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San Andrés is an island situated in the Western Caribbean, 200 kilometres off the Nicaraguan coast and 800 kilometres north of South America . Jamaica stands 700 kilometres to the northeast.
The archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina belongs to Colombia but has been claimed by Nicaragua lately. Many tourists, especially those from the United States , are afraid of visiting the island because they think Colombia is a very dangerous destination. Despite being politically Colombian, San Andrés is a peaceful and safe place to go. It seems to be far away from all the problems that terrorize beautiful Colombia. It has poor areas indeed, but crime is not something to worry about. In fact, the island doesn't look like mainland Colombia at all. It seems to be a little Jamaica , in which the Rastafarian culture and reggae music rule.
Legend tells that the archipelago was sighted by Colombus, but according to Historians it was discovered in 1629 by English Puritans and Jamaican woodcutters. San Andrés changed hands several times, falling under the control of Spain, Great Britain, France and Holland. The island was often visited by pirates, too. Pirate Henry Morgan used San Andrés as a base of operations. Colombia gained sovereignty over the archipelago in 1928.
San Andrés is a very small island of about 15 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide. Partly enclosed by a coral reef and surrounded by many cays, the main island is hilly but there aren't any mountains. There are no rivers, either, but its vegetation is always green. Palm trees and bougainvilleas are found everywhere. San Andrés has two completely different sides: the east side is densely populated, and offers nice beaches. On the other hand, the west coast is rocky - no beaches are found - and scarcely populated, but it has a relaxing atmosphere that depicts how this island might have been before the arrival of Tourism. Many old-styled Caribbean houses stand throughout the island, but they are falling apart. The Colombian government should try to recycle them as they are part of the island's cultural heritage.
Almost all of the islanders are black and speak both Caribbean English and Spanish. There are many Colombians who have migrated to the island, too. The majority of the inhabitants live in the north point of the island, where downtown San Andrés is situated. The airport is also there. There is a paved road, close to the coast, that circles the entire island. Old American school buses and 'chivas rumberas' (a kind of Colombian traditional bus, painted in bright colors) take people to the different sites of the island. San Andrés is situated in the tropics so it has warm weather all year long. The wet season goes from May to November and the dry season from December to April. Because the island is so small and is located in the middle of the Caribbean sea , it has cool breezes that prevent people from feeling extremely hot. However, the sun is strong so a good sunscreen is a must when visiting San Andrés.
Not many air companies fly to San Andrés island. Passengers coming from North and South America may need to flight via Panama City , San José de Costa Rica or Santa Fe de Bogotá. Chartered flights are also available for tourists coming from Canada and other destinations as well.
Most of the visitors come to San Andrés for its beaches. The island has beautiful beaches with white sand and palm trees, but some people might find them to be quite narrow and rocky, due to the coral. Despite all this, the most impressive fact about San Andrés is not the beach but the sea. The Caribbean shows more than seven shades of blue and the water is warm and crystal-clear. Marine life is rich and there are great places to snorkel or dive. San Andrés is known as one of the best diving spots in the Caribbean . It has also been declared a marine reserve by UNESCO.
What everyone should be aware of before visiting San Andrés is that none of the resorts and hotels on the island is as big and luxurious as those situated in other Caribbean destinations, such as Mexico , The Dominican Republic or Aruba . Visitors must remember that this little island belongs to a Third World country and sometimes, despite its beauty and friendly inhabitants, can suffer a shortage of basic supplies. However, all the islanders do their best to provide decent service to tourists.
All in all, San Andrés is one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean area. And it is also one of the cheapest destinations in Central America . So don't waste any time, come to visit this wonderful corner of the world.