We knew we had to go to the Hollandes cayes, one of the island groups in San Blas which has the reputation to be the cruising paradise: clear turquoise water year-round (when some other parts get murky during the rainy season), mostly inhabited beautiful tropical islands and good snorkeling... So we went. And what better place to start with than the East-most lagoon called the Swimming Pool, assorted of BBQ island?
We set sail from Nargana, motor up North in between another group of islands until we felt we had enough room to sail safely - and by that I mean without having a chance of hitting the reefs surrounding the island. The Swimming pool bay is a shelter anchorage, quite large, protected by many islands. The approach marked on our guide, the Bahaus and on Navionics was straight forward but we still stopped at the first anchorage available by the South island. On the first night, a cat was anchored with us but for the few more nights we were mainly on our own. After arrival, we launched the dink and went to explore the island. For some reason, we didn't linger very long and instead tried to scout for snorkeling the next day. Yalçın still got some nice chill time while on the dinghy as I was reading on the foredeck.
The next day, we enjoyed one of the best snorkeling so far. On the other side (outside the bay) of the island in front of which we were anchored. We tested anchoring the dinghy for the first time, using our stern anchor, which worked nicely and gave us a great freedom. The water was as clear as it gets, the sand white, the fish numerous in the coral and aquatic plant landscape. I was starting to get familiar with the different fish on the Atlantic side and even Yalçın, who isn't as much into snorkeling as I was, loved it!
We went back to Tirb and later went for a little anchorage exploration by dinghy. Even so close to the water, I got surprised by the steep reefs and we hit Freddy at some point :( That didn't exactly give me confidence for when we decided to thread the needle through the reefs to get closer to the apparently famous BBQ island.
After these lovely first days, it blew harshly for two days straight and we didn't leave the boat, sort of demotivated by the weather. A few Kuna boats came by: Venencio the mola maker we had met on our previous trip, a veggie boat from whom we got a pineapple and a dug-out who came to collect a monthly anchoring fee of 10 dollars for the group of island. They paddled over from the otherside of the bay but didn't have the change on a bill of 20. He came back 2 days later when the current and winds were strongest and it was heartbreaking and impressive at the same time to see him make progress with only one person paddling against the strong elements.
During the windy days, the water was appealing and we could sometimes see under the boat in 30 feet, which is pretty good, but that's all. We worked on things and eventually decided we had to get on the move to reboost our motivation. The strong winds seemed to have emptied some spots by the BBQ islands, so we decided to go for it. Yalçın steered us beautifully between reefs and I was on the lookout at the bow.
We arrived a sort of deep basin where other boats where other boats were also anchor. The sun was up, the water was beautiful, so we jumped in as soon as possible, but it turned out there was also a lot of current and soon Tirb aligned differently from the neighboring catamaran whose owner started to look at us insistently. Before dark, we decided to move. The problem was we would either be too close to the other anchored boats or the water was too deep. Or that's what we thought until Dirk and his boys showed up.
A German guy on a dinghy, from another cat very close to BBQ island explained that there was anchorage in 10 feet all the way from the other boats to the island. I was skeptical but he offered to guide us with his dinghy and Yalçın and I slowly followed him, still very aware of the depth on both our phones and depth sounder display as well as on the lookout. I won't lie it was nerve-wracking. With a very transparent water with sand and rock at the bottom and my low angle on the water, I constantly felt the sand was going up and we would run aground. When established with the sounder that it wasn't the case, I relaxed a little. We ended up anchoring in 10 feet of probably the most transparent water we'd ever been. If it wasn't for the strong current, we could have had the time of our lives and thoroughly clean the bottom, but despite doing maybe half the hull, it turned out very difficult.
We stayed there for a few days, chilling in the boat or going to the island for a drink with Dirk and his family. Their cat was one of the biggest cruisers we had every been: 62 feet and a "fly deck". They had been sailing for 5 years in the Caribbean, their floating 'real estate' purchased in Grenada. We played molki with them and a group of backpackers who stayed for a few days in the island - they were travelers, mostly for Europe going around South America or on other adventures. The island was extremely cute and well maintained, with shell sculptures in various shapes and even a few bones of a whale (?) or whale shark skeleton. The few Kunas leaving on the island and running the hut filled of hammocks for the backpackers were friendly but, again, it was more of a commercial relationship as we were buying drinks from them. Sad part for us, snorkeling was near impossible because of the crazy current. Partly why after a few days, we decided to move on.
Banedup of the Hollandes
Before lifting up the anchor, we decided to go explore the island to our right hand side, another Banedup. We had seen the hut on the water and had heard, again from Mouin, about their delicious coco bread and the possibility of buy some veggies from them too. Access through the shallows was difficult but luckily a launcha was coming in and we followed them. A bunch of men were chatting under the shade when we arrived. They gave us friendly 'holas' but we didn't really feel like interrupting and kept walking on the beautiful beach.
On our way back, the guests from the other launcha were gone so we said hi. The Kuna who was living on the island was very friendly, he gave us coconut bread and showed us a path to the other side of the island.
The beach there was also beautiful but some plastic waste had washed up onshore. Yalçın picked up a large bag and started collecting them. We had nowhere to dispose of them after filling an entire bag rather quickly, we deposited a little less close to the water and hoped that could help the islanders.
When we came back to the other side, Ibish, the brother co-owner of the island we had been told was coming was here already. There were people working on the nice bar-like hut a little further. Ibish was friendly too and spoke Spanish, English and French, but he was more of a business man. He explained they were building up the island to turn it into a small resort for honeymoon within 2 years ("in case you get married again", he said!! We didn't correct him ;) ). He also explained we could order coconut bread for the next morning or pizza. We said we tasted it from his brother, he had a look like he would have given the bread for free. Oh well... He asked us to spread the world about his island, Banedup in the Hollandes cay, so here we go, if you'd like a retreat or a honeymoon in a paradise location, in 2024 or after, that place was incredibly beautiful!