Columbia – Isla San Andres

Who knew there was a beautiful island 700kms off the coast of Cartagena that is a special zona for Colombia. Although it is closer to Nicaragua than anywhere else the inhabitants opted to remain with Colombia when given a choice. As a result it has become a duty free holiday haven for Colombians and so is the Hawaii of the Colombian people.

After rejecting the idea of sailing to Colon, Panama from Cartagena we opted to fly to the Isla San Andres, stay a few days and then fly on to Panama City. As we have wanted to do on this trip we stayed in a private home with private rooms for rent, giving us an opportunity to see how the locals live and to use our Spanish. Our first two nights were spent with an interesting woman, Vicentia, who spoke English, Creole and Spanish. At her home we met a woman and son travelling from southern Colombia, from a city close to the Amazon basin. She is a doctor and her eighteen year old son wants to be a veterinarian. It was fun getting to know them, but sadly she was robbed of some cash while at a resort so we took them out to dinner to cheer them up. Doctors don’t make much money in Columbia.

We moved to the casa of Joyce and Margie for the remaining four nights and although cheaper had a nicer setting and more security, than at Vicentias. Margie is the grandmother of the resident family and is very sociable. Our first night there she got out the wine and we all got to know each other. A young couple from Chile were the other guests and they joined in the fun. I managed to sneak off to bed at a reasonable hour, but poor Tom couldn’t escape until 1:00 AM.

Plenty to do and see on Isla San Andres and the cheapest way to see the island is to just get on the bus and ride it around the island. Some of the rickety buses cross over from one side of the island to the other climbing a steep hill before descending to the other side. The buses are generally packed and getting a seat can be a challenge but the views are spectacular and you get to rub shoulders with locals who for the most are decendants of African slaves, Spaniards and Indigenous people.

Just off shore are Cays, pronounced Kee’s by the locals and for a price you are taken in launches to these tiny islets where you snorkel and swim, enoy lunch and drinks, and lay about in the sun under palm trees. Although it is very crowded there always seems to be a palm tree with your name on it and soon you have staked out your patch of sand and shade.

The water is known as the 7 colored sea and although my unsophisticated eye failed to discern seven separate and different shades of blue, I can tell you that the azure water around Isla San Andres range from dark laurentian blues to sparkling emerald greens and every shade of blue in between. It is a paradise of white coral beaches, palms, botanicas, sugar shacks and perfect weather. Not too hot and often a gentle breeze to cool your brow. Inexpensive and undeveloped it has the old time charm that places in Mexio had in the 70’s. Although the cuisine is not highly sophisticated, hamburgers and hotdogs being the mainstay of most menus, we had some decent meals from street stalls.

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The main mode of transportation is the motorcycle and its not unusual to see a family of four on one bike. There is usually a child standing between the driver and the handlebars and another child tucked between mom and dad on the seat. No helmets or protective clothing and nothing to cover the feet but flip flops they fly past in clusters or alone, but rarely are the island roads quiet. Tom and I were given a ride to town by Margie’s son-in-law, Mike, and although there were only three of us on the bike it was pretty crowded what with our beach bags, snorkling gear, towels etc.. While in motion Tom’s mom tried to face time him from White Rock but he thought better of taking the call, he didn’t want her to know he was helmetless!

Leaving Isla San Andres is hard to do, we will miss the beaches crowded with holidaying Colombians, the gentle islanders and the peace that comes from relaxing without the constant harangue of touts selling jewellery, drinks, massages, hats, and various souvenirs that we have encountered elsewhere. If you’d Like to go we found out that there are flights from Montreal.

There is evidence that the challenge of keeping a remote island clean is being addressed to a certain degree but without enough government support and public education progress will be slow. Sadly without a recycling and garbage management program, anywhere can end up being a dumping grounds.

Author: scbates

I love to travel, solo or together with friends. I seem to have fallen into a pattern (at least for now) of Europe in the fall, Latin America in the winter and home on beautiful Vancouver Island for spring and summer...but this could change anytime.

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