The first thing I did when I woke up in San Andrés Island was walk directly toward the nearby beach to scope out our view of the Caribbean. Out in the distance, I noticed another, smaller island- the likes of which you might think of when you try to remember Castaway or Robinson Crusoe. I had read a couple of blogs prior to my arrival about things I might want to do in San Andrés, and one recommendation persisted: a trip to Johnny Cay.
After a quick walk around the boardwalk, a nice young fellow by the name of Jorge confirmed my suspicions that the picturesque isle in the distance was indeed Johnny Cay (aka Islote Sucre in Spanish), and he reiterated what I had read- that it was their archipelago's most impressive island. He pointed me toward a Juan Valdez so I could start the day with my coffee addiction, and told me to come back once I was ready and he would put me on a boat, which he said would be $15,000 COP (about $5 USD) round trip.
That was at about 7:45am. I returned in an hour and realized I should have skipped the coffee, because there were several lines waiting to get on a boat when I got back. Luckily, though, he put me right on one that was leaving, because I asked to go directly there- the others were going to some place called Acuario as part of their tour package to Johnny Cay, which is basically a nice spot to go snorkeling and swim with Manta Rays. Been there, done that in The Cayman Islands many years ago, so on the boat I went.
Beware of the Waves, Bra!
Be prepared to get drenched.
By the Grace of the Gods, my computer was saved, because my backpack was absolutely soaked on the boat ride over. It's pretty windy here and the strong currents make it a pretty choppy ride even though it's a short one. I also felt like I was sitting in the worst possible seat, as seemingly every trough presented a splash directly across my face and vulnerable backpack. I was literally praying the entire ride there that I would be able to power this baby on to write you this article. Thanks, Universe! ;)
The rough waters presented another challenge: getting on and off the boat. The "captains" had a difficult time even keeping their boats corralled because the current was so strong, and after watching several fails, I instantly felt bad for less coordinated people. Even with the slight agility that remains from my more athletic days, I don't think it was very pretty getting on or off for me either. One woman actually had to be hoisted into the boat after being denied with a direct smack from the hull.
When we disembarked, we were greeted by a "government official" who was collecting yet another sneaky fee just for stepping foot on the land (as the do when you land in San Andrés) due to the fact that they deemed it a Regional Park (San Andrés is a National Park). $5,000 COP later, I sought to quickly unpack my things and hope that my electronics weren't completely fried. And you already know the fortunate end result. Note to self: buy a waterproof backpack.
Eating and Drinking and Peeing
The small island consists only of a few small shops, restaurants, bars jamming to reggae and a restroom. By shops, I mean people selling handmade bracelets, bags, or locker space for your things. The restroom costs $1,000 COP to enter. Surprise!
The restaurants all seemed to be selling the same exact thing for the same exact price. Being that we're in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, seafood obviously dominated the menu. I opted for the fried fish, and that's exactly what I got: a deep-fried fish, complete with the head, eyes, tails, and bones. It also came with some fried plantains and rice, which I appreciated, because I sometimes have a really hard time with the strong tastes of seafood.
It was pretty tasty, though, and seemingly fresh (I should hope so). I washed it down with a Club Colombia (never buy Aguila- I don't care if saves you 2,000 COP- it's absolute piss-water) and did my best to fend off the swarm of very hungry flies that were exceedingly interested in my leftovers. If fish isn't your thing, they also had ceviche on the menu- only camarones (shrimp) or mixto (fish and crustaceans mixed), however. I don't like crustaceans, or else I would have opted for the more refreshing dish. I also saw a guy walking around with some pretty exotic-looking lobsters, although I'm not sure how often that happens.
- Ceviche: $18,000 COP
- Fried Fish Plate: $25,000 COP
- Lobster: ???
The bars all sold the same drinks-contained-by-coconut-shell, and there were only two options for what went inside: Coco Loco or Piña Colada. I had the Coco Loco because the bartender told me it was stronger, but I would probably recommend the Piña Colada now. We all know that's a winner. They also have beers and sodas and probably water too. The beer selection was odd though: Aguila, Club Colombia, Heineken, and Miller Genuine Draft (yes, the black and gold one). For some reason, the locals were all about that MGD.
- Coconut Piña Colada or Coco Loco: $12,000 COP
- Beer: $6,000 or $7,000 COP
- Soda: $4,000 COP
- Water: Hopefully less than the soda, but I doubt it
Okay, But What Else?
Speaking of water, it's exceptionally clear here. I noticed on the ride back that I could see all the way down to the bottom, and one friend from Brazil noted how the water here was a version of blue unlike she had ever seen in her other travels around the Caribbean. It is definitely a pretty blue, although I found the Caymans and Aruba to be a bit more impressive in that regard.
You'll find soft, white sands here, which we can all appreciate. Swim with caution, however, as there are giant rocks under the water which contribute to the rough, unpredictable tides. It was pretty funny to watch the 100-some-odd group of people being tossed around in the water in unison, but I could easily see that going south.
In comparison to the overly crowded and limited beach front facing San Andrés Island, the middle and other sides of the island are relatively peaceful. Tranquility can be found here, and my favorite part of the island, was sitting in the grass, leaning against one of the many coconut palms that conquer the island. There are also a ton of iguanas- some boasting a very unique and florescent indigo-looking hue, and others that must have been three feet or more in length.
But Wait, There's More!
One final note- leaving the island is a total shit show. Your roundtrip ticket that you bought to get to the island is only good for the one of many companies that brought you there, and so you'll be at the mercy of leaving whenever their pre-determined schedule permits, which is anywhere between 1:00 and 5:00 pm, it seems. So, you might want to ask what your options are if you prefer to be back at a certain time. There are no hostels or hotels there, so I don't think sleeping there is an option (or a good idea).
If you're going to come to San Andrés Island, Johnny Cay is definitely worth the trip over because of its distinctly island-life and more natural feel compared to the big island. I haven't been, but if you really want to go ship-wrecked style to a literally untouched island, it's also possible to get to Cayo Bolívar, which is an atoll southeast of San Andrés. If you're prone to sea-sickness, however, you might want to take some medication, as it's 25km off-shore. I still don't feel right since returning from the 1.5km ride to Johnny Cay!