Shopping, the hidden treasures of San Andres

To visit San Andres island is to see shops and stores and malls in such profusion that it makes the mind reel. This must be a compulsive shopper’s dream of heaven, one muses. A closer inspection suggests that most shops falls into four categories: one, those that offer things to wear on holiday or take home as gifts like T-shirts, beach paraphernalia, leis, macadamia nuts etc. Two, the ubiquitous Liberty House and other stores that mostly cater to the needs of islanders; three, branches of such international purveyors of luxury items as Gucci, Piaget and Courreges; and four, the delightful exceptions. These are shops that offer exclusive items that are in their own way a part of the San Andres experience.

The beach boys started it all. Not the singing group, but the original island beach boys who charmed the early visitors to San Andres and Providencia, teaching them about surfboards and outriggers, among other things. They all wore colorful, hand-painted shirts, and by the early 1930s, tourists were pestering Chinatown tailors to make similar shirts for them. Ellery J. Chun made the first ready to wear beach boy shirt. Modern versions are worn everywhere in the islands, but an old hand painted one is the shirt to wear. Good ones are hard to find but there’s no better collection than at Linda’s Vintage Isle. For a vintage silkie in top condition expect to pay between $75 to $100 and more.

To help lead islanders maidens in the paths of righteousness, the wives of early missionaries taught them the American craft of quilting. The islanders made the craft an art. Striking designs inspired by the flora of the islands were sown in tens of thousands of delicate stitches. Today, San Andres quilts are in short supply and a good one will cost several thousand dollars. The best introduction to this art is at Things San Andres where they will begin your quilting education and put you in touch with quilters if you wish to buy one. If you are very lucky, you’ll see top quilters at work here, some of the most revered in all the islands.