San Andres Island, Columbia

The honeymoon continues:

Our last-minute change of plans had us flying out of Guyana with the ultimate goal of rejoining a point further down the road on our original route but saving a lot of overland hassle. There aren’t a lot of flight options out of Guyana to begin with and last-minute ones are a good budget killer so we ended up using aeroplan points to get us out of there. The thing with points, they don’t always take you where you want to go and it became obvious quickly that it was going to take 2 separate tickets to get us anywhere near where we wanted to end up. If you have to make a stopover somewhere anyway, I always vote for the most random spot to get your money’s worth and so we found ourselves on Copa Airlines and an overnight in Panama City before continuing on to San Andres.
Panama City was a shock after Georgetown. The initial impression is of a big modern city of skyscrapers. It felt very comfortable. We didn’t have any time to explore the city in detail but our visit marked a milestone in our first use of Uber. I like this Uber thing. Very convenient and affordable way of getting to/from the airport. Otherwise, we just slept and the next morning went to a nearby mall to find some things for Sasha. They had everything from home and more. No wonder it is a popular place for retirement. We didn’t really find it any cheaper than home though. We are hoping to visit Panama again at the end of this trip so we’ll get a more in depth perspective then.

Panama City on the right, canal on the left

I have to admit I didn’t really know San Andres existed until quite recently. It is a small Caribbean island off the coast of Nicaragua but belonging to Colombia. How it became Colombian is a little complicated but historically it was British so English is an official language of the islands and a creole mix is spoken by the “real” islanders.  There has been an influx of mainland Colombians over the years which has changed the social demographics somewhat and “ruined” the island. Or so the host of our little B&B told us. San Andres is a duty-free port and a popular all-inclusive tourist destination for Colombians. Every visitor needs to pay for a special tourist card and get it checked on arrival and departure, it is currently about $36US each. In theory this helps preserve the unique culture of the island but change is inevitable and the traditional culture is slowly being replaced.
In a way it is a wonder the foreign tourists haven’t discovered and developed the island yet.  The water is beautiful. There are many nice beaches on the island and a number of smaller islands and cays just offshore. Cheap boat tours are a big thing to do. We didn’t bother since from the beach you could easily appreciate the multiple shades of clear blue warm already. Ok, maybe I was tempted to go diving, but didn’t have the time to organize it.
We stayed near San Luis and its beach (about halfway down the island on the east side) as it is known to be a quieter and more “local” beach as well as one of the nicest.  We had 2 full days to kill and spent most of them walking and lounging on this beach. There isn’t much in the way of development but there are a few small restaurant/beach bars, attached to small resorts. You can still get food, drinks, chairs, etc from them. There are even a few spots with little lockers though from the looks of things people were just leaving their stuff lying around and theft isn’t a huge problem on that beach, at least for now… There were a few guys touting jet ski rides and kayak rentals. It was October off season and fortunately there weren’t that many people around and the weather held despite a near constant risk of rain. Another popular thing to do is rent scooters or golf carts and drive around the island to visit all of the beaches and viewpoints. Off the beach it feels pretty rural as well with lots of chickens and lizards running around. The main city of San Andres looks pretty poor and rundown though and crime is supposed to be getting worse in that area.

Our B&B in a traditional home

Rural walk to the beach

Sunset and San Luis in the background.

Apparently there is another smaller island nearby call Providencia that is even more quiet and stunning, but a short additional flight or lengthy boat ride are required to get there. It is supposed to by much better and worth the effort if you have time to go. Maybe if there is a next time.
And as soon as it had begun we were getting ready to leave again with a flight via Panama again to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I was going to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality on our Copa flights but I am too annoyed at the ladies that checked us in in San Andres.  They actually made us go into their back room and book an onward international ticket out of Bolivia before they would let us on the plane. We had to buy a nonsense international bus ticket (which was 80% refundable later) and this is the first time I wasn’t able to talk my way onto a plane. Airlines are generally more uptight and strict about these things which is the most annoying part because of course Bolivian immigration didn’t even question us at all on arrival.
Now we start the overland South America journey properly!


Leave a Reply