Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia

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. The culture of the island is also more Caribbean than Colombian.San Andres Colombia


Things to Know Before Traveling to San Andres Island in Colombia

San Andres is a tiny island that belongs to Colombia, although geographically it’s closer to Nicaragua and Jamaica. 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 tourism industry and a very small group of indigenous people. The island is small and would take only around an hour to circle if you weren’t to make any stops when renting a buggy on San Andres.

Due to the fact that it’s a Colombian territory in Costa Rican and Nicaraguan waters, San Andres is a duty-free zone. What makes it great for shopping! Goods there are cheaper than at any airport I’ve ever been to.

However, apart from shopping, San Andres isn’t the cheapest 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!

Choose San Andres or Providencia?

Many people are debating whether they should visit San Andres or Providencia island. Truth to be told, it really depends on your travel style and budget. Providencia is more expensive and feels more relaxed, with fewer things to do.

That said, while San Andres may seem off the path to foreign tourists, Colombians tend to treat it as their well-known holiday spot with many youngsters partying. Providencia is more exclusive and remote, even for locals. 

San Andres Island


Is San Andres Safe?

I’ve never felt unsafe on the island, but as anywhere you need to take precautions. Don’t wander off alone at night into a dark street, and I wouldn’t stay on the beach after hours. Unfortunately, beach robberies in Latin America after dark happen sometimes, but during the day you’re absolutely fine!

The most unsafe thing in San Andres would be drinking tap water. Unfortunately, it’s not recommended to drink the water, so be prepared to either buy bottled water or refill your own reusable water. Alternatively, there’s always Lifestraw for those who want to drink water anywhere, anytime.

How to Get to San Andres Colombia?

Your best bet would be to fly from any Colombian airport. The cheapest flights usually connect through Panama City.

All foreigners are required to buy a tourist card before boarding the plane. It’s basically a fee for entering the national park of San Andres & Providencia. It costs 112,500 COP (32 USD) and can be only purchased at the airport and in cash only.

San Andres streets


Things to Do in San Andres Island

Enjoy the Beach

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.

san andres colombia beach
Some of my photos are from my first trip to San Andres – before I became a professional photographer. Hence a different quality 😉

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.


Take a Boat Cruise to a Johnny Cay

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 and El Acuario, a great spot to hang out with exotic fish. I loved interacting with the manta rays and snorkeling in the nearby coral reefs. It costs about $10 to $20 depending on the provider.

isla de san andres colombia


Stuff Your Face with Arepas

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 in San Andres.

If you fancy a luxury dining experience book a table at La Regatta. You’ll need to dress up and spend more than elsewhere, but the food and views are worth it.

arepas


Climb a Local Church

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!top of the church san andres

Rent a Buggy

Public transportation in San Andres is similar to US public transportation, which is very bad, unreliable and barely existent. Hence why the best way to get around the island is to rent a buggy or scooter. This is how we got to the church, off the path beaches, and beautiful viewpoints. 

* Want to plan more activities? *

If you’re looking for personalized travel advice, you can always connect with one of ViaHero’s trip planners. They’re Colombian locals who can give you local insight on how to explore their country.

Alternatively, for more organized tours check Viator here.


Where to Stay 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:

Luxury:
 
One of the few centrally located luxury properties in San Andres. It has a pool and resortish vibe, and a lot of other amenities that properties rarely offer on the island.
 
Check out prices on:
 
Beach-Front:
Right on the beach, this hotel has high standards for an affordable price.

Check out prices on:Booking.com | HotelsCombined | TripAdvisor

Apartment:
Aptos Sol y Mar Islas IIConviniently located near the beach, equipped with everything you might need. Plus, take a look at their plunge pool.

Check out prices on:

Booking.com

Budget:
El Viajero

Centrally located affordable and clean hostel with air conditioning. You can book sailing trips and other excursions directly at their front desk.

Check out prices on:

Booking.com | HotelsCombined | TripAdvisor


Wifi

Wifi is available on the island, but it’s painfully slow. While it’s slowly improving and there’s no need for disconnecting, don’t expect daily Skype calls with your friends as it simply won’t happen.

Looking for Travel Insurance?

In case you don’t have one yet, you might consider buying World Nomads 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:

Guide to San Andres in Colombia
Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia

Any questions about San Andres Island? Please ask in the comments below!

64 thoughts on “Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia”

  1. the people there do no “look Colombian”..? pray tell, what does a “Colombian” look like?

    there are the white ones that predominate around Bogota, the black & mixed people from Valle Cauca & Cali, and many other “types” ..indigenous people.I don’t think tah you look “Polish” especially with the hair dye job..

    for that matter,please advise as to what an “American” from the USA looks like, or a “Canadian”, or a British person..Colombia has as much diversity as any of those places

    Reply
    • Colombian biodiversity doesn’t apply to nature only. Our race mix
      is amazing. We have brown people, white and blonde light eyes color people, light black, or a very dark color people, some of then with honey color eyes or even green or blue eyes color like in San Andres Islands. Some of them with very indigenous features like in the South, Southwest, or some of them very tall white or light black like in Cali. It depends of each region, you will find diversity in climate, food, geography and people everywhere!.

      Reply
  2. I one heard my neighbor talk about the island of San Andreas. His description of the city leaves you with nothing other than a burning urge to visit the place. Last year, I decided to travel to the place and I found it very amazing. The lovely sandy beaches, beautiful sea creatures and the Columbian culture are killers.

    Reply
    • There’s just one. Head uphill from downtown and you’ll see it. The easiest way would be renting a golf kart, but you can also take a cab.

      Reply
  3. Hi,
    do you think is important to book in advance an accomodation? I usually don’t book and in this places many people wait you at the airport offering cheap rooms to stay.
    What is your experience?

    thank you

    Reply
  4. Hey, great post thanks! Are there hostels on the island? We’re doing a combination of hotels and hostels to keep it cheap enough but see everything we want it 🙂

    Reply
  5. Dear Anna,
    I recently (1/18) returned from San Andres Island and as a traveler who has sailed (personally) and flown to numerous (18+) Caribbean islands, my feelings bordered on disappointment. Overcrowded, dirty, littered, crumbling, potholed streets and in need of a good coat of paint are a few personal observations which were takeaways. We were careful not to stay out much past sunset, so luckily, we did not become crime victims. No island water is potable, we were expected to take cold showers from a cistern at our four-star AirB&B. The island has a population density equal to Washington D.C. with a third-world infrastructure which fails it’s populace miserably. Yes, the water is clear, but the island dumps its raw sewage into the ocean, which by mere luck of its physical geography is able to be absorbed by the wide expanse of the ocean. On the north side of the island in a north (onshore) wind, the effluent stench reminds me of Rio.

    Reply
    • I will agree that there is a problem with the island being dirty and having litter…mostly on the south part. There are a lot of people. It’s a tourist island, but people also live there. They aren’t potholes, they are speed bumps. If you pay more attention to getting a tan while taking a selfie holding a drink with an umbrella in it you’d understand why they are there. Lastly, I was quite insulted by your remark about becoming a crime victim before sunset. What would make you think that anyone would try to bother you in San Andrés Island? Being from the USA, I have been here many times. And if the residents know me because of my family or just think I’m a regular tourist they have always treated me very well-some as if I grew up there and others like family. When on the beaches, in town or a bus people can be very polite.
      So, I request that you go back to your other Carribean islands.

      Reply
      • I found that description insulting too. I’ve been there several times and love it and have never felt unsafe. The USVI are the biggest rip off in the entire caribbean and certainly among the scariest!

        Reply
  6. Dear Anna,
    There are all kinds of people on this planet and all at different stages of their evolution. Some have motives for saying what they say that are hidden from us and we will never know the real reason behind them. It is very easy to criticize even the most spectacular places on the planet, depending on your present state and overall persona.
    Rest assured that San Andres is known as a world-class beach resort and I assure you that you have fallen of a real gem. Thaks for your charming report. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Are there any good Spas? We would like facials and massages when we go but I am having a hard time figuring out how to book any. Most of them are in the hotels and don’t have the option to book online. Any advice?

    Reply
  8. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for your time and this article 🙂
    I am heading St Andres next week. I’m wondering, did you get the chance to spend any time on Providencia? If you did, what might be some of your thoughts/suggestions?
    Rence

    Reply
      • Im from scotland been to san andres and definetly would not go back, i agree everything what kent said about the island, dirty, over crowded the roads pavments in terrible condition, expensive for the basic of hotels, the taxis ripp u off charge what they like 20,000 cop for under a 3 minuite ride to hotel just stay away honestly plenty nice beeches else where than san andres, i flew there from medellin daily flight to san andres from there with latam,

        Reply
  9. How long were you on the island? I love it! As with several LATAM coastlines or Caribbean islands, the majority of the people I have seen are African descent. The people I saw in San Andres looked similar to the Colombians in Cartagena. Colombia, just like most of LATAM is diverse, so a typical Colombian does not exist.

    Reply
  10. Anna… I visited and enjoyed the island perhaps 11 yr ago. I stayed at the Decameron Aquarium….Is it and the other Decameron properties still open….I want to book for a family of perhaps 10…5 rooms…. looking for some advice on what currently is a good place
    ( read not party city) where the beach and snorkelling are good

    Reply
  11. Because this article arouses my interest we plan on going there in summer of 2020 for our honeymoon, we live in Jamaica, I pray that we find it as interesting and relaxing (the oxymoron) as you found it to be.
    Wish us luck ???

    Reply
      • Hey Anna, I am heading to San Andres next month and I am really looking forward to climb the church. I was looking at the San Andres’ map and let me tell you I had never seem so many churches from different religions in one island. Thank you for providing the name, I would have been very disappointed if I did not find it.

        Reply
  12. Hi
    I am planning to go there with an6 month old. Hiw is the healthcare system in case of emergency? Any hospitals close to Decameron hotels ??

    Reply
  13. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for the information.
    Is Malaria a problem here? Are there any specific immunizations that are different from what the CDC recommends for Colombia in general? (www.cdc.gov/destinations).
    Thanks.
    Anoma

    Reply
  14. Hi Anna! I loved the article and I’ve been thinking about San Andres for a while now! I would like to visit it next August. We would spend 3 weeks between San Andres, maybe Providencia and the mainland. Do you recommend any area to stay in San Andres which is far from the crowd and near the nicer beaches? Thanks!

    Reply
  15. Hi! That church!!! Where is it/ the name of it? I’m in a plane right know to San Andres and love to see that❤️

    Reply
  16. I am hoping to return to visit San Andres when the pandemic is over. Can you provide any information about the damage it sustained in the hurricane and of things have been rebuilt?

    Reply
  17. Thank you so much for your nice comments about San Andreas. I am going to share your information. Many people ask me for nice place to go in Colombia and this post helps alot. ❤️😊

    Reply

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