Jan’s 10 Favorite Cruising Destinations

Keep in mind, this list is from our past experiences, being transitioned from SailWinterlude and updated to include last winter’s Exumas adventures.   It doesn’t include our “bucket list” for new adventures!

Scroll down to see the individual cruising spots listed – I’ll be finishing links to more information on each cruising favorite over the next few months, so check back for clickable links to a post dedicated to each favorite.

  1. Sapzurro, Colombia
  2. Vivorillos Cayes, Honduras
  3. Esnadup, Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama
  4. Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras
  5. Providencia, Colombia
  6. Rio Chagres, Panama
  7. Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize
  8. Exuma Land & Sea Park, Exumas, Bahamas
  9. Achutupu, Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama
  10. Portobelo, Panama

1.  Sapzurro, Colombia

Harbor at Sapzurro, look closely to see a tiny sv Winterlude and sv Kristiana nestled in the cove.

Sapzurro is nestled in the jungle at the border of Panama and Colombia.  The harbor is small and the anchorage rolly, but the people are some of the friendliest and happiest we’ve found anywhere.

A fisherman walks by the airport in Capurganá, Columbia toting his dinner and outboard.

It’s one of the more isolated places we’ve visited and since the FARC revolutionaries were known to be in the hills, the Colombian Marines, the Coast Guard and the local militia were  concerned about our safety.  They advised us on where to hike and what to do while we spent a week in their paradise.  We hiked to the waterfall, around the rugged coastline outside the harbor and up the mountain to the border.  Homemade “ice cream” from a local entrepreneur topped off every hike.

Along with sv Kristiana, we were the only boats anchored in the harbor for most of the week.  Later in the week, the owner of one of the Cartagena boatyards came with his family to spend a long weekend at his vacation home on the beach.  We enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving feast and small village hospitality.

Sapzurro waterfall

IF YOU GO:  Sapzurro is a very small village – bring all your provisions, although you may be able to pick up some fresh veggies from a local stand or Colombian trading boat.  Also, be prepared for a rolly anchorage – we bridled our boat into the swell since the current seemed to keep us sideways to the swell and rocky rolly is not my favorite way to try to sleep!

Straddling the border of Colombia and Panama … if you climb this rise, be sure to take your passport because the border guards at the top will ask for it!

2.  Vivorillos Cayes

Vivorillos Fish Camp Island

Anchoring behind a reef and sandbar stretching for miles between a tiny fish camp island and a bird refuge, the Vivorillos Cayes felt like anchoring at the end of the earth.  With no protection from wind from due North to Southwest, we were happy that the tradewinds kept pumping the wind from the East and NE!  This tiny anchorage is a traditional stopover on the way from the Bay Islands of Honduras around the corner of Honduras/Nicaragua down to Panama.  The fishing and snorkeling were the best we’ve had anywhere.  We were there with our 3 buddy boats since it’s not the safest passage to undertake alone and enjoyed “Conch 101” when one of the boats bought pounds and pounds of cleaned conch from local fishermen – none of us had cooked conch before!  We enjoyed cracked conch, conch salad and conch fritters … along with our martinis!

World’s Best Spearfishing for Hogfish! Yum! There was a spot we called “Hawgs & Dawgs” for the quantity of the Hogfish & Dog Snappers. Best fishing we have ever encountered!

3.  Esnadup, San Blas Islands, Panama

Anchored Between the Cayes at Esnadup

Esnadup is one of our favorite western San Blas anchorages.  There are several spots to anchor and we like them all.  The snorkeling, especially along the front wall of the reef, and fishing are superb.  We frequently see eagle rays cruising the wall and dolphins surprised us one trip by coming up from under us rather quickly.   A bit heart stopping until we realized they were dolphins and not sharks!   A cruiser frequently conducts yoga on one of the little islands.

Small Beach in Esnadup, San Blas Islands

A sailboat sails by the reef wall with the best snorkeling. With an onshore wind, this day was too rough to enjoy the reef wall, but it was waiting for us!

 4.  Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

Guanaja, the easternmost of the Bay Islands off the Honduran coastline was battered badly by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, but it’s rebuilt since and El Bight is the anchorage where cruisers wait for weather to make the easterly hop against the tradewinds along the Honduran coast to head to Panama.  El Bight is well protected from most wind directions and can easily weather a norther, welcome news for cruisers!  And Josh Cay and the surrounding tiny cays off the barrier reef make for fun snorkeling and adventuring.  The north shore of Guanaja was reportedly where Columbus ventured and Michael’s Rock is spectacular.

Dinghy enjoying the clear water at Josh Cay, looking toward Guanaja.

5.  Providencia, Colombia

Providencia (and San Andres too) were delightful surprises on our way to Panama!  They are tiny islands off the coast of Nicaragua that belong to Colombia, go figure!  Providencia is the furthest north, San Andres 50 miles farther south.  We stopped at both on our way down, only Providencia on our way back.  We liked Providencia better because San Andres is a little like Hawaii is for US mainlanders for Colombia mainlanders – a bit too touristy for our taste, but still wonderful – best watercolors we’ve seen anywhere!  Providencia is still mostly a fishing village connected to the little island of Santa Catalina by a colorful footbridge.  Motorscooters whiz through the main town and around the island.  Pirates used to make use of Providencia’s wonderful natural harbor to hide … from more than just weather, I’m guessing!  Some of the original cannons used to defend the island from Captain Morgan are still there.  Split Mountain above, is sometimes called Captain Morgan’s a$$.   There’s also a cool rock formation called Captain Morgan’s Head above some wonderful snorkeling.  The people are some of the friendliest in the Caribbean, different than mainlanders like in Cartagena (altho’ they’re friendly too), you can find different provisions – San Andres is the best spot for provisions, altho’ we had no trouble in Providencia – keep in mind we were well stocked before we left the Bay Islands.

Pirate Hanging Beach at Providencia

Providencia Cannon

 

6.  Rio Chagres, Panama

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WOW!  Talk about a perfect paradise, the Rio Chagres is almost like Disneyland.  We joked about our dinghy explorations costing $60 each as a Disney two hour trip!   There are howler monkeys, sloths, spider monkeys and lots of colorful birds EVERYWHERE!   The Rio Chagres is part of the Chagres National Park.  The anchorage is perfectly protected from all weather, but we’re heard stories of not such good conditions if the Gatun Locks are forced to open the dam and let water down the river.  Supposedly they notify you before they do it.  We didn’t have any trouble.  It is a bit challenging to get past the bar, but good charts, good light and a bow watch will get you in easy enough.  Once past the bar, the Chagres is plenty deep — 40′ — and great anchoring — sticky river mud — you may want to take extra time when you bring the anchor and chain up to wash off the mud!  You can dinghy to a dock to leave your dinghy and walk to the Gatun Locks/Panama Canal.  There are waterfalls and other adventures just waiting to be discovered!   We enjoyed dinghy sunsetters — bring finger foods to pass and your drinks, take the dinghies upriver a ways, tie together, turn the outboards off and drift back to the anchored boats – lots of wildlife, beautiful sunsets and good friends, what could be better?

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Gatun Locks, Panama Canal

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Sunset Over the Rio Chagres

7.  Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize

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Swimming Pool Clear Waters
There are very few places we’ve been where the water looks more like a swimming pool and the snorkeling and diving is a dream.  The coral and fish are endlessly colorful.  Fresh fish for dinner actually gets boring (imagine THAT!).
There are several anchorage possibilities, the first year, we anchored at Half Moon Caye and also at Long Caye.  The real attraction is underwater and it requires some eyeball navigation in shallow coral reef strewn waters to enjoy the area.  The famous Blue Hole is here, although not as much an attraction for us as more accomplished divers.

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My Christmas Turtle!
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Anchored Behind Half Moon Caye

8.  Exuma Land & Sea Park, Exumas, Bahamas

Approaching Warderick Wells

We were skeptical about whether we would really like the Exumas since they seemed like much more commercialized than the Western Caribbean.  Boy were we wrong!  We loved the Exumas and particularly the Exumas Land & Sea Park.  In fact, the reason we didn’t make it to Georgetown was because David couldn’t get me to leave the Land & Sea Park!  Particularly the North Mooring Field at Warderick Wells.  We hiked the entire island, climbed BooBoo Hill to leave our “sacrifice”, hung out on the beach with new friends, snorkeled, dinghy explored and generally had a blast.  The only bad thing was that we had too little time.  Someday we’ll go back and dedicate a few months to exploring this wonderful chain and beyond!

Warderick Wells North Mooring Field

Dinghy Exploring

9.   Achutupu, San Blas Islands, Panama

Achutupu Molas Peddled By Cute Kids in Wooden Cayucos

Achutupu (no I didn’t sneeze) is one of the more traditional Kuna islands in the far eastern San Blas.  Not visited by many cruisers, Achutupu is trying to hang onto their Kuna tradition.

Even before the anchor was down, the wooden cayucos began approaching WL and Kristiana.  The people were friendly without being too pesky as can be the case in some of the more western San Blas islands.  The quality of the molas in Achutupu was true artwork at a better price than any we found anywhere in the San Blas!

We found it fascinating that the underwater water supply pipe to this island village had broken but the Kuna were industriously at work extending the runway on their airstrip, rather than fixing the water line.  Consequently every morning, the ladies would paddle to the mainland and fill every container available with fresh water before they started their day.  Personally, I’d have been getting that water line fixed!

Paddling Home After a Long Day Working at the Mainland Air Strip

Colorful Cayucos

10.  Portobelo, Panama

History comes alive in Portobelo, the ancient city the Spanish used to hoard their riches and transport them back to Spain.  Needless to say, pirates abounded and the town was ruled by many different cultures at different times.  Today, Portobelo is a great anchorage, unless you have an tradewinds cranking when the swell from the harbor opening can become untenable, so plan accordingly!  We were there in April and it was perfect.  We colored Easter Eggs under an ancient fort, enjoyed the Semana Santa festivities along with several dinghy drifts down nearby creeks and rivers.
Exploring the ancient forts that surround Portobelo can take days and if the seas are calm, snorkeling outside can provide the opportunity to spot ancient cannons still underwater!   Portobelo is also the home of the famous “Black Christ” (legend found by googling) festival held every October.

Black Christ Celebration for Semana Santa (Easter)

Coloring Easter Eggs Under One of the Ancient Spanish Forts

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Nice piece of article, first-handed knowledge of this locality, very valuable for cruisers! Stay save and have fair winds…

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