The Colombian anomaly
Prior to our travels, little did we know Colombia had its own slice of the Carribean; there’s Providencia, home to the world’s third largest barrier reef, and there’s San Andres, the sea horse-shaped island renowned for easy going island life and its duty-free shops. Geographically, the islands sit closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Culturally, its distinction from the mainland is reflected largely in the locals speaking in a mixture of Spanish and English-based Creole. For us, it was a nice change from speaking our pigeon Spanish on the mainland.
Of the two islands, it was more affordable to visit to the busier, less attractive San Andres island. As we descended from the skies, we were seduced by the shimmering sea – a shimmering mixture of bright turquoise and stunning azure. We couldn’t wait to get in. Luckily, the airport is centrally located on the island. So central that we could walk directly to our hostel, from airport to accommodation in 15 minutes, through a busy swirl of motorbikes and unattractive concrete buildings.
Our focus for visiting San Andres had two purposes;
- To sneak in a Caribbean destination during our South America travels
- To scuba dive. Guess who initiated this plan?
And that’s essentially all we did on the island for 4 days. Eat, sleep, scuba and repeat.
A few excitingly buoyant excerpts from our dive log:
“So nice to be back in tropical waters, aquamarine sea, loads of coral and tropical fish. Climbed down stairs on an outcrop of volcanic rocks, battered by waves as we got in. So great to dive in warm waters without a suit.Quite a lot of coral – both bleached and dead. Saw a huge dropped anchor, garden eels, a small ship wreck which we peered into.”
“Very windy conditions. No idea whether we’d be able to dive today. Boat ride out was extremely choppy. Was soaked before we even got in. Group of 10 dove together although it was a bit unorganised at times. Lots of marine life. The old instructor in his 60s killed a couple of lion fish – which I was like ‘Da fuq!?’. Apparently they are not native to the region and very poisonous to local reefs. Also saw a free swimming moray eel.”
Obviously in between dives, we had to replenish our depleted energy with food. We were recommended a local restaurant by our hostel: El Parqueadero – a no frills local diner that served up Colombian/Carribean cuisine which quickly became our second home over the coming days. For 4 quid, one could have a hearty plate of stew meats, fried plantains, salad, frijoles and a bucket of rice. Delicious fish soup, crab curry and sugarcane juice were also served up at this local joint.
On the subject of food, San Andres is also the only place in South America where we’ve found a bakery that made sausage rolls (Hong Kong-style!). They even tasted like the real deal, but perhaps our taste buds have taken a step back since traveling.
On our last day, we stayed on dry land, divers are advised not to dive 24hrs before flying for fear of decompression sickness. We rented a gas guzzling mini truck, an upgrade from Noddy’s car in Uruguay, and “explored” the island. It took roughly 40 minutes to loop around the entire island. But time aside, it allowed us to see the less developed, more local communities on the island. We past by clusters of colorful homes, smack bang by the beach. At the southern tip, we visited Hoyo Soplador, a natural blowhole. When the tide and wind hits the rock formation at the right spot, a jet of water shoots up 10m out of the hole. Like most tourists around this spot, we stood around the hole for a good 10-15minutes, staking out for an epic wave to capture. The advantage of driving our own vehicle meant we could stop at any stretch of the beach along the coast and dive in for a quick refreshing dip.
5 more dives completed, we head back to the mainland, to the photogenic, colonial gateway, Cartagena.
Two thumbs up: