Why not read our Retirement Reviews.
PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at the time of writing was US$1 = C$2,900 (Colombian Peso / COP). To keep things simple, I use C$3k = US$1.
I made a mistake. The hostel was too far from the beach, it was on the edge of a dangerous area of town, and the area had no nice restaurants nor bars.
Please refer to my previous post on San Andres: A Beginner’s Guide & Where To Stay.
This post covers:
- Getting There (from the Colombian mainland)
- About San Andres
- North End / El Centro: Photo Gallery
- North End / El Centro: Where To Stay
- East Coast / Playa San Luis: Photo Gallery
- East Coast / Playa San Luis: Where To Stay
- When To Go
I popped over to Providencia Island on the Catamaran for a couple of weeks. It was another mistake. Again, I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. There were no nearby bars and there was only 1 restaurant within 1.5kms.
The Conocemos Navegando Catamaran leaves from San Andres to Providencia at 8am on 5 days each week: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
The trip out is against the swell, so it is scheduled for 3.5 hours. It returns the same day at 2pm. The trip back is with the swell, so it is scheduled for 2.5 hours. I bought my ticket online at their website. The normal Return Ticket price of C$390k / US$144 was discounted down to C$341k / US$126. I successfully paid online with my NZ Visa Credit Card.
The boat dock was 5 kms from where I was staying. My host was kind enough to drive me there in his own car for free. I arrived at 12 noon to find that the Catamaran office did not open until 1pm (1 hour before departure). I found a local cafe and sat down with a cappuccino (C$4k) whilst I waited.
I was back at the office at 12:50 and joined the queue. As I have experienced in most of these Caribbean Islands (for example, read my blog on Big Corn Island) as the doors open, the locals push past the tourists to get to the front of the queue. Something that I find very rude and annoying.
Anyway, you show your (electronic) ticket, passport, and Tourist Card. You, then, enter the boat dock precinct and pass through an open baggage check (which may or may not be ‘thorough’).
You can go straight on to the Catamaran and claim your seat. We left on time at 2:00pm. The seas were good on the way back (and nobody threw up). We arrived at Tonino’s Marina on San Andres on time at 4:30pm.
From there, I caught a taxi for C$20k to go the 4kms down the east coast to my accommodation. With less luggage, I could have walked a couple of hundred metres south to a bus stop … and gotten there for C$2,400 on public transport.
ABOUT SAN ANDRES:
I have given fuller details in my previous post: San Andres – Colombia – A Beginner’s Guide & Where To Stay.
I had already had a good look at the main beaches (which can be found in El Centro and down the east coast) and I had chosen to stay in San Luis Beach (on this, my second, visit to the island).
I have given fuller details in my previous post: San Andres – Colombia – A Beginner’s Guide & Where To Stay.
SPRATT BIGHT BEACH / EL CENTRO:
The problem for GRANDPAckers (and other budget travellers) is that accommodation close to this beach is expensive (think US$40+ per night) and the cheaper accommodation (that may be within price range) is found in unkempt, remote, and / or dangerous areas of town.
You find cheaper accommodation in this area (the cheapest are, usually, found on AirBnB).
In hindsight, I may have been better off near the southern beach so that I could get some sort of social life.
San Andres has a good public transport system with a bus going past every 15-20 minutes during the day. The price is C$2,400 regardless of distance. However, these buses tend to be full and cramped … and, thus, are not good options if you are travelling with luggage.
Some buses go direct to El Centro, others may go via the central hill town of La Loma.
Taxis are relatively expensive. A taxi from the airport to San Luis Beach should cost C$25k.
Bicycle rental is C$40k / US$15 per 24 hours. Scooter rental is C$70k / US$26 per 24 hours. Golf buggies cost more (over US$40 per day).
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 50 metres from the south end of the northern San Luis Beach: the Cabana Caribbean Raizal.
The kitchen was well equipped and my host was kind enough to lend me his coffee maker for a week. The problem with this area is that it didn’t have aircon (just a small fan) and it got very hot and stuffy during the day.
I was there on my own for the whole week … it felt like I had my own 3 bedroom apartment.
The only downside was that the ‘free wifi’ was actually a free government provided wifi that serviced all of the homes in this small community. Annoyingly you had to keep signing in every hour which involved answering a few multi-choice questions and negotiating through 4+ screens. It was, also, very ‘variable’ and was rarely good enough to stream videos.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Internet on the island is ‘variable’. It can come and go at will and sometimes just freezes up for minutes at a time. This is not helped by the occasional power outage.
I bought a Claro SIMcard in Cartagena. Claro is said to offer the best overall coverage and service in Colombia. The SIMcard was C$3,100 and I purchased a 2GB Data Package for C$42,900. This data package came with a few minutes of call time and a few free SMSs.
In my Cabana, I could get an H / H+ signal (when the island’s internet wasn’t down). I got a slightly better service down on the beach. In town this got up to 3G / 4G.
SAN LUIS BEACH:
Food is cheaper than it is on Providencia … but, still relatively expensive.
Typical costs at my local store were:
- 5 Gallon Bottle of Water = C$6,000 (supplied by my Cabana at ‘local’ prices)
- 435ml Local Beer = C$2,400
- 1kg Muesli = C$15,000
- 1L Milk = C$4,000
- 1 (average sized) Banana = C$750
- 250g Pasta = C$1,000
- 1/2lb Local White Cheese = C$5,000
- 1lb Chicken Frank Sausages = C$4,500
- 1 Head of Garlic = C$500
- 1 (average sized) Potato = C$500
- 1 Egg = C$600
There aren’t many restaurants around San Luis. There are a couple of local cafes – some of which only open up for the night trade after 7pm. A small Salchipapa (french fries with sliced sausage topped with salad and cheese) costs C$12k / US$4.
It was 1/3 of the size of the one that I bought in Palomino for C$10k (pictured, above).
Otherwise, you are eating in one of the pricey 2-3 hotel restaurants down on the beach (for GRANDPAckers, the prices on their menus can be quite scary).
I gave up trying to find a restaurant to eat in at night, I went for a long walk on 3 occasions and found nothing. I bought in groceries to eat at home.
Expect to pay an average of C$15,000 / US$5+ for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea.
Expect to pay an average of C$15,000 / US$5+ a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of C$33,500 / US$11+ for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.
They don’t really have pubs on the island; you might find a couple in El Centro but not out of town. People tend to have a drink with their restaurant meal or drink at home with friends … or stand outside the supermarket where they buy them.
Expect to pay C$3,000-C$3,500 for a local beer in a cafe / restaurant. Expect to pay C$1,500-C$2,200 for a 330ml bottle/can in a store.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
Go to El Centro if you want to do this type of shopping.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
There are no Money Exchanges.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
Many areas of San Andres are unsafe … some a plain dangerous. There are many reports of people being mugged at knifepoint … often when returning from an ATM.
Whilst I was on San Andres there was an home invasion in La Loma (the small town in the centre of the island) that resulted in 3 residents being take to hospital on stretchers.
As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
Petty Theft is a ‘typical’ problem in these countries. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.
There were mosquitoes around but I didn’t find them to be a problem (not like they were on Providencia).
I didn’t experience any Sandfly problems.
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
The lack of places to meet people and the lack of eateries means that you will invariably end up living a ‘home life’: cooking and eating at home, being home shortly after dusk, and going to bed early.
I was planning to go to Cali but decided to cancel my flight (no refund). Cali has an ‘iffy’ reputation and, after San Andres, I just wanted to get back to normality.
I will tell you more about that it my next post.
GRANDPAckers cannot afford to HOLIDAY here to GRANDPAcking standard.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I DID NOT live to GRANDPAcking standard.
I spent 3 nights in a Double Room in El Centro at an average price of C$72,000 / US$27 per night and 7 nights in a Double Room in a Cabana at an average price of C$50,000 / US$18 per night.
I generally walked everywhere but caught the public bus 3 times – once to go into town to an ATM
I bought a new Claro SIMcard when I was in Cartagena; I topped it up in San Andres with another C$43k so that I could buy another 1 month 2GB plan.
I spent C$109k / US$40 on my Tourist Card. C$48k / US$18 of that was allocated to San Andres on a pro rata basis.
My Breakfasts averaged just under C$7k / US$2.35 per day – I bought groceries and ate at home.
I spent hardly anything on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore. What I did spend tended to be soft drinks which averaged about C$2k / US$70c per day.
I averaged about C$22k / US$8 per day on Dinners – I bought groceries and ate at home.
I bought a 4L bottle of water for C$3k and a 5 Gallon bottle for C$6k which averaged out at C$900 / US$35c per day.
My COE worked out to be about C$89k / US$33 per day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: I spent C$45k / US$17 in total. C$20k / US$7 of that was for a taxi to take me 4kms from Tonino’s Marina to San Luis Beach. It cost me C$152k / US$56 to fly to San Andres from Barranquilla. It cost me C$252k / US$93 to fly from San Andres to Medellin.
Medical: I bought a course of antibiotics for a minor tooth infection.
Living Costs: I averaged about C$4,460 / US$1.65 per day on LIVING expenses. This amount was so low because I had no nightlife … I drank duty free rum on the beach at sunset / with my evening meal.
My total COL was about C$138 / US$51 per day.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself something for 2 nights at about C$70k night in a Green Zone. Once there, look around and find somewhere for about C$60k per night.
Transport: I have included a weekly return public bus trip for two at C$9,600 / US$3.50 per trip.
Communications & Fees: I have included one Claro SIMcard with a 1 month 2GB data plan at C$46k. I have included two Tourist Cards at C$109k / US$40 each.
Food & Beverages: Your budget is C$129k / US$48 per day including water. This is to eat all of your meals in hotel Restaurants.
Your COE is C$194k / US$71 per day (27% over budget).
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you nothing to LIVE on.
In fact, you will have to find an extra US$15 per day just to be there.
THE GRANDPAcking ACID TEST: Can a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? NO.
Your Retirement costs will be similar to your Holiday costs.
My definition of ‘idyllic’ seems to be different from that of other people. It does not include being careful about which streets I walk in. It does not include staying at home with nowhere to go. It does not include packing up my hammock and taking shelter from an afternoon shower. It does not include being in an isolated location because it is all I can afford … and, it does not include having to do this over budget.
I won’t be coming back to San Andres Island (nor Providencia Island).
To LIVE on San Andres Island, a single person will need to spend over US$75 per day. A couple will need to spend over US$100 per day. This is no good for ‘budget travellers’ like GRANDPAckers.
You can keep your costs to a minimum by getting yourself into one of the Green Zones and focusing on a beach life. If you don’t do that, you can get around on the public bus – but each return trip for 2 will set you back almost C$10k.
If you are looking for sun and beaches, go elsewhere. If you need to stay within GRANDPAcking budget, go elsewhere.