Well, okay, I did in the picture below, but this also wasn't my first rodeo.
As you travel through Central America and the northern tip of South America you will inevitably touch the Caribbean Sea. That is the case with countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, and Guyana. San Andrés physically lies closer to Nicaragua, right off its coast, but is officially one of the Departments of Colombia, known as the Archipelago of San Andrés Providencia and Santa Catalina. For that reason, you will often find that the local Islanders will still refer to it as "Central America". With Spanish, English, and Creole as the local languages, just about anyone can fit in.
How To Get There
I flew from Bogotá. I was already staying there for a few days prior to my trip to the Island, which wouldn't be a bad idea for you either, I'll blog about that later. It is about a two hour plane ride from Bogotá, El Dorado International airport. From there it is just a National Flight, so you have more options as far as local carriers go. But here is where I will tell you how to save money, but at your own comfort risk. Ready?
LAN, COPA, and, AVIANCA are the most well-known carriers in South America, and the most flown, therefore the prices will reflect it. I try to get around on minimal expense and save my splurges for my takeaways or on delicious meals, so if I don't have to pay the commercial price, I try not to. If you get your ticket way in advance you may be able to get it under $300 USD, however, and this can change seasonally, prices tend to run upwards to about $350 USD round trip. This is when I decided to see if there were a cheaper option for getting to the Island. There was.
VivaColombia is a local airline. My round trip to and from the Island of San Andrés was $190 USD. Here is the situation:
Caveat 1: VivaColombia allows you to 'pay' for your priority. This allows you to board the aircraft in the preferred zone. The closer to primary boarding, aka, zone 1, you'd like to be, the more you pay. I chose zone 2. And just like that, the cost of my ticket was cut in half.
Caveat 2: I also cut my comfort and amenities in half as well. For some, this could be a very uncomfortable irritation. Because it is cheap and local and only has two check-in service counters, on a good day, you have to line up hours in advance just to check in for your flight. And yes, you will be in line, standing for a very long time. You also have to pay for food and drinks on the flight (eat beforehand or bring on plane) as well as your luggage, if it goes over a certain weight. You are allowed one checked bag per person at 20lbs without having to pay anything. Or, if you can get everything you need into a carryon, not weighing more than 13lbs (check airline changes), plus a smaller personal item, you are good to go. Yes, they DO weigh your carryon.
Caveat 3: The airline is NOT punctual. Neither going nor coming did it arrive or leave on time. I was so late arriving to the island that the taxi I pre-requested, left. The airline also does not do assigned seating, therefore, the suggestion of paying for earlier zone boarding to claim your preferred seating. You will still find it massively hard to board the plane, because although everyone has an assigned zone, it is a feast or famine blockade to get through the crowds to board. Take a deep breath, try not to blurt out obscenities, and hold your ground. It is a cheaper way to travel, but if you don't have the patience or are on a more rigid schedule, go with the known commercial airlines. Or just refrain "I'm going to the beach," until you fasten your seatbelt and let the power of the ocean zen to you.
Caveat 4: There is an Island Conservation tax, that yup, you just may not learn about until you are about to board your very late flight to the Island (pointing to this girl right here). The cost fluctuates in USD due to the exchange rate but, is roughly 50,000 pesos ($25 USD) per person. When purchasing your ticket or when checking in for your flight, make sure you have paid this. You cannot enter the island without it. You will be given a receipt of payment which you must present at a mini 'customs' when arriving and another copy upon exit. DO NOT LOSE this receipt, because you will have to pay the amount again.
Caveats done. I think we are ready for take off.
Where To Stay
THINGS TO DO AND SEE
The Island is surrounded on its Northwest side by a small coral reef, ideal for scuba and snorkeling. The small cay in the San Andrés Bay is said to be the most visited in the Archipelago. Johnny Cay is about a mile north of San Andrés town. Proudly flaunting its white sand beaches and blue/green waters, it's an awesome way to spend a few hours of your day. You can get an organized tour that will take you to all 3 Cays (Keys) on a day of excursions. Or you can hand select your desired destination for the day. I grabbed a boat ride for about 15,000 pesos ($8.00 USD) round trip to both Johnny Cay, El Acuario Cay and Haynes Cay. Because Johnny Cay is the most visited and it's deemed a 'National Park,' there is an additional fee of 5,000 pesos ($4.50 USD) to lay out and sun tan on its beaches. Ummmm, I'll take it. (Just make sure, if you have organized this tour via your resort or hotel, that they have included the fee or else you will have to pay it upon arrival. If your hotel tells you it is included in the price, make sure they give you a voucher to show upon your arrival). There is a lot of coral at Acuario and Haynes Cay so be sure to bring your water shoes. Sandals will not do. Or you can rent them there for 3,000 pesos ($1.50 USD).
Providencia is part of the Department of San Andrés connected by a 100 meter foot bridge to the smaller island of Santa Catalina. Lying midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica, it's much less visited than the main San Andrés Island, so is ideal for the traveler looking to escape roving eyes. However, getting there will take a little bit of beforehand preparation. I know for my spontaneous travelers this part may be a bit of a strain, but due to growing popularity, and limited transportation options, getting to Providencia will have to be planned out.
1. By Boat (3 hours one way)
The boats from San Andrés only run 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at both 8:00 a.m or 9:00 a.m, and only once to return on those same days at 4:00 p.m. That makes it hard for it to only to be a 'one day' excursion, because it takes 3 hours to get there and 3 hours to get back and you have to be at the dock for your return boat at least an hour before. That really only gives you 4 hours on the island. However, you can plan it this way - Take the Monday morning boat, spend Monday and Tuesday night on Providencia, and take the Wednesday return boat at 4:00 p.m., back to San Andrés. That allows you to maximize your time, not be rushed and have plenty of time to explore nearby Santa Catalina which can be a hiking adventure. The Boat round trip will cost 130,000 pesos ( $65.00 USD).
2. Plane (45 mins one way)
While the boat reservation can be made with little advance notice, your plane reservation cannot. Minimum 2-3 days in advance, but honestly that is not always sufficient time as they fill up faster and are smaller planes. My suggestion, once you know you are heading to San Andrés, start looking at which days you'd like to spend on Providencia, and book with as much time as comfortably possible for you. The same airlines I mentioned above can handle that for you, but Satena Airlines also flies there frequently at about 220,000 pesos ($110.00 USD) round trip.
Whichever route you take - be sure to share your pictures with me.
Again, DO YOU LOVE THE CARIBBEAN? Let me know when you get back.