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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 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 a very unique Colombian destination. It is a very remote Caribbean island offering natural beauty and culture. On top of that, there are plenty of fun things to do on San Andres Island both in the water and on land.
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!
Topics included in this San Andres Island visitor guide are:
- About San Andres Island
- 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
About San Andres Island, Colombia
San Andres Island is a whopping 22 square miles (57 km2) in total but it surprisingly has a population of around 70,000 people. If you were looking at a map of Colombia, I doubt you would even be able to find it because this island is not actually in close proximity. The closest distance to the mainland from San Andres Island is 445 miles (716 km), and ironically, it is way closer to Nicaragua at just 125 miles (200 km).
The history of San Andres island includes some visitors with some famous names including Christoper Colombus and Henry Morgan.
The first known settlers came in the 17th century and were actually people from Barbados and England who were in search of prosperous lands and were very successful in growing crops on the fertile volcanic soil.
1882 is when it officially became a part of Colombia when a Colombian warrior had taken it over. Since then, its popularity has only grown and more and more people from mainland Colombia started moving there! Today, it is a popular tourist destination for both Colombians and international tourists boasting a range of attractions and activities.
How to get to San Andres Island?
Our flights were $70 USD for 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. Flights on the weekends and around holidays will also be a steeper price.
Before you head to the airport make sure you are able to show proof of your return flight ticket as this is a requirement for all visitors coming to San Andres Island.
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. This way we were all prepped to take on some of the best tours in Cartagena when we got back!
NOTE: There is also an entrance fee for San Andres. At the airport, before boarding, it is required that all foreigners pay 124,000 COP ($26.70 USD) in cash in Colombian pesos (price updated as of January 2023). It is a bit steep, but this fee helps to preserve the island and its environment.
Is English Spoken on San Andres Island?
The main language on San Andres Island is Spanish but a good majority of people also speak fluent English.
Interestingly enough San Andrés–Providencia Creole, also known as San Andrés Creole is the 3rd most popular language which originated from the English language but has its own distinct sounds and expressions that are from the Raizal people (Afro-Caribbean people).
In 2005, the Raizal demographic made up over 50% of the island’s population but in present times this number has significantly dropped and they are now the minority. It makes sense why the popularity of speaking creole has gone down. However, mainland Colombians and locals of the island want to see it live on and they have been aiming to add it back into the school’s curriculum.
10 AMAZING Things to do in San Andres Island, Colombia
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 a 5-10 minute drive from town.
It is a really special beach because not only is it gorgeous, but there is also a tiny island where people can walk through 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 7,000 ($1.50 USD) 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 that is easily accessed by ladders. Snorkel gear is available for rent and life jackets are free of charge.
Besides snorkeling, there are two diving boards, waterslide, lounge chairs, and tables all free for use.
If you want to rent a locker they cost an additional 10,000 COP ($2 USD).
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 that 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 ($6.50 USD) per person but it can be possible to negotiate to COP 20,000 ($4.40 USD) at the docking area (in the city near La Regatta Restaurant.)
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.
If you don’t have your own transport, you can actually join this sightseeing tour that stops at this exact blowhole as well as a few other fun attractions around the island including caves and a stop to swim inside a natural rock pool. It costs $37 USD and only lasts for 2.5 hours so you’ll have plenty of time to do your own thing afterward.
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 ($47 USD) 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 210,000-307,000 COP ($45-66 USD) but do sell out in advance. Luggage is also very limited on the planes to about 10 kg (22 lbs) 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 ($6.50 USD).
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!
11. Go on a snorkeling boat tour
You can just tell by looking at the bright turquoise waters of San Andres that have got to be perfect for snorkeling – and they definitely are!
Taking a snorkeling boat tour is one of the best and most popular things to do on San Andres Island you don’t want to miss out! Not only will they stop at multiple snorkeling spots but you will also get to see other notable tourist attractions around the island.
This particular Full Day Boat Tour of San Andres Bay comes highly rated and is really great value at only $36 USD for up to 7 hours out on the water. It includes 7 different stops, 3 of them being places where you can go snorkeling.
Some of the other experiences include walking through a mangrove forest to see native creatures and migratory birds, having drinks at a tiki bar, brief stops at the popular Haynes Cay and Rose Cay, and more!!!
Lunch is not included but there is a place you can buy food so make sure to bring some cash with you!
You can book your preferred day and time slot here in advance.
12. Go parasailing
Parasailing, while super well-known around the world, doesn’t make it any less fun! If you want a rush, then you and your friend or partner can go parasailing 100 meters above the water (330 feet) right here on San Andres Island!
This exact parasailing tour departs from a private pier that you will decide on with your guide over the phone before your tour begins. It costs $67 USD and lasts 2 hours from start to finish.
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 of 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 having 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 ($11 USD) 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
Viajero Hostel San Andres – This hostel is one of the cheapest places you can stay on San Andres Island. It is in a great location, just a 5-minute walk from the beach and Sea of 7 Colors.
For a mixed dorm room of 8 people, a bunk starts at $18 USD. To include a buffet breakfast with local Colombian coffee will only cost and additional $3 USD. Rooms even have AC and the private rooms have cable TV’s.
In the evenings you can socialize at the disco bar there and during the day take advantage of the scuba diving lesson offerings.
Apartaestudios Ocean Blue 3 – Simple and clean private rooms with air conditioning for less than $50 USD. Located very close to the airport and only a short walk to the town and Spratt Bight Beach. There is a nice-sized pool to hang out in that gets lit up in neon colors at nighttime. There is a 24-hour help desk and a shuttle service. They can also help you schedule tours.
You can check prices and book Apartaestudios Ocean Blue 3 on Booking.com.
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 $25 USD for a double room for two people without air conditioning. This is one of the highest-rated places to stay on San Andres Island and guests love how kind the hosts are. They will offer their own recommendations to you and you can even rent a scooter pretty affordably.
You can check prices and book Posada Nativa Atardecer Isleño on Booking.com.
Summer House San Andres Posada Turistica – This posada is a bright, beautiful, and organized place in the center of town. It offers a beautiful yellow and navy tiled pool surrounded by lots of greenery and they serve breakfast here that is included in your stay. They also have strong wifi and air conditioning which can be hard to find on the island. A private double room is $70 USD a night.
You can check prices and book Summer House San Andres Posada Turistica on Booking.com.
Sunny Beach Apartments – These studio apartments are located right on the beach, and a beautiful private beach at that! For 3 nights (the minimum) they will only cost about $100 USD for two people and also have kitchen facilities meaning you can save even more money by cooking most of your meals instead of eating out!
Because of the location spots here book up quickly so definitely make sure to reserve Sunny Beach Apartments online in advance on Booking.com.
Luxury Hotels on San Andres Island
Miraflores Boutique Hotel – Adults Only – It is such a beautiful hotel with a pool that is ideal if you are looking to relax in a private, calm, and natural setting. Miraflores Boutique is located just out and away from San Andres Bay (6.1 miles/10 km) and 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from San Luis Beach so you would need a car to get around.
However, it is a very popular area for exploring via bike and the property does have bike rentals available! You can also easily book tours that include pick-up from this hotel with the help of the front desk!
A very spacious and comfortable queen room starts at around $150 USD and there is breakfast served daily.
The grounds are beautiful and have many types of plants and birds. There is no ocean view but it’s very close to West View Eco Parque where you can cliff jump, go down a water slide, or grab cocktails to enjoy the view.
You can check prices and book Miraflores Boutique Hotel on Booking.com.
On Vacation Acantilado de la Tierra – This all-inclusive resort has some of the best reviews around. Offering an infinity 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!
The decor is rustic yet stylish and it would be so easy to sit on your balcony’s hammock for hours (if you get a room with one)! It is in a quiet location so if you plan on relaxing while on San Andres this is a great choice! A triple room with 2 full beds starts at $389 USD.
You can check prices and book On Vacation Acantilando de la Tierra on Booking.com.
Aquamare Hotel – This 4-star hotel is one of the newest and cleanest on the whole island and it’s only a 2-minute walk from Spratt Bight Beach along with being close to stores and pubs. Aquammare Hotel also features a pool with an ocean view, a restaurant, and a bar. You can also make use of the 24-hour front desk to accommodate any of your needs.
The rooms are very aesthetically pleasing and spacious and you can enjoy a delicious buffet breakfast with lots of variety that is served each morning. Expect to pay $250 USD for a queen room with a balcony.
You can check prices and book Aquamare Hotel on Booking.com.
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!)
Getting Around San Andres Island, Colombia
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 where 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 (18 mph) so it is easy to drive 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 (150,000 COP/$32 USD 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 COP ($3 USD) a day and we drove all the time!
Golf carts and scooters are cheaper.
It is possible to get a golf cart for around COP 120,000 ($26 USD) per 24 hours, and a scooter goes for about 70,000 COP ($15 USD) 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 ($15 USD) per day. You can also secure your scooter rental online in advance for a bit higher price.
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!) Otherwise, booking online in advance is also a way to secure a good buggy at a good price.
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.
Where is everything located on the island?
San Andres Island is an oval-shaped island with a 26 km (16 mi) long ring road that 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 ($32 USD) per 24 hours
- Fuel for buggy – COP 15,000 per day ($3 USD)
- Return flights – COP 200,000 per person ($42 USD)
- Foreigner entrance fee – 124,000 COP ($26.70 USD) per person (price as of January 2023).
- Accommodation – 83,500 COP + ($18 USD) per night per person
- Daily activities (boats, entrance fees, parking) – COP 20,000 ($4.25 USD) per person per day
- Food – COP 5,000 – 50,000 ($1-11 USD) 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 at Subway. Subway is a great option for food on the go as they have daily deals for COP 7,800 ($1.60 USD) which is the cheapest food we found on the island that wasn’t empanadas (expect to pay at least COP 2,000 ($.50 USD) 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 to 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 ($8.50 USD) each in Santa Marta.
Best Restaurants on San Andres Island
The food scene on San Andres Island isn’t super diverse or memorable. Plus, in general, service can tend to be inattentive, rude, and careless with a ridiculous wait time. So try and keep your expectations low and your patience high. That being said, there are some spots that have a higher quality of service and will really make for a nice meal out.
La Marina Restaurante – If you are looking for some excellent seafood dishes to enjoy with a cocktail and stellar beach views you need to check this place out. Everything is fresh such as the ceviche with strawberry and coco or the fried fish. Portions are a nice size and the price for a meal will average around 60,000 COP ($13 USD) but it is worth it for the quality.
Gourmet Shop Assho – Tasty Caribbean and Italian inside a modern, clean, and casual “bar” setting. You can have a meal here for around 50,000-80,000 COP ($10-18 USD) and some dishes come with more quantity than others. I recommend the cooked pork with coconut rice, the Pan con Beef Stroganoff, or if you want to branch out go for the stuffed squid. Their Pina Colodas are also really delicious here. Salads can be a struggle to find on the island but there are a few different options at Gourmet Shop if that’s what you’re after.
Sea Watch Caffe – This will be your new go-to spot for breakfast and lunch! Enjoy their pancakes or a traditional American plate of eggs and bacon paired with a delicious cappuccino (they make some of the best coffee on the island)! It is a bit more expensive than other similar restaurants but it is clean, right on the beach, and they offer AC to their customers. You can even grab dinner here too!
The Islander – This Bob Marley themed cocktail bar is right across from the beach and serves typical bar dishes and seafood and they have a variety of fantastic cocktails which are seemingly pretty strong. The outdoor patio is huge and is a great place to chill as you eat or drink.
Again, due to the location, the price is higher than many other restaurants.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
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: