same route to the same region, regardless of which way you refer to it.

The beautiful islands offer an incredible experience and an exotic, exclusive look at the way the Guna people live off the land and sea and creativity. The Guna Indians, indigenous to the San Blas Islands, welcome all to come visit their home respectfully to get a taste of their magically beautiful life that is entirely unique to their way of art, land and sea.