Colombia trip part 4 – San Andres Island

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San Andres y Providencia

“To understand the worth of water
You need a heatwave and desert
To understand the worth of a day
You need to see how life grows thin”

 

This song by Hungarian artist Zorán came to my mind during a cold shower on this small island. Looking at the bright side, cold water is supposed to be good for the circulation, it wakes you up and saves power.

What I mean is that it’s funny how used you can get to hot showers, drinkable tap water, continuous power supply, and fast internet when you live in a civilized city. These are considered as luxuries in this small Caribbean island, and yet people live happily and probably stress much less than we do, sitting in the traffic in Budapest.

San Andres is part of archipelago close to Nicaragua, a 1,5 hours flight away from Cartagena. It has quite an adventurous past, it was discovered by the Spanish, owned by the English, wanted by the Hollands. Simon Bolivar conquered it in the 19th century and made it part of Gran-Colombia, whereas the Americans wanted it to belong to Panama. Finally, things calmed down at the end of the last century, and the archipelago stayed with Colombia, as an independent province.

 

The fourth stop of our trip around Colombia, we arrived by a VivaAir flight. Out of the three islands that make up the archipelago, only San Andres has an international airport, as it is the biggest island. Still, it only takes about 30km to get around the island. The original plan was that we spend 3 days a bit out of the frequently visited centrum, in the middle part of the island and spend the only two last days in Centro, in the north, a much more urban part of the island, closer to the airport and our flight to Medellin on Sunday.
We did not have much luck with the weather, turns out October is the rainiest time of the year (I admit, we did not look this up) therefore our view of the island differed quite a bit from the Google and Instagram photos. It was decidedly unfriendly with the storm, ramshackle houses, unkempt sites, rocky beaches and several shipwrecks. Especially when the power gave out as well…

 

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We managed to enjoy the few sunny hours at Rocky Cay beach in the middle of the island (on the Eastern side), one of the most beautiful beaches according to some, but as we had a whole day of storm on the second day, and had no power in the middle of nowhere (the closest restaurant about a kilometre away) so we decided to move to the “town” one day earlier. This neighbourhood must be beautiful in sunshine but wasn’t much to look at in the rain.

The centre of San Andres showed a wholly different picture. Nicely kept beaches, restaurants, services, civilization! As the whole island is a duty-free zone, it is full of shops: perfumes, jewellery, electronic devices. The weather got better in our last 2 days, and because we did not find stabile internet on the whole island, we had to spend all our time on the beach.

We were surprised by the prices, they were significantly higher than in the touristic Cartagena. Next to the rickety, often abandoned houses, the litter on the streets, the stray animals, we couldn’t believe the prices in the supermarkets. It is a mystery how the locals can afford grocery shopping here, especially since most of the Colombians we’ve met here were just sitting outside their houses during the day.

On the last day we took a boat trip to the tiny Johnny Cay island, 10 minutes outside of San Andres. There is an all-inclusive package for 50 000 COP/person which includes the trip to the island, visits to a sea aquarium, shipwrecks, and the seven shades of the sea, or there is a simple ticket to the island for 20 000 COP/person. It was a really windy day with the waves being bigger than our boat, so we chose the simple trip to the island. We became drenched in the 10 minutes trip, I am sure we would not have lasted the two-hour trip without seeing our breakfast again and saying goodbye to our phones. Johnny Cay takes 10 minutes to walk around, it is really tiny, but beautiful from all sides. We spent half a day here, lounging under the palm trees with the leguaans nearby.

On Sunday we walked to the airport, as it was 15 minutes away and boarded the VivaAir plane towards Medellin, where this article was written.

San Andres Island from the sky

Practical tips

  • You must buy a tourist card to enter San Andres, which can be done when boarding the plane. The price is 109 000 COP.
  • There is no internet to the standards which we got used to in Europe. The usual speed is 1/1 mbit, we found a hotspot outside the store Claro, where it was 5/5 mbit, but that is all.
  • nice places for lunch: Di Huk (seafood streetfood), Kikiriki, TicoTico
  • transfer to Johnny Cay island: 15 000 COP + 5000 COP tax. I suggest buying the tickets at the CooNative Brothers office, not from the guys in neon T-Shirts. Boats to Johnny Cay leave at 9:30 and come back at 13:30, 15:3 or 16:30. It’s worthy spending half a day here.
  • the prices are about 40% higher than on mainland Colombia
  • There is a fruit which is eaten as a side dish, instead of potato
  • tap water is not for drinking
  • usually there is no hot water at the accommodations
  • don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent
  • you can rent golf carts or scooter, but I would suggest something with four wheels, because they drive like crazy here. With the small golf cars, you can get around the island in 2-3 hours.

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