San Andres Island is a Caribbean paradise that, technically, belongs to Colombia.
Located 750 kilometers north of the mainland, the island is part of an archipelago that includes a number of cays, reefs, atolls, and sand banks. It boasts beautiful beaches, a Caribbean culture, and activities to fill a tropical holiday for days.
What’s been a well-known vacation spot for Colombians for decades, San Andres is becoming known as a destination you can’t miss when you visit this South American country. Come along as we discover all there is to see and do in this Kuoda guide to San Andres.
Where Is San Andres Island?
San Andres is actually closer to Central America than it is to Colombia. Approximately 230 kilometers east of Nicaragua, it’s an oval-shaped, 26 square kilometer island sitting in the Caribbean Sea. The main city is more of a large town, and the entire island can be circumnavigated in just a few hours.
The tiny island is a national park and also part of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve. A UNESCO world biosphere since 2000, the reserve includes 3,000 square kilometers of an oceanic archipelago. The systems of coral banks, small islands and islets that form part of atolls here are rarely found elsewhere in the Caribbean.
San Andres Island Culture
The culture of San Andres island is much closer to that of other Caribbean islands than that of Colombia. Settled by English colonizers who brought slaves from Africa to the island, San Andres doesn’t have the same Spanish history as the rest of Colombia. It has a distinctly Afro-Caribbean feeling that’s perceptible in everything from the music on the streets to the flavors in the dishes.
But the island is also the traditional home to a very small group of indigenous people as well as Colombians who come for work. The result is a multicultural and multilingual island where you’ll hear English, Spanish, and Creole spoken equally.
Things to Do in San Andres
Of course, most visitors come for the beaches but there’s plenty more to keep you busy on these fabulous islands. Check out Kuoda’s top recommendations for things to do in San Andres, Colombia below.
– The Beach
The main beach in San Andres is in the town. A mile-long, white sand beach, Spratt Bight beach, or Bahia Sardin, is one of the busiest on the island thanks to its proximity to downtown amenities and restaurants. Nevertheless, it’s still a beautiful beach hugging the green lagoon that houses Johnny Cay.
One of the main highlights of San Andres Island, be sure to take the short 10-minute boat cruise out to Johnny Cay while you’re here. The North end of the small isle is encircled by coral reef, making for excellent snorkeling and a chance to hang out with manta rays. When you’re not in the water, enjoy green spaces filled lizards and iguanas.
But this wouldn’t be a beach paradise if only two beaches were on offer, right?
San Andres islands has tons of beaches dotting its shores. Cocoplum beach is a 700-meter long, white sand, picture-perfect Caribbean beach only 6 kilometers south of the downtown. Rocky Cay beach has family-friendly, waist-high waters or head to San Luis, a typical West Indian village inhabited by the natives of San Andres which has its own quiet beach.
– Scuba Diving
As you would imagine of an island surrounded by crystal clear Caribbean Sea, cays, and coral reefs, San Andres has world class scuba diving. In fact, the archipelago that the island sits on connects to the third largest barrier reef on the planet.
Wonderfully warm water is the norm all year long and the island offers a variety of sites for all levels of diving experience. Divers will find vibrant reefs of both soft and hard corals, sponges, and numerous species of tropical fish. At the Blue Wall, you can find everything from sting rays and barracuda to sharks.
Keep in mind that San Andres isn’t the most popular diving destination in the Caribbean, which means an incredibly intimate experience can be had amongst very little traffic.
Acuario is a sandbank with calm and clear waters. In fact, the water is so clear that you don’t even really need snorkeling equipment to see the fish and marine life that gather here. Swimming with manta rays is also a possibility (but come in the afternoon if that’s your goal).
And if you’re only choosing the snorkeling option because you’re not certified to dive, you’ve got options for getting into deeper waters. Consider taking lessons in Taganga before traveling to San Andres or take a dive accompanied with a PADI-certified diver.
Here’s a cool fact about San Andres Island that’s not so well-known: because it’s Colombian territory within Costa Rican and Nicaraguan waters, it’s a duty-free zone. That means you can get goods of all manners for incredibly cheap!
Some of the best buys you’ll find are shoes, women’s cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, and liquor. But really, many of the shops are selling for cheaper than you’ll find at any airport, so have a blast shopping on the island!
If you’re a seafood lover, you’re going to love San Andres Island. You can get a full fish dinner, accompanied by rice, salad, and other sides, for less than $10 USD. But there are as many upscale options as there are local.
Though we do recommend trying the local flavors for a truly authentic and almost always delicious experience, we understand you need some options for a romantic evening out. For that, we highly recommend La Regatta – a luxury dining experience with views to boot.
And for something in the middle, check out Fisherman’s Place. An open-air restaurant at the end of Bahia Sardinia beach where the local fishermen sell directly to the kitchen.
Staying in San Andrés
If you want to be close to restaurants, amenities, and the main beach, you can stay right in the city of San Andres. However, if you’re looking for something a little quieter, and a little easier on the eyes, you can find a number of hotels around the island. The good news is, the island is small enough that it’s easily navigated with a golf cart or a scooter, (which rent for a fair price and are a fun way to explore and get around).
In terms of weather, the island sees two main seasons: wet and dry. Obviously, if you’re looking for a beach holiday, you’ll want to avoid rainy season, which runs between June and November. Although that’s the least busy season in terms of tourism, you’re almost guaranteed to have rain every day. Instead, visit between December and April when the sun is out all day long.
Visit San Andres Island with Kuoda
San Andres Island is a Caribbean gem that’s unlike anywhere else in Colombia. Its architecture, people, culture, and gastronomy all reveal a history that’s a far cry from that of the mainland – and it’s all set amidst the background of a tropical paradise.
The perfect place for a beach break when visiting Colombia, San Andres island also offers scuba diving, snorkeling, and shopping. Be sure to add it to your Colombia getaway itinerary.