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“Rip off in Paradise” 3 of 5 stars
Review of Kuanidup

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Rio Sidra, San Blas, Panama   |  
Hotel amenities
London, United Kingdom
19 reviews 19 reviews
16 hotel reviews
Reviews in 18 cities Reviews in 18 cities
20 helpful votes 20 helpful votes
“Rip off in Paradise”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed August 4, 2013

This island is, without question, beautiful. It is therefore such a shame that the current owners do nothing to make the stay enjoyable. The food is, quite simply, the worst I have ever had, anywhere, in 40 years. The service was at best indifferent and at worst rude. The concept of "all inclusive" means something completely different on this island. The island is tiny - measuring 400 feet by 150 feet and yet the owners have packed no less than 16 beach cabins in to a very small area, leaving nowhere for privacy or exploring. The food was appalling - by way of example the evening meal was one boiled potato, some green salad which was well past its sell by date and inedible and a tiny sliver of fish measuring around 3 inches by one inch. The breakfast bread was not properly baked - when we asked them to cook it longer they deep fried it! We were there as a family of 6 (4 children) and we were all constantly hungry due to the tiny portions. For $75 a night "all inclusive" this was a total rip off. The owners have done everything they can to cut corners financially, which means that everything is cut to the bone...or extra - drinks (apart from water and coffee), snorkles, excursions (other than one free 2 hour one where even then they want a $2 island entry fee). The accommodation is very basic, although this is to be expected. The cabins are packed together tightly so there is zero privacy. If you do go to this island bring your own food and but some lobster from the local fisherman which they will cook for you - this is what another group did - they clearly had insde knowledge This the first negative review I have ever written and I do not write it lightly.

  • Stayed August 2013, traveled with family
    • 2 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 3 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 2 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 3 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 1 of 5 stars Service
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63 reviews from our community

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Rating summary
  • Location
    5 of 5 stars
  • Sleep Quality
    3.5 of 5 stars
  • Rooms
    3 of 5 stars
  • Service
    3.5 of 5 stars
  • Value
    3.5 of 5 stars
  • Cleanliness
    3.5 of 5 stars
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English first
New York
4 reviews 4 reviews
3 hotel reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
5 helpful votes 5 helpful votes
3 of 5 stars Reviewed August 4, 2013 via mobile

I have to agree with much of the previous person's post. This is an incredibly beautiful place. But the service on the island was not very good.
The boat guy tried to tell me I could not return in the afternoon on my 2nd day, but rather in the morning, which would have cut my 2 day stay almost in half (and I paid quite a lot for those 2 days). He later tried to tell me that I could not go snorkeling with a group because that wasn't included, but it definitely was supposed to be. Then at the end he told me I had to pay for everything, my accomodations and whatnot, which I had paid In full already. He looked at me suspiciously when I said I had paid (180$) as part of a full package. I am an intermediate Spanish speaker, I can generally understand when people speak slowly, and the guys at Guanidup were not willing to slow it down a bit so I could understand what they were telling me. And then they would walk away. Overall impatient, not welcoming.

Lastly, the food was not good. I am not particularly picky but I had been told that it would be fresh seafood and instead it was very dry, overcooked tuna for my 2 larger meals there. Portions were small. If I was staying on a cheaper island, I wouldn't complain, but Guanidup is one of the most expensive, so I expected more.
There were other smaller things too in the 2 days... all added up to me feeling that I constantly had to advocate for myself and try not to get scammed. This didn't help with relaxation, which is the point of being on an island getaway.

I spoke with others on the ride back who went through a Guna man named Tony and they had a fantastic time and ate lots of fresh and varied seafood and felt welcome overall. Next time I will go through him.

  • Stayed August 2013
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 4 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 3 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 2 of 5 stars Service
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United States
Senior Contributor
44 reviews 44 reviews
19 hotel reviews
Reviews in 26 cities Reviews in 26 cities
18 helpful votes 18 helpful votes
2 of 5 stars Reviewed July 28, 2013

We stayed at Kuanidup this past week as a party of eight extended family members. The place is a real adventure, to say the least. On the whole, due to a number of reasons, we cannot recommend staying there.
Price: We paid over $600 for one night for 8 people, including transportation.
Rooms: You stay in huts whose minimalism cannot be stressed enough. They consist of sticks tied together under a palm-frond roof, all above sandy ground. The beds, if they are to be called such, present a formidable challenge for even the most rugged travelers: most people in our group were not able to fall asleep all night. The folks at Kuanidup lay down 'sheets' of questionable cleanliness that quickly become sandboxes, because it is impossible to clean off sand before getting into 'bed.' For us, sleep quality alone was a deal-breaker for staying any longer than one night. Shower/toilet quality was basic in every sense of the word: toilets 'flush' with buckets of water you pour in, and showers are buckets of water you pour on yourself. These things are not problems in and of themselves, but at the rates Kuanidup charges they are totally unacceptable.
Setting: Kuanidup lies on an island not unlike those on postcards and NatGeo shows on the Caribbean. Waters are clear, and the island has a pristine beach with a small volleyball net and hammocks throughout. The beach is the highlight of the property, and one could spend days on it swimming, snorkeling, lounging, reading, or relaxing.
Food: Food at Kuanidup is basic: think "Uncle Ben's" rice. Portion sizes are smallish, and we were frequently left unsatisfied at the end of meals. We were disappointed by the lack of freshness and variety in food offering, especially for the exorbitant price Kuanidup charged. Meal times are inflexible, and any other food or drink you might like to consume will cost you extra – at an allegedly all-inclusive property!
Service: From our limited experience, the Kuna people (and specifically the 'staff' at Kuanidup) are not as hospitable as legend has it. The wring tourists' wallets to extract every last dollar they can by charging you a dollar for photos of their village, charging you for every little extra (even at a supposedly all-inclusive hotel), charging us $139 for a measly 30-minute boat ride to Kuanidup from the mainland, and basically just charging, charging, charging, all day long, and for every minute thing that would be free anywhere else. These Indians are not naïve or hospitable; they take clear advantage of San Blas tourists, who are a captive audience, by charging them exorbitant prices, much like a pro-sports stadium does when it charges $8 for a hot dog or when a movie theater charges $15 for popcorn and a soda. Beyond this, we came in contact with many dishonest Kuanidup employees. When we arrived at the mainland port by car on the first day of our stay, our ride to Kuanidup, which we arranged in advance at a specific time and place, was nowhere to be found. The employee from Kuanidup was out on some tour, and could not pick us up for three hours. He knew he had done the wrong thing, but couldn't care less. It cost us $139 and a huge headache. When we finally got to Kuanidup, no compensation or apology was offered. The same happened on our way our of Kuanidup just 22 hours later. The day before, we set our boat ride out of the island at 1PM to make an important family event in Panama City. We validated that with the folks at Kuanidup the night-before and the morning-of, and by 1PM the island's boat was still out on some tour or something. At this point, the employee promised us that by 1:30-1:45, at the latest, the boat would arrive (of course, he did not apologize – they know no such thing). By 2PM, we were incensed, but still – no boat. Again, the employee promised us that the boat would be there any minute. It arrived at about 2:45PM, bringing back people on a standardized tour. The employee knew exactly when the tour would come back, and still lied to us. The staff at Kuanidup are downright unapologetic, shameless liars – period. This insulted us on a personal level. For this, too, I shall not return or recommend the property.
Synopsis: Kuanidup is located on a picturesque beach-lined island surrounded by calm Caribbean waters – in a word, beautiful. It is therefore a shame, then, that its food, lodging, and service options so fall short, especially (and this cannot be emphasized enough) given we paid about $600 for our one-night stay. Though beautiful, Kuanidup cannot be recommended. Avoid.

  • Stayed July 2013, traveled with family
    • 1 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Location
    • 1 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 1 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 1 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 2 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 4
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Panama City, Florida
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
3 helpful votes 3 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed July 16, 2013

gorgeous island with turquoise waters and white sand beach - coral reefs
huts are basic but OK
great package with nativa tours: pick up hotel, transfer, boat, huts, credit card, etc..
did appreciate the big discount for kids that others didn't apply!
worth the 199 usd all included 2 days and 1 night
next time we will also SAIL the islands!

Room Tip: call an local an agent: just don't go without professional ..
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  • Stayed July 2013, traveled with family
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 2 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 3 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 3 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
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Greenville, North Carolina
2 reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed July 10, 2013

This place was sweet. The boat ride out along the Comarca is an adventure in and of itself. You get to see a people working hard to live and to preserve its culture. The island is no resort, or even a hotel. You stay in huts, shower in cold water, and eat from the sea. But I'd say it is WELL WORTH the experience. My wife and I didn't know what to do with ourselves. We went when there were only six of us total on the island. The food is delicious and the Kuna Yala people are super hospitable. I highly recommend spending at least one night here if you're not into sleeping with a little sand on your feet.

The KEY is to go during the week and not on a Saturday/Sunday! Local panameños come for the weekend to party. The tour is great. Snorkeling of your choice either at a sunken ship or coral reefs (not the Great Barrier but fascinating for sure!).Please be sensitive to the Kuna Yala as they don't appreciate being photographed without permission. However, they are MORE than willing to share about their history, struggles, and customs. Highly recommend!

Room Tip: Ask for a hut closest to the sand!
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Stayed June 2013, traveled as a couple
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Berkeley, California, United States
2 reviews
Reviews in 2 cities Reviews in 2 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed July 6, 2013

This is no five start hotel. The amenities are similar to camping and it is near impossible to get to bed without sandy feet. There are three restrooms with showers with two large barrels of freshwater above. These barrels have pipes running from them to the showers below and there is no heating system other than the sun hitting the barrels, so the water can be lukewarm. Not as bad as it sounds, I thought it was pretty refreshing. There are also barrels of seawater + bleach outside of the restroom with a bucket in it that you use to pour water into the toilet after you use it to "flush".

The hut has a bed and a wooden table, and some of them will have a light hanging from the ceiling. The floor of the hut is sand. We only stayed one night and didn't sleep well, it was very loud as there was a storm and we felt hot and sticky all night.

But if you can get over all that, then prepare for a stay in paradise! This island was amazing. We basically have the catch of the day for lunch and dinner (unlucky us, we left before dinner on the day they caught humongous crabs and lobsters). We spent half our time on the white sandy beach (reading a book in a hammock or laying in the sand) and the other half in the ocean snorkeling around the island. The water was so clear you can see at least 20 feet down. The sealife was beautiful, hundreds of tropical fish that swim right next to you, an octopus, sea cucumbers, red spiky porcupine like animals, all kinds of sea flowers and plants, large conch shells, sand dollars, and shells of all kinds. And best of all you are likely to be the only people exploring these pristine waters at any given time. Some areas were just littered with thousands of pieces of dead coral, I wonder if the bleach from the restrooms running into the ocean is killing some of the sealife.

For $5 you can go to another island for more snorkeling or pictures, and for another $5 you can rent snorkeling gear. The rate we paid was $75 per person, two shared a room and three meals were included. We called and booked through here: http://kuanidup.8k.com/html/contact.html. We drove an SUV but not a 4x4 to the pickup spot along a river. It was basically one straight road all the way there, and a small turnoff to the boat loading area that the police will point you toward at a checkpoint right before the turnoff. Most of the road was paved and it wasn't that bad without a 4x4. Some reviews said you need to have a 4x4 to be let through, and we passed two checkpoints, but no one said anything. One of the passengers in our car was a panama citizen, and she spoke fluent spanish, not sure if that made a difference. The people from kuanidup picked us up and brought us to the island and took us back at the end of our trip. Expect to pay a tax of $5 per car and $10 per foreigner and $2 per Panamanian citizen. Then another $2 per foreigner when you get to the parking area at the end if your drive, and about $2 per person on each of the islands other than kuanidup. You will tip and pay for a lot of little things so make sure to bring a lot of one dollar bills!

All of the natives on the island were extremely nice and friendly, and the cook is great. We only stayed one night, which I thought was nearly perfect as we took advantage of every moment to explore. It would have been more leisurely if we had stayed a little longer though. I'd say one or two nights would be perfect. Don't forget to stargaze at night!

  • Stayed July 2013, traveled with friends
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 2 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 3 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 3 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 4
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Senior Contributor
29 reviews 29 reviews
8 hotel reviews
Reviews in 11 cities Reviews in 11 cities
12 helpful votes 12 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed April 12, 2013

Kuanidup was amazing, it does have its downside but it really is a once in a lifetime experience..the definition of paradise! We booked with La Estancia and they were excellent, stored our rucksacks arranged transfers and made our booking all with no problems. The 4x4 journey is very bumpy but I didn't mind too much, the main problem was the amount of baggage some people took with them, don't expect any space if you take your entire backpack..you can store luggage with most tour companies. You stop at a supermarket on the way and I'd suggest stocking up on snacks (you can buy water beer wine and spirits at the island so I wouldn't bother with drinks) the boat ride takes about 25 minutes and it was choppy! We got drenched! Once you spot the island you will know it was worth the stress getting there..it's jaw dropping, really tiny, white powder beach, swaying palms and the clearest water I've ever swam in. Visibility is amazing, great snorkelling on the other side of the dock hundreds of colourful fish! The huts are basic, really basic! Sand floors means sand gets everywhere but you get used to it...your only going to be indoors to sleep. The shared bathrooms are clean enough and although I've never chose accommodation with shared facilities before it didn't bother me at all. Your day will start early, breakfast at 7am! Considering its lights out about 9pm this suited me fine..you can go on the daily excursion if you want but I was enjoying being Robinson Crusoe to much to leave the beach! You eat at communal tables so expect to get to know your fellow castaways quite well, again not something I particularly relish but we had a great group and I actually enjoyed the interaction. The downside...the food is awful..par for the course with the San Blas Islands but its only right to mention it so you know what to expect. Breakfasts included fried egg with bread, cold hotdogs in tomato sauce, hotdog omelette! Lunch and dinner included a tiny bit of fish, cold boiled potatoes, small salad. A tiny portion of octopus stew with rice, half of an overlooked lobster tail with a few plantain slices...I survived by smothering everything with hot sauce!!! This wouldn't put me off going back and shouldn't put you off going but be prepared and take loads of snacks and a bottle of spirits to share with everyone. Believe me I would have put up with a lot worse as San Blas is so unique and beautiful. One tip...make sure you tell the kuna to contact your travel company the day before you are due to leave or nobody will be at the river dock to collect you! We saw this happen on the way back. I'd say three or four nights here was perfect, I've read reviews saying one or two nights is enough, believe me nobody wanted to leave, as for being bored or having nothing to do...those sort of people should stick to Bocas Del Toro, this is Kuna Yala just chill and let time fly. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  • Stayed March 2013, traveled as a couple
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 3 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 3 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 3 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Kuanidup

Address: Rio Sidra, San Blas, Panama
Location: Panama > Guna Yala Region > San Blas Islands
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 2 B&Bs / Inns in San Blas Islands
Number of rooms: 10
Also Known As:
Kuanidup Hotel San Blas Islands

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