San Andres – Colombia – A Beginner’s Guide & Where To Stay


JUNE 2018:


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OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at time of writing was US$1 = C$2,900 (Colombian Peso / COP).

I came from Rodadero near Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast of the Colombian mainland.I stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment for 5 nights at US$32 / night …

Rodadero was a pleasant surprise. The beach was good and there were plenty of budget restaurants where you could get a reasonable meal for as little as C$10k / US$3.35 (but, C$15k / US$5 was more ‘normal’).

And, you find cafe-marts overlooking the beach where you can have a beer for C$3,500 / US$1.20c at sunset.

… It was time to have a look at the San Andres & Providencia Islands …


GETTING THERE:

The San Andres & Providencia Islands are nearer to Nicaragua than they are to Colombia.

When I flew from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia I used WINGO and I was happy with them … so, I had a look at their flights out to San Andres. I booked a flight from Barranquilla for US$53 including 20Kgs of stowed luggage.

RODADERO TO BARRANQUILLA:

A taxi from my Rodadero Hostel to the Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta was C$12k / US$4. By road, it is about 7kms.

From the Terminal, I caught the next bus to Barranquilla. They leave frequently, so I only had to wait a few minutes. It was a small bus with lots of leg room.

The price was C$13k. The trip takes 2 hours.

A NIGHT IN BARRANQUILLA:

For safety, I did not want to make the trip from Santa Marta to Barranquilla for a same-day flight. I wanted 1 night in an hotel near the airport.

The Terminal de Transport Terrestrial de Barranquilla is on the south side of the city in the Soledad Area. The airport is 3kms further south of there (as the crow flies).

I saw no point in catching a taxi into a city centre hotel to catch another taxi back again the next morning. I booked myself into an hotel opposite the Bus Terminal: the Sol Caribe.

I got a Double Room with Breakfast for C$75k / US$27 night.

It was OK, and so was the cold-water ensuite.

The Breakfast was very basic.

I ventured out onto the streets that evening for Dinner. It is a ‘rough’ area. Don’t get me wrong … it was safe enough for my purposes and I could eat in the restaurant next door if I wanted to … but, I went for a walk-about anyway 🙂

100 metres or so up the road were Disco Bars. I ate near there and the friendly waiter advised me not to use my phone on the way home (not if I wanted to still have it when I got there).

In front of the Bus Terminal were Venezuelan refugees camping in shabby tents along the footpath. They slept and ate on that side of the street and did their ‘ablutions’ on the other side of the street.

BARRANQUILLA TO SAN ANDRES:

I travel with digital scales. Over the years they have saved me many times what I paid for them. I weighed up my luggage and made sure that everything complied with WINGO requirements.

I ordered an UBER taxi and headed for the airport 3 hours before my flight. The UBER taxi charged C$21k / US$7.70. I prefer to use UBER if I can … you know that you will be charged correctly and not ripped off.

WINGO had only 1 counter that happened to open as I arrived.

There were only about 8 people in front of me but it still took 30 minutes to check me through. I was glad that I arrived early. My luggage weights were spot on … so, there were no ‘excess fees’.

However, I had to buy my San Andres & Providencia ‘Tourist Card’ at the WINGO counter. The price was C$109k / US$40 each. I advise you to fill it in before you land in San Andres.

From there, you make the short walk to the main Airport building. I found the foodcourt, bought a coffee, and settled down to do some work whilst I waited.

Our flight was delayed 30 minutes. We arrived in San Andres Airport at 4:30pm.

It took about 30 minutes for our bags to arrive. I walked out of the airport through the gauntlet of taxi touts to find myself facing Calle 4.


ABOUT SAN ANDRES:

San Andrés is a Colombian coral island in the Caribbean Sea.

Historically tied to the United Kingdom, and politically part of Colombia, San Andrés and its two neighbouring islands form the department of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. The official languages of the department are Creole, Spanish, and English.

The archipelago is approximately 750 Km north of the Colombian mainland. The area of the islands is 45 km2 (17 sq mi). In 2000, it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, named “Seaflower Biosphere Reserve”, which not only includes the islands but also about 10% of the Caribbean Sea, amounting to a vast marine area of 300,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi). The purpose of this declaration is to ensure that the ecosystem, which is rich in biodiversity, is well preserved and conserved.

The department’s capital is located on the northern end of the island. Named San Andrés but nicknamed El Centro. Along the 30 Km road that circles the island there are many picturesque beaches, coral reefs, cays, blowholes, and coves. There are coconut palm plantations, lush pastures, and tall native trees reaching 20 meters (66 ft). Surrounded by the warm Caribbean Sea, all of these features have made the island an “exotic holiday destination”.


NORTH END – PHOTO GALLERY

We start at Plazoleta Coral Palace on Carrera 1 on the north-eastern side of the island.

This is typical of the coastline all the way up to the northern end.

The street into town is, also, typical.

We pass Tonino’s Marina (where people catch the Catamaran to Providencia).

Soon, we are on the nicer roads close to the main beach.

I have read a few reviews that are not very complementary about the main beach.

But, I thought that it was nice sand with good swimming.

Half way along the beach, there is a pier that gives us a view back …

And forward towards the airport.

It is an opportunity to show you the corresponding street fronts of each direction …

A similar street that invites us to look further into town.

Here, we find the start of the usual suite of tourist shops and a few Duty Frees.

But, first, we double back to the rest of the beach …

This end of the beach is quieter but just as nice … and, the beachfront seems more picturesque.

There are some nice, up-market hotels.

And, finally, we get to the end of the beach.

The beach road, from here, turns ‘less picturesque’ very quickly.

The next time we see water, the beach has gone.

And, from all of the reading that I have done, it is like this all of the way down the west coast.

By now, we are at Calle 6 and about 1Km from the beach.

In this area, we find some of the cheaper hostels listed on the internet. For example, Calle 6 takes us past the Sarie Bay Inn. At the end of Calle 6 we meet the air strip. The view south is unpaved and unappealing.

The view north isn’t much better … but, it is paved.

I’m not sure that I would want to be around these streets alone at night. I was quickly back to the little gardens on Calle 4.

And back on the main streets …

We continue past the Stadium ‘Park’.

The area around the junction between Calle 4 and Avenida 20 de Julio is the ‘Shopping Centre’ and the nicest area of town.

Avenida Las Americas takes us back to Carrera 1.


NORTH END – WHERE TO STAY:

You want to be in the Green Zone.

To find something more affordable, expand your search into the Yellow Zone.

PLEASE NOTE: Whatever you do, keep away from the Red Zone – this area is dangerous – even the locals tell you not to go there … and parts of it are only 400 meters from where you might be staying.

PLEASE NOTE: Whilst I was on the islands there was an home invasion in La Loma town which resulted in 3 residents of the home being stretchered away to hospital. Locals told me that there is also a ‘bad crowd’ in the San Luis area.


NORTH END – ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night at the end of June 2018 … due to the May-June rains (see ‘When To Go’, below) this is, theoretically, ‘Shoulder Season’:

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

AGODA.COM:


PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Colombia, only Colombian Nationals pay the 15-19% tax … Tourists (surprisingly) are exempt from that tax.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s and display the average price per night

TRIPADVISOR:

Tripadvisor had nothing within GRANDPAcking price range.

AIRBnB:


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Cleaning Fees’ and the host site’s ‘Service Fee’. The Service Fee can add as 16%. Watch out for the Cleaning Fee – some can be more than 1 day’s rental!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

GRANDPAckers are going to have to start their search early and wait for some pretty deep discounts. More likely than not, GRANDPAckers won’t be able to afford to stay here.

You need to seriously ask yourself why you would want to be further out from the Green and Yellow zones. If you are going to have to pay close to your upper limit of US$30 / night for a room … Why would you want to be 100s of metres away from the beach in a shabby area and/or a shabby hostel?

MY ADVICE: If you can’t get into one of these 2 zones at an affordable price, go elsewhere. Look at my HOLIDAYS MENU (on the left).


NORTH END – ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


NORTH END – MY ACCOMMODATION:

I already knew about the Red Zone. But I didn’t (yet) know about the other areas.

I pre-booked myself into the Posada Nativa Tristan Centro for 3 nights so that I could have a good look around. It was on Avenida 20 de Julio only 1 block from Carrera 1 and the waterfront. I paid C$72k / US$26 per night.

I arrived just in time … they were closing up at 6pm and they had forgotten about my booking. My room was on the 1st floor in a group of 8 rooms.

My room was a Double.

It had a decent double bed.

It had Cable TV (but mainly Spanish channels).

The ensuite was a decent size.

And it came with a cold water shower.

There was a separate area with a table, chairs, and small fridge at the back.

With a back door that opened out onto the shared balcony.

The balcony led to a shared deck area.

In summary, the room was OK but I was in the middle of nowhere … 100s of metres from the beach. I had no decent restaurant options around me – those were at least a 600 metres walk away.


EAST COAST – PHOTO GALLERY

We start at the same place: Plazoleta Coral Palace on Carrera 1 on the north-eastern side of the island …

… and head south down the coast road.

You might find a small patch of sand along the way.

But they are not really places where you can stop.

We exit El Centro at Barrio El Bight.

And go a couple of kms down the coast road.

Without any sight of the coast.

Until we reach Cocoplum Bay where we find a small beach …

… just before we reach the Sea Horse Hotel.

Past here, it is more beach-less coastline.

Until you get to Bay Marina.

It is just a short walk around the corner from there to San Luis Beach (north).

The roads inland from here offer some budget accommodation. The roads look decent.

We continue south along the road into San Francisco.

There are several accommodation options listed in this area, but the waterfront promenade offers no beach.

There are a couple of accommodation options on the waterfront.

But most are to be found in the (unappealing) backstreets.

Soon after exiting San Francesco to the south, you hit Playa San Luis (south).

This beach is a bit more unkempt than Playa San Luis (north).

But, you have more on-the-beach restobar options to choose from.

… and the swimming is good.

We have to exit the beach at Donde Fransesca.

We soon pass one more very small patch of sand that (hilariously) advertises itself as Play San Luis.

But, from here on, we find a narrow strip of sand fronted by rocky seas.

Our walk stops here.


EAST COAST – WHERE TO STAY:

You want to be into one of the Green Zones depending on which beach you are targeting.

Consider the Playa San Luis (south) Green Zone to end at the Reggae Bar.

To find something more affordable, expand your search into the Yellow Zones. But, personally, I would consider all of San Fransesco to be Yellow Zone … it’s just not very nice.

If you are happy to walk further, have a look at the Orange Zones.


EAST COAST – ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night at the end of June 2018 … due to the May-June rains (see ‘When To Go’, below) this is, theoretically, ‘Shoulder Season’:

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

AGODA.COM:


PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Colombia, only Colombian Nationals pay the 15-19% tax … Tourists (surprisingly) are exempt from that tax.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s and display the average price per night

TRIPADVISOR:

Tripadvisor had nothing within GRANDPAcking price range.

AIRBnB:


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Cleaning Fees’ and the host site’s ‘Service Fee’. The Service Fee can add as 16%. Watch out for the Cleaning Fee – some can be more than 1 day’s rental!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

GRANDPAckers are going to find it a bit tough finding something within budget near an east coast beach too.


EAST COAST – ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAST COAST – MY ACCOMMODATION:

I was committed to being on the San Andres & Providencia Islands until the 27th of June. I had already purchased my US$93 flight from San Andres Island to Cali on the 27th.

I had already purchased a C$341k / US$124 return Catamaran Ticket to leave San Andres for Providencia on the 6th of June returning on the 20th June.

My plan left me with 1 full week back in San Andres Island before flying out to Cali. My investigations left me in no mood to muck around.

On AirBnB, I found a place that had just been discounted down from US$25 per night to US$18 per night. It was in the Green Zone about 75 metres from San Luis Beach (north). I booked it. It is called the Cabana Caribbean Raizal.

I will tell you more about my stay in San Luis when I get back from Providencia in 2 weeks time.


TRANSPORT:

I caught a public bus back from San Francisco to El Centro.

The price was C$2,400.


EAT:

My El Centro accommodation was so far away from everything that I didn’t bother to investigate much.

I bought in groceries.

CHEAP EATS:

I found a local cafe a couple of 100 metres down the road where I had Breakfast for C$8k. When I walked around the northern beach area, the same thing was going for close to C$15k.

I went down to Subway one night for their C$7,900 Daily Special.

I will give you a better breakdown of costs when I get back.


WHEN TO GO:

The island experiences a tropical wet and dry climate that borders on a tropical monsoon climate. Average temperatures range from 24 °C (75 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) in two periods dominated by dry and rainy spells.

The rainy season is from September to December and also from May to June, when humidity is also high here. The trade winds from the north begin to blow in late October and during November and December until mid-January, the wind usually blows from the east, when there are storms in the northeastern Caribbean.


GETTING AWAY:

From San Andres Island I catch a Catamaran to Providencia Island. It leaves from San Andres 5 days each week at 8am.

I will tell you more about that it my next post.


CONCLUSION:

Some areas of San Andres are dangerous. There are reports of break-ins and knife-point muggings. San Andres has a high percentage of murders for its small population.

MY ADVICE: For your own safety keep as close as you can to the Tourist Beaches. San Andres tries hard to protect its tourist trade and keeps an eye on these areas.

San Andres Island is ‘tourism mature’. If someone has accommodation to offer, they are almost certainly already on the internet. You are unlikely to find any unlisted ‘hidden gems’ by walking the streets.

I can already see that LIVING on San Andres Island on a GRANDPAcking budget is going to be ‘challenging’ … come back and see what I have to say when I return from Providencia. 

TTFN


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