Updated February 24th, 2019.
The Island of San Andrés is one of the most pristine and stunning destinations in Colombia. Yet, many travellers skip the place because of its hard-to-get-to location, far off the standard map of Colombia. What a mistake!
San Andrés is located approximately 230 km east of the Nicaraguan coast and about 750 km north of the Colombian mainland. The only way to get there from Colombia is by flight since it is just too far away for any ferry to sail it.
The island is known for its many beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters that offer excellent snorkeling and scuba diving conditions and a lively night scene.
Since the size of the Island is only 26 square km it is easy to get around by bus, car or mountain bike. San Andrés is also part of an archipelago, which consists of two other Caribbean pearl’s named Providencia and Santa Catalina. Both these islands are tropical and picturesque like they were taken straight from a travel magazine!
Since the island of San Andrés is remote from the Colombian mainland it is semi self-sufficient in terms of government services. There is a large hospital, consulates of various countries, multiple police offices and enough ATM’s so that you don’t need to worry about taking cash with you.
Where to stay in San Andrés, Colombia
There is no shortage of accommodation in San Andrés. However being a popular holiday island in the middle of nowhere, prices can be a bit more expensive compared to what you’re used to on the mainland. Backpacker hostels start at around $20 US per night and a decent double room costs around $50 US. Here are some recommendations below…
Viajero San Andrés Hostel – Viajero is a popular backpacker hostel chain across Colombia with branches in Cartagena and Cali. Those travellers who make it as far as Viajero San Andrés will be rewarded with a cool island vibe, sea views, rooftop bar and the chance to meet fellow travellers at one of their many event evenings. Rooms are clean and spacious and you can choose between dorm beds (from $20 US) to private room (from $50 US).
Big V Raizal Home – This is the place to go if you want to experience the ‘real’ San Andrés says one reviewer on Booking.com! Located in the heart of the Raizal neighbourhood, the friendly hosts will make you feel part of the family as you fit into life in a typical local neighbourhood of San Andrés. With hammocks, couches, cool community spaces, the vibe of the place is friendly and social. And, you’re only a walk away from beaches and restaurants. All in all, a great budget choice! From $19 US per night for dorm beds.
The Rock House Hostel – The hostel gets its name from the building which is literally built into the rock. There’s a large terrace where you can meet and chat with fellow travellers and watch the iguanas playing in the garden. The owners are super friendly and the rooms are clean and comfortable. Standard twin rooms with shared bathroom start at $26 US per night.
Summer Breeze – A lovely, bright, clean and comfortable posada with friendly owner, Estella. Rooms come complete with a flatscreen TV, fridge and balcony. There’s also a lovely terrace with a sea view where you can grab a cocktail and watch the sunset. Double rooms start at $60 US per night.
South End Villas – If you want to splash out on your own apartment right by the beach, complete with swimming pool, terrace and sea views, then check out these lovely villas. Modern clean apartments with everything you need (fridge, TV, kitchen, WIFI, comfortable bed, balcony) are perfect for families or couples. They’re not cheap though, starting at $130 US per apartment per night
Things to do in San Andres
Diving and Snorkelling in San Andrés
The sea water around San Andres is warm and clear and full of tropical critters all year round, and so naturally, one of the main activities on the island is scuba diving and snorkeling! Snorkeling can be done all year round in various places, though we’d recommend a trip to La Piscinita as a top priority! This is a natural pool with schools of fish passing through to take a rest from the stronger sea currents. It’s a real highlight! For the best diving spots (depending on the time of the year) it is best to consult local diving centres.
Relax on the Beaches of San Andrés!
One of the best beaches on the island is located in San Luis on the east coast of the island. The sand is pure white and the water is Caribbean green/blue. There is far less tourism in San Luis than in the main town of San Andres El Centro. Therefore, this is probably one of the best spots to hang out and still enjoy some facilities like restaurants and local supermarkets. Another perk of the beach is that there is and giant old shipwreck rusting away on the reef. This gives sight from the beach a stunning tropical and yet shady view. From the beach, you can go swimming, snorkelling and kayaking.
Explore the towns
The island might be small yet it harbours a couple of towns such as El Centro, La Loma and San Luis. The most authentic town on the island is definitely La Loma. The small town not only gives you a stunning view over the Caribbean Sea and the island but it is also a traditional village were the most native people live. The native people are called Raizal people and are descendants from the Afro-Caribbean people. You’ll find tiny churches dotted around the island – a throwback from the Spanish, English and Dutch colonial eras.
Visit Morgan’s Cave
Henry Morgan was a notorious pirate who roamed the seas around San Andrés Island during the early 17th century. He used to attack ships and hide his treasure in a small cave which is known as “Morgan’s Cave”. The deep cave has now been turned into a tourist attraction and there’s a small museum and guide telling the story of the pirates of San Andrés. The museum costs around 15,000 PHP to enter ($5 US) and it makes for a fun day out, especially if you have kids. Read more about the history of San Andrés below.
Weather in San Andrés
Don’t worry about the weather in San Andrés it is sunny and beautiful almost 365 days a year. The island is located near the equator and has only two seasons; a wet and dry one. This seems a little bit harsh but in the wet season, you only get some more clouds, not that much rain. The average temperature is around °C 27 Celsius with peeks over 30 degrees in September and October.
A Short History of San Andrés
Since the 16th century, the colourful history of this tiny island is been rich with tales of pirates, invasion and gold treasure! Christopher Colombus is believed to have first visited the island during his fourth voyage to Latin America somewhere between 1492 and 1500. Later on in the 16th century, the Dutch used the island as a hideaway from pirates and smugglers and then in the 17th century (1628) the British arrived and set up the first official settlement on the island.
With nearby colonies in Barbados and Jamaica, the Brits came to San Andrés in search of wealth, crops and adventure. They brought African slaves to the island to work on the land, most of whom had been lumbering in Jamaica beforehand. During this time, the famous pirate, Henry Morgan, amongst many others used to attack ships heading to the island to loot gold and other treasures. He hid them in his cave “Morgan’s Cave”, which you can visit on a day trip!
How to get to San Andrés
In the past, you could sail to San Andrés with various charters from Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Nowadays the long voyage it is too dangerous because of pirates and other criminals partly controlling the waters.
Therefore, the only real option to reach the island is by airplane. The best deals for plane tickets are probably those of Avianca or Copa Airlines. Both of these airlines offer frequent flights from various cities in Colombia to San Andres.
Where to go next?
Cartagena: An unmissable colonial walled city three hours drive from Santa Marta – this is the tourist jewel of the Caribbean coast and for good reason. Beautiful streets of colourful colonial architecture, tree-lined plazas, a Caribbean vibe mixed with Colombian sophistication, great restaurants, chic coffee shops, pumping nightlife and the white sands of Playa Blanca just a boat ride away!
Medellin: Feeling in need of the buzz of the city after all that lying on the beach? Why not take a flight to everyone’s favourite Colombian city, once a notorious drug playground for infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, now a modern, progressive city with lots to offer! This city of eternal spring is not to be missed.