San Andres is a small Caribbean island (about 12 km by 3 km) located about midway between Jamaica (400 km to the north) and the Colombian mainland (480km to the south). It comes under Colombian sovereignty (much to the chagrin of the natives, who are more black than Latin) and is a very popular vacation spot for Colombians. The reason we were here was actually more practical than anything; flying Montreal to San Andres (Air Transat flies directly in a bit more than 5 hours) is actually the most efficient way to get to the north coast of Colombia. We would spend a few days in San Andres before taking the 1 ½ hour flight on to Cartagena.
The plan ended up being perfect, because there is honestly not much to do or see on San Andres - 3 days was sufficient. The island DOES have incredibly beautiful beaches; the main beach in San Andres town is long and wide, the sand white, the views of the lagoon gorgeous with its emerald waters. Out in the lagoon, within the ring of coral reef encircling the north end of the island, is the tiny isle of Johnny Cay. It strangely resembles Gilligan’s Island and has the most extraordinarily white sand. Johnny Cay is the highlight of San Andres; here you can relax under the sun and order beer and grilled Red Snapper. It is gorgeous.
The rest of San Andres is very ordinary and not really worth exploring. We rented a golf cart and circled the island, stopping at Morgan’s Cave (supposedly where Captain Morgan hid his treasure – yeah right! The place is a dump and a monumental rip off). Then there’s “Hoya Soplador” (ie. the blowing hole), another rip off. Avoid going on Captain Morgan’s boat cruise at night; it’s a long, boring cruise featuring Bob Marley wannabes karaoking at the top of their lungs. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could get drunk, but the boat was packed and the bar nowhere in sight. They did give us one free drink; a pathetically watered-down rum and coke which I’m sure contributed to the shits I got the next day. If my girlfriend could swim we would have jumped overboard and swum back to shore. I’ll bet anything that Captain Morgan’s boat cruise is the single largest cause of drownings on the island.
Besides the beaches, the other attraction in San Andres is shopping. San Andres Town is more than anything just a collection of duty-free stores. The number of stores selling; 1) liquor, 2) shoes, 3) women’s pharmaceutical products is amazing. You wonder how they all stay in business. Most of the stuff is honestly just junk, the typical beach resort stuff you’ll find on every other beach resort everywhere else in the world.
Eating. Simpler is better; stick with the grilled fish or chicken served with plantain, beans, and rice. We tried some of the fancier restaurants and were disappointed – leave the fine dining to Cartagena if heading that way.
The people on San Andres are very laid back. I had read that there were tensions between the islanders and the Colombian tourists; “People from the coast not friendly” an islander told us. After a few days on the island we could see why there might be tension; the islanders are so relaxed they often don’t seem interested in anything but sitting around and having conversations in the shade. They almost sigh with exasperation when you show up at the restaurant or internet cafe – you almost feel like an unwanted relative showing up at the door. They’re friendly, yet you somehow feel as if you’ve just interrupted a nap or something. I can understand why Colombian tourists would get fed up after a few days. In contrast to the “native” islanders, there are also a few very loud Jamaicans on the island with delusions of being Bob Marley; you can’t go anywhere without some Rastafarian shouting “No woman don’t cry” in your ear, his arm sticking out for a handout.
Overall, San Andres was a lovely spot for a few days. The beaches are fabulous and the corals gorgeous. But 3 days of relaxing here does it, by then you’ll be happy to move on.
I strongly recommend the Hotel Bahia Sardina. The rooms are large and clean, the balconies private with fantastic views of the beach and the lagoon. Its location is the best in town. Rooms go for 140,000 pesos, about $70 Canadian.