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By Luba Nikolayev ITWPA Member san_blas_starfishOne of the joys of traveling is finding a place so untouched, so empty of human presence that it seems as if you are the first person to have ever witnessed it. Such places can be hard to come by, yet just six hours away by boat from the southeast coast of Panama lie more tropical islands than days in a year. Over 300 of these islands are uninhabited, allowing travelers to experience true tranquility. Senses come alive in the San Blas! Soft sand beaches make toes curl and orange starfish invite you into the crystal clear, alluring waters. The best way to experience this magical place is by boat and choosing the right captain can make the difference between a dreamy pleasure cruise and a nightmare at sea. Here are some tips on finding a great captain, saving you time and money in your search for paradise. floating_in_paradiseThe captain’s main job is to keep the boat and everyone on it safe. That makes it critical for them to know the waters well and have plenty of sailing experience. Additionally, a second crew member should be on board to serve as a helping hand. The two should work well together to maintain a high standard of safety and fun. Boats come in various shapes and sizes so make sure your vessel isn’t overcrowded and has enough safety equipment. Cases of shipwrecks in these turquoise waters are rare and are usually caused by negligent captains. Rest assured, this can easily be avoided with some simple research online. A good place to start your search is http://bluesailing.net/. This site has much more information on the journey, the crew, and the vessels. From here you can pick a few captains you like, find their contact information online, and then speak to them directly. If possible, arrange to see the boat before paying to make sure you are happy. If this isn’t possible, at least look at reviews and photos online. If you contact the captain directly, you can ask them any remaining questions and you can even ask for a discount. Usually captains pay fees to generate your business but if you book with them directly they may offer you a break. I saved $50 and got a free night’s stay at the local hostel just by asking! palmsTo get really intimate with the islands a five-day sailing trip is recommended. This journey, which goes between Panama and Colombia, costs around $500 and includes all meals, snorkeling, and even a fresh lobster dinner (when available). That’s a bargain considering a one-way flight between the two countries can cost more and the dangerous jungle border is known as a place to avoid. Keep in mind there is a two-day open water crossing and a boat can get pretty tight with no land in sight, so bring your best attitude and plenty of motion sickness pills. If you are one prone to seasickness, keep in mind that catamarans tend to be gentler on the stomach. From exploring the lively coral reefs to catching the wind with your sails, the San Blas allow you to experience one of the world’s hidden gems. Gently swaying palm trees whisper softly in the wind, as your captain tends the boat and you enjoy your own private piece of paradise. If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.