I grew up seaside. This is demonstrated by my tendency to wear flip-flops at all times and my fierce love of the ocean. I can only live landlocked for two or three months before I begin to feel stifled. Tunja is…very landlocked. It is beautiful in its own way, but there is no wind tasting of salt, no sound of waves crashing on the shore, and no sand.
So, when school let out on time, which was not expected by anyone working at UPTC, I had two extra weeks to travel. I immediately jumped onto VivaColombia’s* website and searched for cheap tickets to San Andrés. Once I found them for dates that would work for me, I double checked that there was an affordable hostel on the island. There was. I bought the tickets and booked the hostel. I did all of this two weeks beforehand. When work unexpectedly gives you two more weeks of vacation time, you take advantage of it.
San Andrés is a Caribbean island and is part of Colombia. It is said to have the most beautiful beaches in Colombia and the surrounding ocean is called the sea of seven colors because the variations in the depth of the ocean floor make the water many shades of blue. The island has been recommended to me by a multitude of Colombians. It wasn’t on my priority list, because I felt that it would be extremely touristy and catered towards partiers and shoppers (I was right). I changed my mind because I was craving time at the ocean and I didn’t want to go to the Colombian coast, seeing as I will already be spending the month of June there.
Because I had not originally planned to go to Medellín and San Andrés during Christmas break, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the island. I managed to spend under $300 ($600,000COP) on my trip of 6 days. This including bus fare to and from Tunja and the airport, my flight, the tourist card to get in ($25USD or $50,000COP), transportation on the island, housing, and food. I spent no money on “fun” because the beach was fun enough for me. I stayed at El Viajero Hostel ($35,000 COP/night), I flew with VivaColombia and brought only the one free carry-on, I cooked all my own meals and I opted out of excursions and guided tours.
San Andrés is famous for nearby islands, diving opportunities, perfume at great prices and parties, but I had no intention of doing or buying any of those things while I was there. My sole purpose in going was to sleep, read, cook and lie on the beach, and I did exactly that. I spent some time at the downtown beachfront, but I wasn’t a fan of how crowded it was, so I took a city bus to a couple beach spots that were almost deserted. I spent a few mornings lying on the sand with only drink vendors as company. On my last day there, I “splurged” on octopus and shrimp ceviche while talking to the vendor’s little girl.
I enjoyed my long meandering walks on the beachfront and cooking for myself. I was saddened by the utter poverty that exists on the majority of the island and the close-minded mentalities of some of my fellow travelers, but I didn’t let these things keep me from relaxing. I also didn’t allow the ideal of tourism in San Andrés to keep me from enjoying my time there. Many times, travelers feel pressured to do and buy and see all the things that are recommended by Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, but I didn’t allow these things to get to me. It’s so important, especially as a traveler, to define your contentment and happiness for yourself. I went to a gorgeous Caribbean island, wandered around and slept on the beach. That was enough for me.
I left feeling warm, peaceful and sandy.
A few traveler’s notes: Produce is of a really low quality and is expensive due to the fact that most of it is imported. The bus system is extremely slow and kind of expensive for its lack of quality ($1,700 COP and buses come every 30-50 minutes). The water is not potable and should probably not even be used for cooking especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Natives are very friendly and most speak Spanish, English and Patois.
*VivaColombia is Colombia’s discount airline that can save you a lot of money if you follow all of their rules and only bring one smallish backpack.