San Andres, Colombia: Island of Watercolors!

Here’s a post from our time in San Andres, Colombia on our way from the Bay Islands to Panama… enjoy!

Winterlude has just spent the last two weeks & over 600 miles under the keel in some of the most pristine waters imaginable, cruising the inhospitable Nicaraguan coast, stopping at two tiny island jewels, both owned by Colombia.  David’s GPS tells us that we’ve now cruised over 3,600 miles since we bought that GPS, in 2004 … which doesn’t include the trip from Annapolis to Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda Florida! You’d think we’d be seasoned old salts by now, and we’re still learning new things about Winterlude & about cruising every day.

Fidel the Fisherman Leading Bruadair and Winterlude to the “safe” anchorage in front of the hotel zone, San Andres, Colombia

We almost didn’t stop at San Andres, we stopped at Providencia, Colombia, but Colombia makes you clear in & out and pay fees at every port … with the result that most cruisers pick either Providencia or San Andres, but few stop at both. A fellow cruiser told us not to miss it.

Our first glimpse of San Andres – Great Sail!

After about a 12 hour sail from Providencia, we were STUNNED to see the “skyline” of San Andres. Somehow we’d gotten lost & arrived at South Beach!!! But the water here is the most incredible of anywhere we’ve been and we’ve been in some beautiful waters! I have no idea why, but even in the harbor with all the shrimp boats, fishing boats & big container ships, the water is amazingly clear! And our buddy boat, Bruadair, caught a 31″ mahi mahi during the sail, so we dined on fresh mahi mahi that evening!

In San Andres, watercolors spanning every conceivable hue of green, blue, aquamarine accompany the snap crackle pop of what must be dozens of tiny cleaner shrimp busily munching on algae on Winterlude’s fading bottom paint under a bright almost full moon! Accompanied by Bob Marley music blaring from the local tourist rum cruise, the Captain Morgan (a Black Pearl wannabee!) blending with the local calypso music from another rum cruise (there are three total rum cruise boats plus a Nautilus sub anchored just in front of us!).

sv Winterlude, Blow Me Away & Bruadair anchored at San Andres

The locals refer to the “seven colors of the sea” & there are at least that many hues! It wasn’t easy anchoring in San Andres …everyone said, “San Andres has a well marked and lit channel, easy, just follow the markers. Coming down the channel we were amazed to watch the dozens of kite surfers, wind surfers, hobiecats, sunfish, jetskiis, kayaks, every imaginable water toy everywhere! What everyone forgot to tell us was that when the markers end, our depthsounder was screaming 4’8” and Winterlude draws 5 1/2 feet! YIKES! Luckily we scooted over the sand & our new best friend, Fidel, came flying out in his blue panga to lead us around a tiny island into a better anchorage just in front of South Beach … i.e. minor skyscrapers & tourist mecca! There were only 5 cruising boats & Fidel apparently greets each one, leading them to a safe anchorage. He was hoping for a cold brew or maybe a little cash as a tip & he got both from our little armada of three sailboats!

Winterlude’s dinghy towing a fishing boat back to the dinghy dock after their outboard quit.

The Colombian people are wonderfully friendly. Most speak some English as a result of these islands being originally settled by British … over the years, they were British, then Spanish, then British. A local doctor told us she speaks creole with her friends, but that kids go to primary school in spanish & then learn english in secondary school. They go to school until they’re 16 and as a result the island has a higher literacy rate than most places we’ve been. With 40,000 inhabitants, outsiders are not allowed to live here unless they marry a local … too many people on a tiny jewel of an island … maybe 5 miles long by 3 miles wide. The bakery lady told us that any new hotels built must be 5 star hotels!

After checking in, our first stop was the grocery store … traffic, mostly motorscooters, but nice vehicles as well as golf carts & busses fly around with no real rules of where they should be on the road… or sidewalk in cases of traffic jams, which happen all the time! We were amazed to watch an elderly lady with a cane leave the grocery store, immediately walk directly into oncoming traffic & put up her hand, like a traffic cop. Sure enough the next scooter stopped & the little old lady climbed aboard with her small bag of groceries & off they went. We looked at each other, shook our heads & decided that she must have seen her grandson coming or something… NOT!

As we spent more time on the island, we learned that this is just the respect that is accorded to the elderly. The “rule” is that whenever an elderly person steps into the street, the first vehicle by MUST stop, pick them up & take them wherever. You could see the young people getting a bit irate at how long it takes the old geezers to climb onto their scooters, but never once did we see someone refuse to stop! Can you imagine that happening in the US??? David wondered if he was old enough to qualify but we all convinced him that he’d probably just be a traffic casualty!

BIG Lobsters in San Andres! Here a local fisherman sells his catch to the restaurant where we were having lunch

Some of the most fun comes totally unexpectedly … 5 of us rented a big golfcart to circumnavigate the island. About 3/4 of the way around, II wanted to go up to a “sweetwater” pond in the interior that supposedly has boas, alligators, tons of birds & wildlife. There’s only one road & the golf cart screamed & backfired in protest going uphill … halfway up we passed a wooden round contraption with a horse hooked to it walking round & round. We stopped & inquired … turns out it used to be a local still, but now supposedly they’re just crushing sugar cane, manually with a press that the tired horse was turning. The liquid went into a big iron vat being boiled & stirred. They tried to convince us the juice was used for making cakes, but we’re all fairly certain they were making their own rum! It was a busy place, maybe 5-6 guys working & people coming & going regularly filling their own plastic containers with the cooled liquid.

Further up the hill, we were literally accosted by a women wanting to know if we’d seen her pond. She hopped on the front of the golf cart (keep in mind, there are already 5 people in a golf cart built for 4 & we’re headed up a steep incline! She introduced herself as Beatrice & her reply to “how much” was “whatever your hearts want”, so off we went to the top. Beatrice showed us life in the “real San Andres” — it was an amazing next two hours. She hunted up alligators, found bright neon blue lizards, made us smell the “stinking toe” tree fruit, made us take off our shoes & “feel the energy” of the largest & oldest ceiba tree in existence, showed us fruit – soursop for one – that none of us had ever seen, told us all about the islanders & their lifestyle, both now & before. She was harshly disgusted with the “mainland colombians” who come over & make trouble … i.e. drug related … told us to stay away from the cliffs by the airport, that’s where all the bad guys hang out. Beatrice spoke perfect english, she was 42 years old, came from a family of 14 kids, but she only has 3 kids herself because there are too many people on ‘dis island! She took us to a lookout where we could see “de seven colores of de sea” … she was right, it was amazing! All in all Beatrice earned a good tip & on the way back, she asked us to stop so she could give a third of it to someone to help feed the alligators! (we saw one BIG one & maybe 5-7 smaller ones during her tour.

Neon Blue Lizards on San Andres!

The islands have several religions including an islamic temple, but the one we found amusing was the Baptists – the primary religion of these islands. They have tents with Aquila, the local beer logos, set up outside their buildings to house upcoming Semana Santa celebrations… I’ve never seen Baptists act like Catholics before, but I guess they do here!!!

Something I ate in Providencia made me sick for 10 days. Maybe giardia. The doctor in Providencia “prescribed” a medicine, which cost all of 50 cents a package! It worked fine in two days, but two days later I was sick again. When we got to San Andres, we opted to go to a health clinic … the poor nurse there couldn’t understand my lousy spanish & she called an emergency room doctor at the local hospital, who agreed to see me immediately. Dra Ericka spoke perfect english, told me she was from San Andres, educated in Baranquilla, Colombia and had offers from two cruise ship lines to be a doc on one of their ships. She’s going to accept, but can’t decide between Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Lines … I told her to go for Royal Caribbean!

The local San Andres hospital was an interesting experience! The emergency waiting room is OUTSIDE the hospital! Dr Ericka Palacio ran some tests & spent at least an hour with me. Then I waited a half hour for the test results to come back. Turned out to be some sort of fungus infection… and “prescribed different medication”. I’m finally mending & all is well, BUT this experience reminds me of how much time, anguish & money, some USA cruisers spend on getting worldwide health insurance. Some need it, for serious pre-existing conditions, for example, but for most healthy individuals, your insurance at home will likely pay the bill, minus the deductible. But now the story gets more interesting … the TOTAL emergency room visit, doctor’s fees AND lab fees (done in a half hour, no waiting for days) was $22. That’s right, TWENTY TWO DOLLARS US!!! I am more & more convinced that there is quality health care just about anywhere you go in the world so we don’t bother with anything other than David’s company supplied health insurance. We supplement with DAN divers insurance which includes emergency evacuation insurance … if something happened that we didn’t want to get healthcare in a 3rd world country, we can be medivac’d back to the US for our $99/year annual fees for DAN. If you’re thinking of going cruising, think long & hard about paying extra for worldwide healthcare coverage!, but don’t leave home without DAN!!!   Done with my soapbox now! Aren’t you all glad!!! 🙂


A couple more tidbits … arriving in Providencia, Colombia, we were shocked at the exchange rate…. 2,200 pesos per US dollar. SO when we looked at that bottle of Tangueray & saw it was 30,000!!! I almost had heart failure. Turns out to be less than $15! Guess I can afford another gin & tonic after all!!    And brushing my teeth this morning, I spit the toothpaste in the bathroom sink as usual … right onto the head of a thumbnail size CRAB!! Apparently he climbed up the throughhull all the way to the sink & was doing a bit of exploring. Unfortunate timing, I say! 🙂 Better him than ME!!!

San Andres Fishing Boats

What fun experiences did you have when you sailed (or motored) to San Andres?  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, as you can probably tell!   Leave a comment and share!   Cheers!  Jan


  1. Sailed into Providencia feeling ill. Stayed on the anchored boat a day thinking it was a flu. Second day unable to eat or get out of the bed I headed to town to find a Doc. Clinic asumed it was malaria and began testing, since we had just come from Guanaha. Third day was admitted to clinic, stayed all day and night. Next day was flown to San Andres to hospital. Spent 16 days in ICU/ isolation with pnuemonia. Hospital bill $11,000. Flew back to States to recupe. Had relaspe, hospital stay in Clearwater, Fl, 7 days $127,000 bill.

  2. San Andres Island is charming not only for its beauty and natural wealth but for all its culture and people

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