Accommodations and Food
There are few facilities, no hotels, and no appealing places to eat on Playon Chico. Visitors generally stay on one of the two hotel islands.
Yandup (tel. 394-1408 or 394-1409, cell 6579-2911, www.yandupisland.com, starts at US$100 pp, including meals and daily tour), a small island about five minutes by boat from Playon Chico, offers five bungalows over the water with wooden floors, bamboo walls, decent mattresses, private bathroom, mosquito nets, and wraparound porches overlooking the sea. There are two other bungalows on the edge of the water with private bathrooms, and one smaller cabin with a shared bathroom. There’s an open-air dining room.
This place was significantly upgraded a few years ago and now features some of the most spacious and comfortable accommodations on the islands (though, as always, they’re still quite simple). The main problem is it’s near a mangrove forest, and the chitras (sand flies) can be a serious nuisance. Over-the-water bungalows cost US$5 more per person, and it’s worth it. There’s also a one-time payment of US$10 per person “community tax” just to set foot on the island.
Sapibenega: The Kuna Lodge (tel. 215-1406 or 215-3724, Skype: sapibenega.s.a, www.sapibenega.com, US$254 s, US$336 d, US$394 t, two-night minimum, including all meals and two daily boat tours; there are discounts for children), just a few minutes by boat from Playon Chico, has some of the best accommodations and service in Kuna Yala. Formerly known as Iskardup, it’s a small island with nothing much on it but guest cabins, each of which has two units. Most have double beds, but some can accommodate three or four people in each unit.
The cabins are spacious, with wooden floors, cane walls, comfortable beds, flush toilets, ceiling fans, and tiled showers with hot water and good water pressure. All look out on the sea, and hammocks are strung up just outside the back doors, on the edge of the water. Like everyplace else in Kuna Yala, though, accommodations are still rustic and close to nature. Don’t be surprised to find small crabs in the shower or geckos hiding in the soap dish.
Sapibenega has an attractive dining room, a bar, and a lounge area with rough-hewn furniture inside a large thatched-roof building with high ceilings and open sides. Another bar is in a little rancho set on pilings above the water, connected by a walkway with the island. There is electricity 24 hours a day, supplied by solar cells and a generator. Food here can be good, and tiki torches are set up on the grounds at night so guests can dine under the stars. The island is within hailing distance of the shore, but far enough away from everything to feel remote and tranquil.
However, Sapibenega seems to be on a downswing these days. Some clients have complained of poor service, lack of water, mediocre food and small portions, and of being “nickeled and dimed” for extras. It’s difficult to maintain a high standard in Kuna Yala, but at these prices clients have a right to expect it.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition