The Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island, Colombia
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This is our ultimate guide to San Andres Island, Colombia including where to stay, the best things to do, updated 2019 pricing, and our must-know insider tips!
Topics included in this San Andres Island visitor guide are:
- Getting to San Andres Island
- 10 BEST Things to do in San Andres Island
- Where to stay
- How to get around
- What things cost and budget-saving tips
Ultimate Guide to visiting San Andres Island, Colombia
Not many people know about San Andres Island, Colombia. In fact, we only heard about this remote island from a couple of other backpackers heading there strictly for the scuba diving, but this was enough to entice us to consider a trip to San Andres Island!
I started looking into what San Andres Island was all about.
My research confirmed that it is a world-class scuba diving destination with crystal clear waters. But what I also discovered was that the island offers a unique culture as a mix of Colombian, Jamaican, and Nicaraguan people live there.
San Andres Island officially belongs to Colombia, so that means cheap flights and no immigration hassle if you’re flying from a major Colombian city. However, San Andres is actually geographically much closer to Nicaragua!
This makes San Andres Island is a very unique Colombian destination. It is a very remote Caribbean island offering natural beauty and culture.
In this post, I’m going to tell you what is so special about this hidden gem and how to make the most of your visit to Colombia’s own island paradise!
How to get to San Andres Island?
Our flights were $70 USD each return from Cartagena – yes, $35 each way!
This was a good deal and on average the flights are about $50 USD each way. If you need to check a bag, expect to pay double.
Knowing it was a chilled out island, I packed a couple of bikinis and pairs of shorts in my day backpack to save this cost and left the rest of my luggage at a hotel in Cartagena.
*NOTE: There is also an entrance fee for San Andres. At the airport, before boarding, it is required that all foreigners pay COP 112,500 in cash in Colombian pesos. It is a bit steep, but this fee helps to preserve the island and its environment.
10 AMAZING Things to do in San Andres Island
We were on San Andres Island for several days and were busy the entire time! Here are our suggestions for the best things to do on San Andres Island based on the incredible time we had:
1. Go Scuba Diving
Scuba Diving in San Andres is world-renowned, the waters are crystal clear and the coral is very well preserved. Many backpackers get their scuba diving licenses in Taganga and then do fun dives here (as it is slightly more expensive on the island, but for good reason, the diving is incredible!)
We did two fun dives each with Blue Life Dive. There are many different dive companies to choose from on the island but we chose Blue Life because of their good reputation, central location, and the fact that they take a boat out to the dive spots.
The diving was really world-class. We went to Los Recuerdos and La Rocosa dive spots, both very different from one another but equally as interesting. At La Rocosa there was a cave with an opening at the top to let light in which was really neat!
If you don’t scuba dive, consider trying “Helmet Diving” which lets you walk and breathe under the water without having any prior experience!
2. Spend a day at Rocky Cay
Rocky Cay is a beach only about 5-10 minutes driving from town.
It is a really special beach because not only is it gorgeous, but there is also a tiny island which people can walk to through about chest-deep water on a sandbar – super cool!
This would be my personal favorite beach on San Andres Island. There were quite a few people but not so many that it felt crowded and the variety of things to do made it special. Bring some cash for cocktails – they are delicious!
3. Adventure Activities at West View
West View is a privately owned area on the eastern side of the island. It is perfect for snorkeling as there are literally no waves.
At first glance, the entrance looks as though it is a restaurant only, but it is so much more! I was a little hesitant to check it out as they wanted COP 4,000 per person just to enter. I thought that was a bit crazy for just a snorkeling spot, but when I got there I realized that it was more than that.
There is an area for snorkeling which is easily accessed by ladders. Snorkel gear is available for rent and life jackets are free of charge.
Besides snorkeling, there is a diving board, waterslide, lounge chairs, and tables all free for use.
For the adventurer, there is a couple of other activities to choose from at an extra cost. There is the helmet that you put on your head and allows you to walk underwater, a speedboat, or a fly-board!
4. Get a boat to the island of Johnny Cay
This is the most popular tourist hot spot! Johnny Cay is a small island about 10 minutes by boat from the city.
A boat trip there and back is advertised for about COP 30,000 per person but it can be possible to negotiate to COP 20,000 at the docking area (in the city near La Regatta Restaurant.) Alternatively, you can book a proper day tour that includes lunch!
Johnny Cay features a very nice beach, snorkeling areas, and green spaces to walk around and check out iguanas and lizards. It was full of people, but still really neat to check out.
It isn’t necessary to spend a full day here so find a boat company that offers multiple times to return to San Andres Island so you don’t get stuck out there all day long.
Tip, bring water shoes if you have them as there are many sea urchins and this will help protect you if you want to walk on the rocks.
5. Do some Duty-Free Shopping
Avenida Costa Rica is a walking street full of duty-free shops! Many people take full advantage of the duty-free shopping on San Andres Island and load up on booze and perfume to bring back home with them.
For me, shopping was limited as my backpack was already packed to the brim. But for those with some extra room in their suitcase, shop away!
6. Watch a sunset at the Blowhole
On TripAdvisor, one of the main things to do is visit the Blowhole, which I would rate as less than outstanding – but the spot itself is great for watching the sunset!
Most people go to the “I Love SAI” sign for the sunset, but it can get pretty busy. Just down the road from the sign is a lookout ramp where people are supposed to check out the blowhole.
We actually came here every night with wine and watched the sunset, it became a ritual for us while on San Andres Island and was a good way to start each evening.
7. Take the cheesy photo at the San Andres sign
To the left of the main beach in the city is the “I love San Andres” sign. No trip to San Andres Island is complete without a stop here to get a photo!
8. Go to Providencia
Not far from San Andres Island is another even smaller island called Providencia! This island has become popular for international visitors as it boasts a more relaxed vibe with fewer people and amenities.
The beaches are spectacular.
To get to Providencia you can either take a ferry or a plane. The ferry will run you 215,000 COP and takes about 3.5 hours. The ride can be rough, so be prepared with seasickness medicine ahead of time!
The plane is the more desirable option as it is only 20 minutes long. Flights can be picked up for around 250,000-300,000 COP but do sell out in advance. Luggage is also very limited on the planes to about 10kg per person.
Because Providencia takes a bit of effort to get to, we recommend spending a couple of nights here. You can book your hotel on Providencia online in advance.
Just be warned, Providencia is notoriously more expensive than San Andres Island and may not be the best choice for those on a very strict budget.
If going on your own seems like too much of a hassle, you can also book an organized overnight tour to Providencia from San Andres Island which includes transport and accommodation.
9. Eat all the seafood!
There is no shortage of seafood in this Caribbean paradise. So, if you’re a seafood lover (like us) then take full advantage of the fresh seafood on offer!
Prices really do vary depending on the restaurant you go to. However, you can get a full fish meal complete with dies like rice and salad for as little as 30,000 COP.
10. Meet the local wildlife
San Andres has a variety of wildlife to meet for yourself. Iguanas are everywhere, especially on Johnny Cay Island! Some of them are very friendly and some locals even keep them as pets!
If you go scuba diving or snorkeling you can find sea turtles as well as stingrays!
Where to Stay in San Andres, Colombia
Choosing the Best Area to Stay
Most people stay right in the city not far from the airport. The benefit to this is that there are more food and store options nearby. Otherwise, the city isn’t very pretty and the beach nearby is busy.
We stayed about 10-15 minutes from the city on the western side of the island. I personally think the location is ideal if you have your own transport as we were about 10 minutes from everything on the island.
With our buggy, we could easily and quickly get to wherever we wanted to go while still have the jungle in our backyard and the ocean in our front yard.
Accommodation Prices on San Andres Island
Accommodation on San Andres Island, Colombia is expensive in comparison to the rest of Colombia. Expect to pay COP 50,000 for the most basic dorm room you can find with no air conditioning and really bad reviews.
A lot of Pousadas have been popping up all over the island. This could be a great option for an affordable place to stay while getting a taste of the local culture! Pousadas are usually rooms in peoples homes, like small hotels or Bed and Breakfasts.
Here are our personal recommendations for places to stay for every budget:
Budget Accommodation on San Andres Island
Posada Playa Yahphi – Affordable private rooms in the center of San Andres town. The owners are very friendly and happy to offer tips and advice for exploring the island!
Apartaestudios Ocean Blue 3 – Private rooms with air conditioning for less than $50 USD. Located very close to the airport and only a short walk to the town.
Posada Nativa Atardecer Isleño – This posada is located right in the very middle of the island which makes it a perfect base for exploring the island. Expect to pay about $35 USD for a double room without air-con.
Summer House San Andres Posada Turistica – This posada is in the center of town. It offers a beautiful pool and a private double room is less than $70 USD.
Sunny Beach Apartments – These studio apartments are located right on the beach, and a beautiful beach at that! They will cost about $100 USD for two people but have kitchen facilities meaning you can save by cooking most of your meals instead of eating out!
Luxury Hotels on San Andres Island
On Vacation Acantilado de la Tierra – This all-inclusive resort has some of the best reviews around. Offering a pool with an ocean view, an onsite bar and restaurant, and large comfortable rooms, this is the ultimate place to stay on San Andres Island!
Bliss – A gorgeous large beachside hotel offering apartments that sleep up to 8 people. There is an indoor pool and the hotel is located in town only a short walk from restaurants and shops.
South End Villas – Beautiful apartments on the south end of the island were there are gorgeous beaches. There is an onsite restaurant and pool.
If none of these hotels sound perfect for you, you can browse all of the best hotels and hostels on San Andres Island on Booking.com (our personal favorite hotel booking website!)
Otherwise, consider booking an Air Bnb instead, I find them to generally be better value and more of an authentic cultural experience! If you use this link, you will save on your first Air Bnb booking!
How do you get around San Andres Island?
Our biggest suggestion for getting the most out of the island would be to rent a buggy, golf cart, or scooter.
While San Andres Island is small, it isn’t THAT small. All of the coolest places are still a good 15-20 minute drive from the main city. Many visitors only rent a vehicle for one day to tour the island, but I really don’t think this is enough time. There are spots on the island that you’ll want to spend the majority of your day!
Besides being practical to have your own transport, it was also just fun to drive around. There isn’t much traffic on the island at all and the speed limit is 30 km/h so it is easy driving and not dangerous in the least.
Buggy, golf cart, or scooter?!
We rented a buggy for the entire time we were on the island, it was a bit expensive (COP 150,000 per 24 hours) but totally worth it as we had the freedom to go wherever we wanted at any time! Fuel is cheap, we only spend about COP 15,000 a day and we drove all the time!
Golf Carts and scooters are cheaper.
It is possible to get golf cart for around COP 100,000 per 24 hours, and a scooter goes for about COP 100,000 per day. Just remember that Golf Carts cannot be driven after 6 pm which is annoying!
Scooters are harder to drive and obviously more dangerous, but it is easier to find parking (although we never struggled with our buggy and only had to pay for parking once or twice.) Scooters go for as little as 70,000 COP per day.
Where to rent from?
In the main town where the airport is, there are many different places that rent buggies, motorbikes, or golf carts. By the beach, men stand on the side of the road offering to rent them to you. However, I wouldn’t suggest renting from there.
I recommend going to a legitimate rental shop where you will be given a proper receipt for your deposit (your passport or a large sum of cash!)
On Avenida Francisco Newball there are various rental shops across from the GHL Sunrise Hotel. Here you might pay a little bit more than from the solo rental guys on the streets, but at least you are renting from a proper location and get some peace of mind.
Other ways to get around the island
There are tourist buses that take people around from spot to spot for a cheap price! They are perfect for a day trip of exploring the island!
Taxis are also available but are VERY expensive. I don’t recommend using taxis at all if you can avoid it.
For more information or to book, check out this tourist bus! It is an affordable and fun way to get around San Andres Island!
Where is everything located on the island?
San Andres Island is an oval-shaped island with a 26km long ring-road which goes all around the coast (with a couple of roads straight through the middle.)
The airport is on the northern end of the island along with the main city.
By “city” I really mean small town, but it is where the majority of hotels, restaurants, banks, supermarkets, and shops are located. There is also a beach here which is quite nice but much busier than most of the other ones on the island.
The eastern side of the island is best known for pretty beaches and the west is better for snorkeling due to the rocks and calm waters.
What do things Cost on San Andres Island?
There is this myth among travelers that San Andres is “oh, so expensive” and while it is more costly than other major Colombian cities (for good reason, it is literally an island in the middle of nowhere) it is totally affordable if done right.
There is definitely a market for upscale vacationers on this island who are staying in 5-star resorts, so many stores and restaurants cater to this type of tourist. However, the locals that live there have to eat and shop too so there is a way to experience San Andres Island without breaking the bank – live like a local!
To make it easier, I’ve summarized an estimate of how much things cost for me on San Andres Island:
- Buggy Rental – COP 150,000 per 24 hours
- Fuel for buggy – COP 15,000 per day
- Return flights – COP 200,000 per person
- Foreigner entrance fee – COP 112,500 per person
- Accommodation – COP 45,000+ per night per person
- Daily activities (boats, entrance fees, parking) – COP 20,000 per person per day
- Food – COP 5,000 – 30,000 per person per meal (depending on street food or restaurant)
Budget Saving Tips for Visiting San Andres Island
To help make San Andres Island affordable we have a few budget-saving tips.
- Book a flight with VivaColombia and don’t bring checked baggage
- Eat Subway. Subway is a great option for food on the go as they have daily deals for COP 7,800 which is the cheapest food we found on the island that wasn’t empanadas (expect to pay at least COP 2,000 for empanadas.)
- Walk to or from the airport. When you arrive taxi drivers will be trying to scoop you up. If your accommodation is in the city you are only a 5-minute walk away! We walked straight to the city to rent our buggy which we used to drive us to our hotel. We never took a taxi the entire time on San Andres Island.
- Rent a vehicle with some friends. If you meet anyone in your accommodation then see if they want to rent a buggy as well and all share the cost. Some of the buggies hold up six people.
- Bring your own snorkel gear. Since there is a ton of snorkeling make sure to buy snorkel equipment before coming to the island. We bought awesome sets for only COP 40,000 each in Santa Marta.
San Andres Island FAQs
San Andres Island is more expensive than mainland Colombia. Expect to pay up to 50% more for accommodation and food. But believe me, it’s worth it!
The best time to visit San Andres is December to April. June to November is the rainy season, and although a lot less busy, it is a little bit wet.
As of January 2020, the entry tax (fee) to visit San Andres Island as a foreigner is 112,500 COP per person which needs to be paid at the airport prior to departure.
445 miles, or 715 kilometers. It’s far! So far, in fact, that you need to fly. There are no boats or cruises which take this route.
Absolutely! The beaches are beautiful, the culture is vibrant, and it’s just a fun place to be. For us, it was one of our highlights during our 6 weeks spent in Colombia!
It is generally safe, especially in comparison to mainland Colombia. The island is peaceful and crime is not very common. Of course, still keep general safety rules of thumb in mind especially at night, but overall it is very safe.
San Andres Island was probably the best thing we did in Colombia, and we didn’t even plan on going there originally! I am so glad we did though as it felt like a true vacation. It would be impossible to outdo the experiences on the island, flawless beaches, amazing scuba, cocktails, sun, and snorkeling! It is one place that I can easily say I will be back to one day.
I hope this blog has helped you enjoy San Andres Island as much as we did!
If you found this guide useful, you will also like our Colombia Travel Guide! It includes a ton of useful information for visiting Colombia!
Once you have experienced San Andres Island there is still so much more to see in Colombia. Consider checking out some of my other fav spots:
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April 28, 2020