This Colombian island is an excellent place to shake off the Michigan snow.
Originally published in the Fenton Patch February 2013.
The jet started its circle for approach. From my window I noticed that the landing strip started at the water and ended where the Caribbean Ocean met the other side of the island. A couple passengers crossed themselves, the tires hit the hot pavement, engines screamed their reverse, and we finally stopped with a good 50 yards to spare.
Warm humid air smelling of sea drained all the tension from my body. “Welcome to Caribbean time,” I told my wife as we disembarked. That is one of the main things I like about San Andres Island, time moves slower. Another is the lack of throngs of hawkers trying to sell you something. I looked forward to some sun, rest and relaxation.
There is no need to pass through customs as every plane starts on the Colombian mainland. First step was not our luggage though. Each passenger has to register with the island’s tourist office and pay a $20 entrance fee before they can enter the area of three belts with luggage. The registration includes your Email address. The fee is to help develop the place more for tourists.
San Andreas is part of the Archipelago of San Andres which also includes two more islands. This island is long and narrow covering 22 square miles with 80,000 inhabitants. Many of the people speak English. When asked what they like best about their island most tell me their laid back way of life and traditions. They are proud that the area does not have the crime or other problems of the mainland. The reason, they point out, is that there is no way for a criminal to escape the island without passing authorities.
The history of San Andres is rich like most of the other islands in the Caribbean. Its story helps make it what it is today. The tale begins in 1629 with English Puritans colonizing what they considered a paradise. The island changed hands several times between the English and the Spanish over the following years finally ending up as a part of Colombia. In 1912 the government initiated what they have called the “Colombianization” of the island basically changing it over from puritan values to those more closely aligned with that of the Spanish Catholic religion. According to locals ambitiousness and possibly greed by the government had pretty much screwed up the island by 1953 with making it a free port and allowing overpopulation.
The culture and preservation are swinging back some today. It is a much better place for vacation than many of the other islands that have been devastated of their original splendor by the greed of tourism. Methodist and Baptist churches are seen on the island in many locations. There is a plan to maintain the cultural and natural resources. However the main complaint I heard from inhabitants is that outside tourist corporations are taking advantage of the people and removing the money off the island instead of investing it to help maintain its patrimony. As one local told me, “We don’t want to work for those slave wages like they pay in Bogotá.” Another complaint often heard is that they do not like these outside influences trying to change their culture and traditions.
Exiting the luggage area a representative of Decameron all inclusive hotels greeted us. She directed us to a waiting transportation to the hotel. The company operates many such clubs in Latin American countries. Because of previous experiences years before, my wife chose for us the San Luis of the five Decamerons on San Andres. This particular hotel is located about 20 minutes from the main shopping area and it has its own beach. The San Luis has five sections to it. In my opinion the best rooms are in sections two and three.
The downtown area of San Andres has some wonderful shops with well priced items. However, remember this is the Caribbean and the vast majority of shops close between noon and 3 PM daily. A $9 taxi ride or $2 bus ride will get you either there or back.
Most of the hotels have on-site tour agencies that can sign you up for everything from glass bottom boats to bus trips around the island. The bus trips are in Spanish. However taxi drivers informed us that for the same cost many of them offer the same trip in English and allow you to stop where you want and stay as long as you want.
Most travel agencies, including Decameron, offer the best package deals starting in Bogotá. I recommend that Fentonites fly to the Colombian capital first and spend a couple days discovering all of its unique offerings. Then catch the plane for San Andres.
Also see our blog about Providencia Island