When most cruisers say “San Blas,” they really mean Matanchen Bay, just a couple of miles east of the San Blas channel. The town and riverfront at San Blas itself has much to offer the few boaters who cross the bar to enter there, but most transiting this area opt instead for the open space and fewer bugs found in the big bay to the east.
Wide open from south. From the north, make sure you get a bead on the various rock formations along this shoreline if you are approaching in the dark, as some are not marked well on popular charting programs. During daylight hours they are impossible to miss. This area is often quite congested with fishing pangas and their many nets, typically marked at each end by a short stick and black flag (sometimes another color). It’s important when you see one to locate its twin, so you can identify the location of the net and not pass over it. If pangas are around, watch the fishermen, as they will wave you off a bad route and give you directions to spare their gear any damage from your prop. Also give the rocky headlands and islets of Punta Caleta ample room as you turn into the bay.
Bahia Matanchen gives good protection from anything north, but is quite wide open to south and west. These conditions will create a slow roll here, regardless of how close to the beach you try to anchor. And generally that’s not a good idea, because the jejenes (no see-ums) for which San Blas is notorious are not a joke. You don’t want to be within a half mile of shore during late afternoon or morning hours. Otherwise, choose your spot in this wide open bay, and drop in 15-25 feet in excellent holding sand/mud.
From the point back to the middle of the bay are a collection of classic beachside panga restaurants, with a smattering of small markets and proper restaurants. This is a very popular vacation spot for Semana Santa, and the place goes crazy. There can be a nice peeling longboard wave inside the point when the swell is right. From anywhere along the beach here you can get a ride the few miles into town via taxi or thumb, passing a huge Modelo distribution center and a dozen banana bread stalls (yes, it’s quite good).
A panga ride up the river to La Tovara springs is a worthy midday activity. Catch a ride where the road to town crosses the river. Good wildlife viewing along the trip, and the springs at the end are gorgeous and refreshing for a dip, while you enjoy a beverage in the shade. Note that the fencing keeping the crocs out of this swimming hole is not, shall we say, proven 100% effective. But the cruiser who tangled with a croc a couple of years ago survived and has a hell of a story to tell. For the rest of us, keep your eyes open before jumping in. Yikes.