San Andres – Pirates, reggae and crystal-clear sea

Even though I am Canadian, I’m not crazy about winter, and I’m always looking at opportunities to escape the cold season. But my desire to explore is still very present even when I’m on vacation away from home. There is no way I could spend an entire week just lying on the beach. And there is no way I could visit a place without trying to understand it better or learn a bit of its history…

I recently came back from San Andres, an island belonging to Colombia but located off Nicaragua’s coast. San Andres is starting to emerge slowly among sun destinations in the Caribbean Sea (tourism has had a 50% increase in the past year). San Andres used to be mostly a weekend destination for rich Colombians that wanted to take advantage of its duty-free shops. Now, there are more tourists, mostly South Americans (but more and more Canadians), who come to visit the island for its palm trees and turquoise waters.

But San Andres is much more than just beautiful beaches. It’s an island where pirate stories and reggae culture mix, an island with English, Jamaican and Colombian influences, an island that is unique and quite interesting!

La Loma Church on San Andres
The Baptist Church La Loma

Historically, San Andres is more related to England. English settlers settled on the island from the 17th century, bringing with them slaves from Jamaica. They grew cotton, tobacco and coconut. With the descendants of its first inhabitants was born the Raizal culture, a culture that reminds one of Jamaica. The Raizals are of Afro-Caribbean descent, speak English-Creole and are Protestants. The Baptist Church of La Loma, the oldest church on the island (built in 1844) bears witness to this culture.

During the 20th century, the island underwent a strong Colombian influence with the influx of Colombian residents. Spanish became the main language of use and Raizal culture rapidly declined. The Colombian government, however, has taken steps in recent years to help the survival of this culture. It is now impossible for a non-native of the island to reside there permanently (unless he or she marries a resident). In addition, schools in Raizal communities now have to offer some of their instruction in English-Creole.

A farmer on San Andres
A Raizal farmer

It is therefore common to see on the island Jamaican flags and Rasta hats, or to be greeted by a “Ya man! “.

And what about these pirate stories? People from San Andres like to point out that their island may have served as a hidden place for some pirates of the Caribbean. On the island, it is possible to visit the Morgan Cave, the place where the famous buccaneer Henry Morgan apparently buried his treasure (which is unfortunately only a legend … Henry Morgan used the island Providencia, another Colombian island, as a base). Pirates or not, San Andres is full of stories and is a fun sun destination to explore!

Henry Morgan statue in San Andres
Henry Morgan in San Andres

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