The Caribbean is a much-travelled region and for some it might seem that it’s too touristy and overcrowded. But there are still some gems to be discovered. One of the pearls in the Caribbean Sea is San Andrés.
The archipelago, consisting of the islands San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, has everything to offer that a traveller’s heart could wish for: palm trees, picturesque beaches, cliffs, scenic towns and a sea of seven colours.
San Andrés belongs to Colombia but is located 750 km north of the country’s mainland. It is still off the beaten track but grows more and more popular with tourists and cruise lines. Check out what the island group has to offer. And do not worry if you don’t speak Spanish. Given its history, English is spoken widely, especially in shops and restaurants. Plus the locals always welcome travellers with a big smile and are more than happy to talk with their hands and feet.
Sand Andrés was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000. Indeed, nature is the islands biggest sightseeing attraction. The landscape is adorned by palm trees, mangroves, coral bushes and colourful wild flowers. Across the archipelago there are 12 red, black and white mangrove forests. The Old Mangrove Point Regional Park is the biggest one. San Andrés is also home to a vast variety of crabs, turtles and lizards. Everywhere you turn, you will see, hear and feel wildlife. The West View Point Park offers tours in English and Spanish around mango and coconut trees and craft-works made out of these fruits.
Off the Beaten Track
Hire a scooter and ride along the 20-mile long coast of San Andrés. Discover secluded beaches where you have the crystal waters all to yourself. Continue the journey until you reach La Laguna, a fresh water pond on top of the hill. It is 400 meters long, 50 meters wide and 30 meters deep. It has a rich biodiversity of pigeon, white heron, palm and fruit trees. In the south of the islands you can find a geyser emerging from the sea that shoots up to a height of 20 meters depending on the right climate and wind conditions.
At San Andrés there are more white and picturesque beaches than you can dream off. The most popular of them is Johnny Cay, a little island 1.5 km north off San Andrés. It’s the perfect place to relax, have a bbq and do some water sports. The beautiful cay was converted to a natural park in 2001. You can find more than 30 species of fish along the reef which makes it perfect for snorkelling. Boats leave regularly from San Andrés Town to Johnny Cay.
The capital of the main island, San Andrés Town, is a shopping paradise. Most of the shops carry duty-free imports. That’s why San Andrés is highly popular with Colombians from the mainland who jet off to the island looking for bargains. At New Point Plaza you will find souvenir items and jewellery including emeralds. Note that some stores close between 12:30 pm and 3:00 pm for a siesta to escape the midday heat.
San Andrés is famous for its sea of seven colours. The lush green, blue and turquoise waters invite you to sporty activities. Try windsurfing, jet-skiing or fly over the waves with a kiteboard. Snorkelling is also big on the to-do list. The abundance of fish at the coral reefs of Providencia makes you feel like you are snorkelling in an aquarium. Just don’t forget your sun screen so you won’t get burned while you are immersed in watching the underwater life.
The islands have also something to offer for the ones who prefer to be under water than on top of it. Beneath the surface there are even more colours to be discovered – violet and yellow corals, red and blue fish, and green algae. The water is between 3 and 30 meters deep and has a visibility of 10 to 30 meters. You can see walls of seaweed, coral reefs and underwater plateaus with much marine life. You can also find sunken ships and hidden caves. If you’re not a diving pro yet, not to worry. There are several diving schools that offer lessons.
Green Moon Festival
Once you indulged yourself in the lush nature and underwater world of the islands, experience the unique culture of San Andrés. It is influenced by the British, Spanish, pirates and freebooters. Feel the rhythm and laid-back lifestyle at one of the many beach parties with live music. The highlight of the party scene is the Green Moon Festival that takes place each year in September. Under an immense moon, Afro-Caribbean culture, food, reggae music and dance are presented in all the colours of the rainbow. Dive into a new world and celebrate history, present and future with the local people.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re on a budget or are looking for a luxury stay, in San Andrés you will find the right accommodation. The resort Sol Caribe Campo offers all-inclusive for 110 Dollars/night. It lies on a small hill so you can overlook the sea. The hotel has all the amenities you need to fully relax, enjoy a cocktail by the pool or sunbathe on the resort-owned beach. For the more adventurous traveller, why not stay in wooden cabins with ocean views on the island of Providencia. This is the perfect place for couples and honeymooners as the beach is called Lover’s Lane. Nature, peace and happiness can be had for 60 Dollars per night in Cabañas Agua Dulce. If basic accommodation will suit you, stay at the Blue Almond Hostel in San Andrés for 20 Dollars per night. From there it’s a 15 minute walk to the centre of the town for shops, bars and restaurants and a 20 minute walk to the beach.
How to Get There
The Caribbean is highly popular with many cruise lines as are Alaska cruises for the ones who prefer the North. And although San Andrés is still off the beaten track, there are several cruises stopping at the Port of San Andrés, for example Regent Seven Seas Cruises and the Colombian cruise ship the Sea Voyager. From there it is easy to reach the capital of the island. It’s only a 20-minute drive from the dock but most taxi drivers offer to take the longer route around the island for some sightseeing. If you prefer to travel in the sky instead of the water, you can fly from numerous destinations in the United States via Colombia, Panama or Costa Rica to the Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport on the main island. The Canadian airline Air Transat has seasonal direct flights from Montreal to San Andrés and it’s rumoured that Spirit Airlines will introduce direct flights from Fort Lauderdale to San Andrés soon.
Guest Author: Holly Enriquez
Photo Credits: #1 Rockfan, #2 Photo (cc) by Mario Carvajal @ www.mariocarvajal.com, #3 Flickr-Marcelomdrs, #4 Columbia Travel, #5 Columbia Travel