You probably have not heard of San Andres Island. When it comes to nice beaches in the Caribbean, people often associate them with the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cancun, or Cuba (sorry to Americans!). Do you even know that San Andres is part of Colombia?
For South Americans, this is more well-known but even then, not exactly a hot spot for their vacation choice. I’ll elaborate this further later.
So where is San Andres Island?
As you can see from the map, San Andres is closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Interesting geography.
This important point deserves its own section. Before you arrive at San Andres Island, you need a tourism card. We thought that you could purchase the card when you land at San Andres. No! You buy it before you reach there. We didn’t know that until Kirsty asked the lady at LATAM airline.
The tourism card costs USD 35 per person. Not bad but you need to make sure that you have it when you land. I’m not sure what will happen to you if you arrive at the island without the card.
What can you do there?
1. Scuba diving
For sure the main reason to come to San Andres is for scuba diving.
San Andres is one of the islands in the Caribbean. The water is beautiful and warm. Coral reefs are everywhere surrounding the island of San Andres and the underwater world is adorable. Historically, I have never been able to see the fish clearly because my scuba masks were not prescription masks. This time, I invested heavily in a prescription mask and I could finally see! Oh, the underwater world!
You can either scuba dive at San Andres Island, or at Providencia (an Island that is 3.5 hours away from San Andres on a ferry). We figured that we would lose a day diving at Providencia so we opted out diving there.
Precaution on scuba diving – The safety standard isn’t so high (at least with our operator there). Be careful with your equipment and make sure that they are functioning. Check for air leaks and make sure that your gauge is working.
Why am I saying that? Well, my friend Kirsty ran out of air twice and I ran out of air once. How crazy is that? Mind you, running out of air while scuba diving is not supposed to happen. The fact that it happened to us three times speaks volume about this operator company. The company’s name is “Divers Team”.
When you dive, also make sure that you establish a buddy system and look after each other. For us, our diving master didn't care and he was wandering around by himself at the front, was rarely checking what’s going on behind his back. The diving master to divers ratio was also astounding! 9 to 1 for first dive and 14 to 2 for second dive. Wow!
Anyway, enough ranting.
San Andres Island is known for its beaches. If you type “San Andres Island” on Google image, you’ll see all these beautiful beaches. I believe that, but you really need to go out of your way to discover these hidden gems.
If you go to the main beaches in San Andres Island, they are full of people. A lot of people that it doesn’t reflect the same tranquility feel that you see on Google image.
What you should do is either rent a car (4x4 buggy) or take a bus and go around the island. Once you see a nice beach spot, get off the bus and ask one of the hotels by the beach line if you can use their beach benches. All you need is to pay for food or drink, and voila, you have the whole beach to yourself!
The beach that we went was Playa de San Luis.
3. Drive around the Island
Since you are on an island, why not drive around and explore? Driving around the whole island takes at most two hours (if you really take your time). You can rent a 4x4 buggy (or they call it a mule) with 182,000 COPS (which is about CDN 70 or USD 54). That price was for a really bad car. What I mean by bad as in the gear to shift the car was really rusty that you would need two hands to push. The brake didn’t work as well and there were no seat belts :D
You can pay 220,000 COPS and get a much nicer car. Highly recommended.
Be careful when you drive in the city centre. Traffic was a mess and I was not sure how effective were the traffic lights :P
Oh yes, I highly recommend that you bring your driver’s license with you if you decide to drive the car. Trust me on this.
4. Johnny Cay Island
One of the most popular destinations in San Andres is the Johnny Cay Island (a 10min boat ride away from the port.) It looks cool but the island is way too overcrowded. I don’t think you will enjoy the island as much if it’s overcrowded no matter what you do (i.e. just lying on the beach or snorkeling).
How hungry are you?? I should just post a few pictures here and see if they will make you feel hungry :P
Seafood is the main attraction here. Fish, cod, squid, scallops, lobsters, prawn (langostino) are all amazing. Ceviche is also delicious here.
Be careful if you want to order octopus. They come in very small pieces and they are expensive (53,000 COPS or CDN $20 for a dinky dish)!
My restaurant recommendation is La Regatta. Food in that restaurant is delicious. They are located by the docks and has a nice ambiance to enjoy your seafood platter while looking at the ocean. You just need to go there early because it is one of the most popular places in town.
If you want some nice pasta, you can also check out Mister Panino in San Andres. The Carbonara pasta is delicious!
I also find it strange that Colombians immediately take your plates away when they see that you are finished eating. In North America, servers will wait until everyone’s meals are finished. Why the rush?
As much as San Andres Island is supposed to be South American’s getaway destination, I did not see that myself. Most tourists in San Andres Island are local Colombians.
The island’s infrastructure isn’t the greatest. Tourist attractions are minimal. You can tell by looking at the list of hotels operating in San Andres Island - No big brand names. This isn’t like any other islands located in the Caribbean. I don’t know how they sustain the economy as the only industry in this island is tourism. Hopefully the city will promote the island more to the world and attract some serious investments to re-construct San Andres Island to a world class holiday destination. Though it is possible that they chose not to expand in order to protect the island’s ecosystem.
This news link could explain it: https://colombiareports.com/colombia-close-popular-johnny-cay-island-tourists/
I will end this post by showing you how big this bulldog drink is!