What to see and do in San Andres, Colombia.
San Andres is a small Caribbean island (about 12 km by 3 km) located about midway between Jamaica (400 km to the north) and the Colombian mainland (480km to the south). It comes under Colombian sovereignty (much to the chagrin of the natives who are more Caribbean than Latin) and is a very popular vacation spot for mainland Colombians.
The island has incredibly beautiful beaches; the main beach in San Andres town is long and wide, the sand white, the views of the lagoon gorgeous with its emerald waters. Out in the lagoon, within the ring of coral reef encircling the north end of the island, is the tiny isle of Johnny Cay. It strangely resembles Gilligan’s Island and has the most extraordinarily white sand. Johnny Cay is the highlight of San Andres; here you can relax under the sun and order beer and grilled Red Snapper. We still talk about the fish we were served on this island – it was just incredible. A beautiful spot and I don’t think we’ve ever seen whiter sand.
What to do when you’re bored of lying on the beach? We rented a golf cart and circled the island, stopping at Morgan’s Cave which is supposedly where Captain Morgan hid his treasure. Avoid this tourist trap. There’s “Hoya Soplador” (ie. the blowing hole) where water sprays up through a hole in the rock. It is slightly more interesting. Avoid at all cost going on Captain Morgan’s boat cruise at night; it’s a long, boring cruise featuring Bob Marley wannabes karaoking at the top of their lungs. You’ll have wished you had brought a gun.
We did San Andres differently than most. We didn’t want to fly through the US. We booked a return flight Montreal – San Andres with Air Transat with dates 14 days apart. We stayed 3 days in San Andres, then flew on a separate flight (with Avianca) to wonderful Cartagena. We spent 10 days exploring mainland Colombia, flew back to San Andres, and spent 1 more day on the island before taking the return flight back to Montreal. These connections ended up being cheaper and more direct (from Montreal) than having to transit through an American city.
Unique: The first time we have ever walked from the airport directly to our hotel. Took 10 minutes. How cool is that just taking your backpack and walking out of the airport without having to take a taxi?
Accommodation: We stayed at the Bahia Sardina which was fantastic. Right on the beach as well as the boardwalk. A good alternative is Caribbean Island Hotel Piso 1.
Shopping: The other attraction in San Andres is shopping. San Andres Town has a huge number of duty-free stores. The number of stores selling; 1) liquor, 2) shoes, 3) women’s pharmaceutical products is amazing. You wonder how they all stay in business.
Eating. Simpler is better; stick with the grilled fish or chicken served with plantain, beans, and rice. Leave the fine dining to Cartagena if heading that way.
People: The people on San Andres are very laid back. I had read that there were tensions between the islanders and the Colombian tourists; “People from the coast not friendly” an islander told us. After a few days on the island we could see why there might be tension; the islanders are so relaxed they often don’t seem interested in anything but sitting around and having conversations in the shade. They almost sigh with exasperation when you show up at the restaurant or internet cafe. They’re friendly, yet you somehow feel as if you’ve just interrupted a nap or something. I can understand why Colombian tourists would get fed up after a few days. In contrast to the “native” islanders, there are also a few very loud Jamaicans on the island with delusions of being Bob Marley; you can’t go anywhere without some Rastafarian shouting “No woman don’t cry” in your ear, his arm sticking out for a handout.
Overall, San Andres was a lovely spot for a few days. The beaches are fabulous and the corals are gorgeous. San Andres is the perfect place to do nothing but relax.
Related: The Best of Colombia
Related: Why Cartagena is incredible
Related: Why we love Colombia
Have you been to San Andres? Please tell me what you thought of it!
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Great information! I will be traveling there in a few weeks. This is where my parents met and I’m so excited I can finally visit. What hotel did you stay at? I really like the view from the balcony!
Argg, I had forgotten and just spent the last half hour trying to find it and finally did: Hotel Bahia Sardina, I’ve linked it.
This is going back to 2006, but at that time it was very nice. It’s right on the boardwalk, has a great beach in front of it and one of the most unusual things was that we walked there from the airport (maybe a 10 minute walk?). Only time we’ve ever walked out of an airport to a hotel…
Bogota to Medellin bus
Like the clean water beaches of Colombia!
Gorgeous white sand beaches and a laidback atmosphere? Sounds like my idea of heaven!
Those beaches look fabulous! That aerial photo looks like you could walk along the beach for miles. And I’m sold since there is coral. I could snorkel and look at the beautiful reef fish for days.
Wannabe Marleyians, oh boy, I guess everyone has their hustle.
Michael and Graciela
Graciela: Glad to see that you made it to our part of Earth.
Michael: With your comment …”honestly not much to do or see on San Andres. 3 days was sufficient.” you sound like my wife. I can easily spend a month there and even more so on Colombia’s other island, Providencia ( http://bit.ly/KkNNCJ ) .
Graciela: Hope you get to visit Providencia island one day. Michael wants to live there. But it is even much smaller than San Andres so just the day may be enough for most people.
Hey guys, thanks for commenting! San Andres definitely a chill place…I’d just have to be in a certain frame of mind to be there that long. But beaches are lovely. I’ve heard of Providencia – nice to hear you like it, Lonely Planet is very complimentary on the island. Maybe we’ll make it there one day. Thanks for the feedback!