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Sunset in the East Lemmon Cays. Photo by Liesbet Collaert
Sunset in the East Lemmon Cays. Photo by Liesbet Collaert

The East Lemmon Cays, Kuna Yala

What’s your favorite anchorage in the Caribbean? This is a question that’s as difficult to answer as: What’s your favorite country in the world? The Caribbean has a lot of anchorages we love, and they all stand out for different reasons: picture perfect beaches, clarity of the water, colors of the reef, abundance of underwater life, friendliness of the people, interesting culture, awesome scenery, exciting sights, or amazing hikes. None of these anchorages come as a perfect package, and perhaps that is fortunate or they would be mighty crowded! Even if you find your own idyllic, remote and comfortable Caribbean piece of heaven, you will soon run out of something you need and have to leave.

When we look deep inside our hearts, we can probably all admit to having a favorite anchorage; a place where we don’t mind spending weeks at a time or returning to whenever we can. A place where we know it is easy to drop our hook and that puts a smile on our face from the moment we are comfortably settled in. For my husband Mark and me, this magical place is called the East Lemmon Cays, which are located in Kuna Yala, also known as the San Blas islands, a unique and beautiful archipelago along Panama’s northeastern shore.

On approach, all you see are small islands, filled to the brim with palm trees, bordered by white sandy beaches and surrounded by dark reefs and turquoise water. We like to sneak in towards the front of ‘the pack’ (during the winter months), or end up by ourselves in the northern corner of the anchorage (during the summer), where it is a bit shallower. There is good holding in sand and, facing the exposed reefs, a constant breeze keeps us cool and the batteries charged, while the water is nearly flat. Taking in the views of a tropical paradise from the cockpit during the day, a starry sky from our catamaran’s trampoline at night, and a marvelous sunset in between, provides endless joy.

Every one of the four surrounding islands is inhabited by Kuna Indians, living in primitive huts with thatched roofs. They are friendly when you explore the shores and, once in a while, they paddle by in dugout canoes, trying to sell fresh bread, fish or molas, their colorful and intricately sewn handiwork. Banedup, the most barren island, sports a bar/restaurant, a tiny shop (with basic supplies), and a bakery, all in one. To make sure that no cruiser starves out here, a boat from the mainland swings by about once a week selling fresh produce, eggs and frozen chicken. To be able to obtain juicy pineapples, crispy broccoli, ripe local tomatoes, and flavorful eggplants in the middle of nowhere, affordably and home delivered, is a real treat!

Besides the usual boat and household chores and the ‘necessary’ periods of relaxing and reading aboard, activities include snorkeling on the reefs, swimming to the beach and strolling along it, visits to the windward side of the islands in search of shells, trolling a fishing line in deeper water, swinging in a hammock strung between two palms, practicing Spanish with the Indians, or taking a side trip by dinghy to Yansaladup (good well for laundry) or Dog Island (great snorkeling on a wreck). On top of that, I find Nuinudup, with its flat, shady, breezy, and bug-free spots of sand, the best place in the San Blas for a morning session of yoga. The fabulous view is all but distracting.

For a boater looking for a peaceful, visually attractive and culturally exceptional area to spend time ‘away from it all’ – without having to venture into the challenging Pacific – Kuna Yala in general and the East Lemmons in particular are as close to paradise as it gets.

The only problem with this anchorage is … I’ve now told you all about it!

Liesbet Collaert is a freelance writer. She and her husband Mark have been cruising on Irie for almost six years. Having explored the Caribbean, they are now seeking new adventures in the South Pacific. To follow their adventures, visit: www.itsirie.com

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