I wrote this for two lots of cruising friends [Jasdip and Kokopelli] who are following us. They suggested I should publish it for others to read – so although I don’t normally put this type of thing on, if there are any cruisers, or backpackers or anyone else visiting these great islands who find this useful then I’m glad I have done it!
Entries with * are on Trip Advisor
Santa Isabel [Capital]. None of the cafes here are posh but they all serve good local food, mainly at lunch time. Get there by 12.00 noon if you want full choice. Nothing seems to be open in Santa Isabel on Sunday – except maybe the two restaurants/cafes on the Santa Catalina promenade.
Corner bar – surprisingly enough on the corner! It’s not named [I don’t think]. It is at the right hand corner of the square as you get off the dinghy at the main dock. It is where some people sit to wait for the ferry. There are plastic chairs inside the door which you can bring out to sit on. The older woman is a bit dour but fine. Beers COP2,500 [$1.25]. We tended to congregate there around 5pm.
By the way dinghy’s completely safe. We only locked ours when going out on two evenings.
If you are having a beer in the late afternoon and feeling peckish a street stall about 20ft along from the bar on the same side opens selling chicken and meat “balls” and empanada/patty type things. They were quite nice.
Unnamed cafe. Across the road from the corner bar is an internet place with a dirt area to its left. Up there at the end is a nice lunch cafe – very popular with locals. They usually have about three/four choices.
Cafe Zentrik. This is upstairs across and right from Corner bar. You can get full meals and also hearty Cuban sandwiches, wraps etc. Sometimes opens in the evening.
Cafe Adelia* [or something like that]. Just across “Lovers Bridge” on Santa Catalina Island. It is immediately to the right as you come off the bridge [crossing from Santa Isabel]. On this promenade – which you can also access from the beach if you anchor at Morgan’s head – there is another small cafe near to the fort. It is just a notice board on the pavement advertising beers/drinks/snacks and tells you to ring the bell. We didn’t try it but it looks OK.
Bamboo seahorse – also on this Santa Catalina promenade. Shut most of the time. Opens occasionally as a bar particularly if Linda and Hans [Bareos] or Russell and Laura [Lutana] organise a cruisers happy hour. Next door [to the right as you face the bamboo seahorse] is Barbara who does laundry at a reasonable price. Just knock on her door.
Old Providence* – Fisherman’s co-operative. Opens lunch time only.It is apparently busier at weekend. The co-operative shop for Fish/Shrimp etc is attached – Second door on the left hand side of the building as you face the cafe from their dock/pontoon. It is across from the anchorage. Head just to the left of the baseball ground floodlights and you should see it. A couple of pangas/fishing boats also anchored there. Beware of the weed. Leave dinghy at the seaward end of the pontoon.
Miss Lucy’s. At the opposite end of the front street from the corner bar. On a small beach. Go down the right hand side of it – doesn’t look like you are going to a cafe. About six tables outside. Popular with locals. Usually about three/four choices. There is another bar/cafe next to it which is more obvious from the street so don’t mix them up!
Bakery – on main street which goes at right angles to front street [approx half way down]. It sells croissants, bread pudding, pastries, nice cake etc. The bakery is on the right past the two supermarkets. Both supermarkets OK – produce sometimes better than other times, depending on delivery day. [Different things seem to get delivered on different days?]. Supermarkets/bakery/other shops/library close between 12.00 and 2pm [though 2pm becomes 2.30 or even 3pm sometimes!]
Pizza place [no name?]. It is on your right at the back and far end of the block containing the bakery. Opens around 6.30ish so best to go about 7pm. Pizzas quite good and we got a bottle of decent wine at a good price.
Mr. Bush is above the largish shop after the pizza place. Just before him are three shops up some steps. The middle one is where you get Tigo cards. The young woman [owners niece and I think called Sasha was excellent at advising us and sorting out phone/internet connection].
About 5 minutes walk beyond Mr Bush is the police station and then the library. The library has a free secure internet system and sockets to plug your charger in. We didn’t use it because we had permanent internet on the boat with the Tigostick. There is also free internet in the “park” which is where the main street joins front street. Shady [as in trees, not dodgy!] area to sit – but internet not secure so best not for banking.
Around the island. [Look for the brilliant bus stops as you go round]
You can catch a bus which goes approximately every hour on the hour from the “park”. There seem to be two buses – both new blue transit vans. We used Nelson the first time, got his phone number [or Yonder did] and we used him thereafter. It costs COP2,500 wherever you go – so you can go right round the island [approx 30-45 minutes] for $1.25 or you can get off and on a couple of times a do a tour visiting other bays for about $3.75. NB Buses also stop between 12 and 2pm. They also stop after about 6pm [officially] though when we went out one evening to Freshwater Bay Nelson came and picked us up from town at 7pm and at the restaurant at around 9.30pm and only charged us the same 2,500pp. There are Golf carts for rent but they seemed to be about $60 – $75 per day and not necessary really as bus goes all round and works well.
Rolands Roots Bar/Restaurant in Manchaneel Bay. We thought it was a brilliant place for lunch. It is at opposite end of island from anchorage so you need the 11am bus.
South West Bay – 3 restaurants/bars.
The one in the middle sometimes only operates as a bar. If it is serving food it is possibly a bit cheaper but didn’t look as good.
When facing the sea the one to its left is Miss Mary’s. Doesn’t officially sell beer but there were 15 of us one day and they probably didn’t want to lose the custom so they went and got some but then charged us COP4,000 for each – which isn’t too bad but more than the normal COP3,000 in other restaurants.
Best meal on this beach [we think] is at El Divinio Nino Jesus* which is further down to the right [if you are facing the sea]. Amongst other things they have a superb platter for 2 for COP 44,000 [$22]. It has two whole fish, half lobster, beautifully flavoured and cooked conch and a nice crab meat mixture – served with the ever present rice/plantain/tomato/lettuce. We thought it was the best lunch meal we had. [Albatross had shrimp there but said that for shrimp Rolands was better]. Steve had an excellent seafood casserole [Cazuela] which also had half a lobster in it.
There is also another bar if you walk on down the beach but we think it is evening only [or possibly weekend].
Freshwater beach is the “resort”. There seem to be several small places with cabanas which also have restaurants. We only ate at Freshwater once which was in the evening at El Donde Martin*. Would recommend you try this. The meal [we had baby beef] was obviously more expensive than the lunch time places but nice to have a bit of evening sophistication.
Blue Bay hotel and restaurant. We walked to here [about 1 hour each way] but you could probably get the bus to take you. Open lunch and dinner. It is probably the most expensive place on the island? We didn’t eat there but sat in a lovely setting with a great view out to the north/west of the island with a beer each. The beer was COP 7,500 each.
There are a couple of nice looking cabana type restaurants on the road near to South West and Freshwater Bays but we didn’t try them. One gets a good write up in Trip Advisor.
Beer is often Old Milwaukie or Heineken or Millers. If you can get it drink Old Columbia or Aguila – the Columbian beers [unless you happen to be a fan of one of the others, of course!]
If you fancy a good walk you can go up El Pico. The bus will drop you off either at the end of a road or ask to be dropped at the bottom. Allow at least 3 hours. The track starts by going past two or three houses, bending to the right as you pass them. Then there is a white building under construction with what looks like the main path straight on. Go right here along another path. You will come to a kind of square blue building on your right. Keep it on your left. Pass fields etc and a small plant nursery. You walk sometimes in a stream bed. Eventually [30-40 minutes] you will come to a barbed wire fence and the trail looks to go left. Don’t go that way! Look for the gap in the fence or crawl under it and keep going straight on. If you don’t come to some handrails within a few minutes you are probably on the wrong path. Then just keep going up and up. Great view. In the small village there are a couple of tiendas where you can get a well earned beer when you come down again.
Fuel. You can take your dinghy to a small beach which has a kind of boat shelter on it. If you head to the right of the main dock and make your way round the coastline towards the fish co-operative you will come across it. There is a little bridge and a road up to the main road. Turn right and the garage is on your left after about 100yards.
Banking. There are 2 banks but we couldn’t get the ATM’s to work. We used the bank which is on the left if you turn left at the dinghy dock square [Banco Agrario]and got money by handing our card to the person on the left hand side who swiped it etc, gave us a slip which we then took to the teller on the right. You need your passport.
Hardware. One store up the main street on your left before the supermarket [called B+Q]. One store on the main street just before the bakery. A very good store if you go past Miss Lucy’s and along the promenade going out of town towards Freshwater Bay. Half way down the promenade is a break in the railings and the hardware store is opposite – called “Screw and Weld”.
It was not at all what we expected. Whilst very different to Providencia [as expected] there is a real place as well as tourism which we didn’t expect. There are some large hotels and a big area of what were once duty free shops but this is not overpowering. It is now mainly Colombian mainlanders on holiday as cruise ships no longer seem to stop here. The Duty free aspect stopped [not sure when] but alcohol can still be bought quite cheaply. We have seen several offers for e.g. 3 litres vodka for COP20,000 [$10]. OK you might want to buy 1 bottle and try it first as it is not a named brand but we bought both gin and vodka supplies in this way for our stay in the Kuna Yala. The main town of San Andres is known as “El Centro” and is teeming with scooters and motorbikes. Crossing roads is interesting!
Nene’s marina. This is where you meet Rene [agent]. Beers – COP 2,000. There is a charge to leave your dinghy – COP 4,000 per day but there isn’t anywhere else and there is 24 hour security. He [Gabriel] also sells/exchanges the large water cooler things. Several cruisers anchor just outside the marina but lots of jetski’s and lanchas etc come there for fuel so there is wash. We anchored further out and, although it was a slightly longer dinghy ride, we weren’t bothered by jetskis.
Captain Mandy*. This is a fish co-operative. It is extremely clean [as are all the restaurants we have visited]. Mike had the whole octopus which was really well cooked and presented [if you like Octopus]. From Nene’s turn right onto the main road and then left at the traffic lights by the government buildings. You then go straight across at the next crossroads and then up a little way on the left.
El Pescadatores. This is a very local place. It is very busy on Sundays. They provide excellent value lunches and we think it stays open until about 9pm. From Nene’s turn right onto the main road and then left at the traffic lights by the government buildings. At next crossroads turn right and it is about two thirds of the way towards the next crossroads on the right. It has white railings and a red corrugated roof. On the way there you will have passed a good bakery on your right and the SuperTodo supermarket on your left. There are Supermarkets everywhere and the bigger ones are open on Sundays.
Carbonara and Margarita*. Good value Pizza/Pasta etc. Go out of Nene and right. Keep on the seafront road. You pass what was an aqua park and a big hotel, in front of which is a decent evening bar, a Tex Mex and a nice coffee bar. You then pass the entrance to La Regatta restaurant which we looked at. Seemed OK and is in Trip Advisor but we didn’t go. Then you come to another hotel on your left and opposite this are a couple of Italian places. Carbonara and Margarita is the first one.
Opposite the first big hotel is a road which goes down past buggy rentals. On the right at the first junction is Mini Rey supermarket. Nice deli and US goods. Not too expensive.
If you stand at Mini Rey supermarket entrance facing out and turn left and walk up the street on your right is Brasas Mary. Good value buffet lunch – popular with local business people.
Also almost opposite the big hotel [at each end] are two wine shops/delis. The one at the left side is hidden by motor rentals but it has a couple of red umbrellas outside. You can buy stuff to eat/drink there or take-away. Open in the evening. Similarly there is Assho* at the right hand end of the big hotel and just around a bend in the road opposite a kind of traffic island. We thought it was more expensive/pretentious.
Majia* is a lovely small Italian [Italian chef and partner run it]. Open lunch for a COP 16,000 [$8]special of a pasta and a beer. Also open at night where we had a great meal despite the fact it was polling day next day and there was a 24 hour alcohol ban so we could only have water with our meal! They serve authentic and well cooked [al dente] pasta and good sauces. Also do meat main courses. Difficult to describe where it is. It is just off the beach promenade behind [I think] the Hotel Portofino.
Fishermans co-operative*. This is right at the far end of the beach promenade. Mike/Steve and Sandra enjoyed their meals. I ordered Ceviche expecting what I know as Ceviche. It wasn’t. It was basically shrimp in a cold creole/cocktail sauce. Think this is what passes for Ceviche in Colombia???
Around the island. Main bus stop is out of marina, left at crossroads and on the left before next crossroads. It doesn’t look much like a bus stop but usually people there and there is a small snack bar. Seem to be 3 bus routes but we only took 2.The buses are every ten to fifteen minutes and run over the lunch period as well. Again Golf carts about $60. Read somewhere you may get them for $40. Might not be a bad idea on this island [especially if 4 people] because you need different buses to go different places and they don’t cover all the island – but buses are perfectly adequate, always good fun and operate on the same single pricing system but at 1,700pp per “trip”
The “San Luis and El Hoyo Saplador” bus takes you down east side of island. Restaurants we visited here were Punta Sol* at the bottom [which was closed for painting when we went so can’t comment on it]. Next to Punta Sol is the tourist attraction “blow hole” and a few souvenir shops and you can get beers. We were fooled as we thought the bus turned round here but it doesn’t so make sure you get off no later than the blow hole attraction if you want Punta Sol.
El Paraiso* is just over half way down the island. Bus drivers should put you off at the right place. Sit on the left side of the bus and keep a look out though as the bus driver forgot when we wanted El P and he drove past. El Paraiso would be a good place for half a day. It is on a lovely beach, with umbrellas and loungers. Meals/drinks served at outside tables or at your beach lounger. Reggae music was turned down when we asked. Food was good – excellent breadfruit slices with the main courses. Steve and Sandra each had different calamari [squid] dishes from the starter list which they found to be enough for a small lunch. In both dishes the squid was cooked very well.
The “El Cove” bus takes you down the middle of the island and then across to the west side. El Cove is basically a naval base – not much there. Technically it is a place we could anchor – but I don’t really see the need. There was a fish co-op restaurant but no one in it and we had eaten. We went to West View restaurant. The restaurant is not in Trip Advisor but West View Aquario is. At West View the aquario [COP 3,000/$1.50] is meant to be an excellent snorkelling spot. Across the road there is a gardens/nature park [7,000/$3.50]. We had only planned a bus trip and lunch so didn’t do either of the tourist bits. If you want to do the snorkelling do it in the morning. We saw four minibuses of “round the island tours” turning up at 2pm. Lunch at the restaurant was OK and not as overpriced as it might have been given it is the only place to eat there.
Fuel – from Nene’s marina – but you have to jerry can it.
Banking. Lots of banks but only some ATM’s seem to work with our card. Some limited withdrawal to COP 300,000[$150] but one [Bank of Colombia] we could get COP 600,000 from. Unlike in Providencia we couldn’t use our debit card to get money from the bank teller. They wanted credit cards only??
Hardware stores are all over the place. For the bigger stores go straight across the road from the marina and between the buildings [there is a small Pizza cafe you pass]. Turn left on that road and walk along it. Things like nuts and bolts and screws etc are best found in some smaller stores which are on the same road but walking towards town.
Both Providencia and San Andres are ultra clean. There is no litter, the beaches are swept daily, there is no sign of crime, the people are very friendly. Most African Caribbean people on both islands speak English. Spanish Colombians less so but we had no difficulties.
Lots of cruisers go to either Providencia or San Andres [mainly the former]. I am glad that we have been to both