San Andres, Columbia
San Andres – Hotel El Isleno November 2006
We went to San Andres to check out the diving but with no expectation of enjoying the island. While San Andres belongs to Columbia, the island is off Nicaragua and has a true Caribbean feel. The island and its people were both a pleasant surprise. The island is small, the people are friendly, the food was good and also cheap and the island beer (Aguila) was good and cheap (75 cents a bottle).
Getting There and Back:
We flew direct from Toronto with Air Transit. If you can afford the Club Class, take it. The food, service, wide seats, separate check-in, increased luggage allowance, advance boarding and luggage first off the plane were well worth the price. On the day we were flying out we walked to the airport (5 minutes) with our luggage, checked in and walked back to the hotel for lunch and a last drink. When we were there you could buy liquor at the airport and bring it onboard the plane as carryon. Note: If you are diving with Karibik Diver, Werner will greet you at the airport when you arrive, and be there with beer and rum when you leave.
Hotel Isleno belongs to the Decameron chain. They currently own six resorts on the island. When you stay at one, you can visit any of the others. All the resorts include all meals and drinks. Isleno is a nice quiet resort with the main beach out front and a beautiful pool/garden area out back. The staff are very nice, although not all of them spoke much English. The food was good but not great, a mix of menu and buffet meals. The wine was terrible and the beer was Miller. We went down the block and bought the local beer at 75 cents a bottle and kept it in the room fridge. We got a number of grins from the staff when we came in to dinner with our own beer. We made reservations for the seafood restaurant at the Aquarium, a Decameron hotel down the road, and the food was good but the wine was still terrible and the beer Red Dog was better than Miller but not as good as Agulia. We had lunch at the Maryland the one day and the resort itself was nicer but the grounds were very small. The Aquarium was a livelier hotel than Isleno, the buildings on stilts over the water with great views and best of all – VERY close to the Karibik dive shop.
The Food and Drink:
The food at the resorts was good but not great. We ate lunches at a number of local restaurants and stalls. The food was all great and the prices very low. We shared a medium pizza and beers for 10 dollars at Marguerita Y Carbornara. When diving with Werner he charges you two dollars a day and supplies lunch and drinks between the two dives. The lunch on the west side was fantastic.
Tours and Getting Around:
Werner at Karibik arranged a half day island tour (ten dollars a person including beers). It was fascinating to get his views of what is happening on the island. Even if you don't dive with Werner, see if you can take his tour. It was cheaper and much more interesting than the one arranged through the hotel. To get from our hotel to the dive shop we walked along the boardwalk, about a 20 minute walk (Werner will supply you with a ride to the shop and back if you wish). W also walked the boardwalk at night back from the Aquarium. We felt safe but there was a police presence on the boardwalk. We walked the downtown area from our hotel, a few minutes walk. The downtown was full of small interesting local shops and tourist perfume/clothes shops. The local shops are fun to visit but don't expect them to speak much English or accept large denomination American bills.
Because of a November storm just before we arrived the waters were too rough to go diving the first day after we arrived so we took Werner's island tour instead. Werner is a German that has been living on the island for many years. His dives and shop are well run and Werner is a fun “character” to dive and talk with. The diving was good. The east side had a mix of hard and soft corals and lots of smaller fish, damsels, immature Spanish hogfish, rock beauties, harlequin bass, blue tangs, doctor fish, etc. Pyramid, on the east side was a nice shallow fishy dive, better during the day than during the night dive. The site has a large resident stingray that I got to pet. The west side had lots of fish life and varied terrain. The diving on the west side had a school of over a dozen queen angels, a school of grey angels, a school of eight trunk fish, chubs, large grouper, school of 8 reef squid, barracuda, etc. The wreck of the Barco Hundido has garden eels in the sand at 30 feet deep. The diving on the west side seemed better than the east but is more exposed and was rougher. You meet at the dive shop at about 8:30. You put on your wetsuit at the shop. You picked up your all your gear at the shop and carried it across the road to the boat. You set up your first tank and away went the boat. You did your first dive and then the boat went in to shore, either a restaurant on the west side, an island with food booths on the north east side or back to the shop from the south east side. You had a snack or lunch, depending on the time, and a drink then set up your second tank. Away went the boat and you did your second dive. If you were on the west side and water was too rough the boat dropped you back at shore for ride back to the shop, otherwise the boat took you back to the shop. You carried your gear back to the shop, rinsed it and hung it up. You could then take a shower from the rinse hose and change if desired. You then took a ride or walked back to your hotel. We walked back stopping for a snack or lunch along the way. Nap time!!
The best question is would you go somewhere again? The answer is yes, we are planning on going back to San Andres to dive with Werner and see more of the sites. The diving was much better than expected, the island was beautiful, the food was good and the staff were very friendly.