Most visitors that consider going to Colombia don’t even know about San Andres Island. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it before I stumbled upon it while looking for an alternative destination in Colombia. I’m glad that I found out about this tiny island as I would have missed out on a lot by not going.
Despite being a Colombian territory, the locals don’t look like Colombians, but rather like people from the Caribbean. Not only that, the culture of the island is also more Caribbean than Colombian. The tiny island is a diverse mix of African descendants who actually prefer to speak English due to the island’s early history. It’s also inhabited by Colombian immigrants who have come here to work in the tourist industry and a very small group of indigenous people.
Things to know before going to San Andres Island in Colombia
San Andres is a tiny island that belongs to Colombia, although geographically it is closer to Nicaragua and Jamaica. Due to the fact that it’s a Colombian territory in Costa Rican and Nicaraguan waters, San Andres is a duty-free zone. It makes it great for shopping! Goods there are cheaper than at any airport I’ve been to.
Apart from the cheap shopping, San Andres is not a cheap place. For one thing, you need to pay an entry fee as the island is considered a national park. Also, accommodation on the island is way more expensive than anywhere on the mainland. But trust me – it’s worth the price!
What to do in San Andres Island?
San Andres is a great place to chill for a few days and experience a different side of the Caribbean. The best part of the island is obviously its beaches. The sands are almost pure white and the water is so clear you can easily spot fish swimming around. None of the beaches are overcrowded, despite the whole island being no larger than 26 km2.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, San Andres offers a lot of boat cruises. You need to make sure you know which cruise you’re booking because I thought I was booked to go on a pirate ship, but somehow I ended up on a small boat.
The easiest way is to walk to the port and jump on a cruise straight away, rather than booking with your hotel. The best cruise is a trip to Johnny Cay Isle, a great spot to hang out with exotic fish. I loved interacting with the manta rays and snorkeling in the nearby coral reefs.
If you get a bit tired of the beach, you can easily rent a quad or bike to discover the island on your own. It’s a nice way to interact with the locals and eat homemade arepas, which I personally adored. I could eat them with chipotle every day! However, I must say that people who dislike seafood and cheese may experience some difficulties on San Andres.
One attraction that’s not in the guidebook is the local church. Before you scroll down and skip this part because you don’t think a church is interesting enough, let me tell you something. It’s one of two churches I know of (another in Ecuador) that you can actually climb on.
My friends and I went to the church by accident only to discover that by using tiny ladders. We were able to climb to the top of it! While I was sitting on the roof I had the chance to see a beautiful panoramic view of the whole island. It was totally worth the visit!
For more activities and organized tours check Viator here.
Accommodation in San Andres, Colombia
I’m really glad I went to San Andres as it’s a destination off the beaten path and it’s gorgeous! If you’re wondering where to stay on the island here are my recommendations:
Casa Las Palmas Hotel Boutique – One of a few luxury properties on San Andres. It has a spa, gym, jacuzzi and a lot of other amenities that properties rarely offer on the island.
Hotel Cocoplum – Right on the beach, this hotel has high standards for an affordable price.
El Viajero – Centrally located affordable and clean hostel. You can book sailing trips and other excursions directly at their front desk.
Looking for travel insurance?
In case you don’t have one yet, you might consider buying World Nomads Travel Insurance covers Colombia – it’s the best out there.
Don’t forget to explore other great destinations in Colombia as the country has a lot to offer. Spend a day or a few in Bogota, go to Santa Marta, experience the vibrant city of Medellin, or head to Tayrona National Park near Cartagena.
Alternative options of tropical islands around the world:
Any questions? Please ask in the comments below!