Holiday the Colombian way on the Caribbean island of San Andrés
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**2020-21 emergency situation**
In November 2020, San Andrés and Isla de Providencia were absolutely devastated by Hurricane Iota (category 5). While thankfully all but 2 of the islanders survived, what’s left of the islands’ infrastructure is heart-breaking. If you can, please join me in donating to this registered Colombian charity that is collecting for an emergency relief fund to provide essentials like water, electricity and food. Thank you x
San Andrés, Colombia, is a destination that has over the last few decades become wildly popular with mainland Colombians looking for a slice of paradise during their annual leave. Despite being closest to Nicaragua, San Andres Island is only accessible by plane from Panama City, San Jose Costa Rica or the Colombian mainland, with regular flights leaving from Bogotá, Barranquilla, Cali, Medellín and Cartagena. For us, San Andres was often just a stopover for trips to Isla de Providenciawith a few nights here and there, so it was only on our third visit when we stayed for 5 consecutive nights and spent a couple of days (and nights…) hanging out with locals that we felt we knew enough to write an unbeatable travel guide to San Andres Island, Colombia. So tah dah! Here it is: everything you could possibly need to know about things to do on San Andres, where to stay on the island, where to eat, and how to go about renting a buggy on San Andres Island.
This San Andres Colombia guide is going to get COMPREHENSIVE (possibly the most comprehensive San Andres guide on the internet) so use the drop-down menu below if there’s something you want to skip to.
If you’re looking for other paradise getaways in and around Colombia, make sure to check out our guides to:
A little about Isla San Andres, Colombia – it’s a coral island that is as little as 6 hours sail away from Nicaraguaand 3 days sail from Cartagena. There have been on-going disputes with Nicaragua about ownership, but for now the island legally belongs to Colombia. San Andres is a duty-free island, but that’s about where the savings stop, as everything else is priced very highly compared to the rest of Colombia. It’s 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 (but we’re not recommending you do that – there are way too many things to do on San Andres as you make your way round the island!).
San Andres or Providencia Island?
Isla de Providencia is the sister island of San Andres, to be found 95km to the North. For us, the main difference between San Andres and Providencia is the vibe on the islands, with the latter being more chilled, more exclusive-feeling and more expensive. Quality of accommodation and restaurants on San Andres island is inclined to be higher because it caters more to Colombians who want an easy resort holiday to unwind in the day and go shopping at night (sort of like Marbella is for Brits), but this can leave it feeling a little tacky in places. Colombians LOVE a bit of mass tourism, and tend to travel to San Andres Island in big family groups, so it’s a difficult place to find that same feeling of remoteness that you can on thebeaches of Providencia. That being said, in the South of San Andres, it becomes far more remote and more along the lines of what you can expect from Providencia, with some really nice accommodation options.
The locals on Providencia seem to relate more to being Caribbean than Colombian, whereas the feeling we got on San Andres Island was that it was the other way around. In terms of languages on San Andres and Providencia, a lot more Creole and English are spoken on Providencia, with Spanish seemingly the go-to on San Andres (though most locals can at least understand if not speak English, too).
How safe is San Andres, Colombia?
In our experience, safety on San Andres Island is generally fine, but you need to exercise caution. This is the same in any area where tourism has built up a shiny, swanky centre that attracts rich mainland holidaymakers but the rest of the island still lives in ramshackle houses with poor infrastructure. When Andy’s brother stayed out to drink on the beach with a local man and his half-brother (who was born and raised on Isla de Providencia, but has genetically British roots so honestly looks more European that Andy does), the British-looking brother apparently passed out at 4am along the beach wall. At various points in the night, Andy’s brother said that people came up to the local man and ENQUIRED POLITELY if it was ok to rob the Providencia man, thinking him to be a tourist. This story seems both worrying and sort of hilarious… Anyway, keep your wits about you and don’t put yourself in harm’s way.
The same goes for the rest of travel in Colombia. Try and stay in either the main town centre, San Luís or at one of the resorts dotted around the coast. We’ll go into some of the details of no-go areas when we get onto renting a buggy on San Andres, later. Most of the island is absolutely fine though, if not downright charming. Check out my 32 tips for staying safe in South Americaif you’re particularly worried about safety.
WiFi on San Andres Island
Though each time we visit it gets better and better, WiFi connections on San Andres are still very slow. We found it very difficult to video call on Whatsapp, etc, or download anything, though regular browsing is ok if you have the patience. On the plus side, 4G now works fairly well throughout the island!
Like the rest of Colombia, San Andres Island doesn’t have typical seasons, only rainy season (June-November) and dry season. We visited three times – in March, August and September – and experienced around 30 degrees Celsius / 86 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures every day we were there. However, the September visit was the wettest, and we had 2 warm but heavy showers that lasted an hour or so then returned to brilliant sunshine. During our August visit the previous year, Hurricane Dorian was passing by, and the secondary wind and storms were bringing up copious amounts of seaweed that littered every beach. Though temperature is never an issue, Caribbean hurricane season is certainly worth thinking about when booking a trip to San Andres Island!
Can you drink the water on San Andres?
Unfortunately not. You’ll have to buy a little arsenal of drinking water from the shops. As San Andres is so hot, we recommend investing in something like a Chilly’s bottle, which keeps your drink cool for 24 hours, and warm for 12 hours for when you’re back in a cold climate. We couldn’t live without ours!There are sometimes issues with general water supply on the island, and it’s only in the high-end hotels that you’ll find hot showers. Most showers are slightly lukewarm, coming from a plastic vat of collected water that sits and warms slightly above the roof. Prepare yourself for more of a hosepipe than a shower!
The San Andres tourist card
All non-nationals must purchase a San Andres tourist card before flying to the island. You buy this at the airport on the day of your flight, but airlines approach the process differently in different airports. For example, if flying from Cartagena with LatAm, they will request that you buy the tourist card from the dedicated desk (next to the check-in desk anyway) before you try and check in. If you get to the front of the check-in queue without the San Andres tourist card, they will have no qualms in sending you away to have to queue again. When flying with LatAm from Medellín, however, you need to first check-in, and then go to the separate LatAm office in the middle of the airport to pay for the card there. Confusing, huh?
Anyway, the San Andres tourist card costs 112,500 COP per person (as of September 2019), and must be paid in cash. You can’t board without it, and you’ll need a pen to fill it out before landing in San Andres, where you’ll present it to Security. You don’t just need your card to enter the island though, you also need to present it when leaving, so do not – DO NOT – lose your San Andres tourist card! This flimsy bit of paper must stay with you until you reach the mainland again. You require the same card for both San Andres and Providencia, you don’t have to pay anything else once on the islands.
San Andres Airport
The airport is small, but at peak times the queues get pretty gnarly, so if you’re a kindred soul who usually waits right until the last minute we recommend that you get there a little earlier than normal. If shit hits the fan with many flights leaving at once, decent airlines like Avianca will start pulling people on the latest flight out of the queue to check-in as a priority, but you may then still be faced with queues at the one security scanner per side and then again at the queue to scan your San Andres tourist cards.
You can actually walk to the main town from San Andres airport; it’s only about 10-15 minutes away, but that’s not always pleasant with big backpacks in the 30-degree heat. Luckily, when you first arrive at San Andres Airport, taxis will be very easy to find out the front (lol, you’ll be ambushed by drivers), although you can expect your ride to be a close-to-vintage car rather than a yellow cab.
Getting to the main town centre of San Andres from the airport should cost no more than 15k COP, don’t accept anything more. It should be 20k to get to the town of San Luis, and 25k to go round to the South of the island. If you have idle time until check-in or a connection to Isla de Providencia to wait out, you can actually walk to the beach from San Andres Airport. Turn left at the weird pirate ship outside the airport, go straight over the crossroads and walk one more block, et voila! Complete paradise. There’s also a cracking beach club style restaurant run by Decameron hotels set just off the beach.
Where to stay on San Andres, Colombia
It’s best to stay either in the main town (to the South-East of the airport), in the town of San Luis, or in one of the fancier hotels further down the island. Keep in mind that accommodation on San Andres is pretty expensive for the quality you’re offered, so you may have to make some compromises on the type of place you’re staying in. Although basic, in the main town we had a great 5-night stay atEl Hostal by Pochet(more of a guesthouse than a hostel, in all fairness). It’s just a few blocks from the action down a quiet-ish street, and is more reasonably priced than most in the area. The woman who runs it, Nuris, is a jolly bundle of smiles, and she looked after us well.
We also stayed at a number of central apartments that weren’t too amazing for what we paid, and at The Rock House Hostel, which is very good quality but a little too far out. It’s built into the rocky cliffs that border a strange estate of tiny alleyways which taxis refuse to go down because (we shit you not) they say they don’t know how to 3-point turn or reverse back out. Those after a resort vibe should look into Hotel Bahia Sardina, which is right near the action of the town, backs onto the sea and is well-rated. If you don’t mind branching out to the rocky side of the island in favour of good vibes, an absolute banger of a hostel is República, which boasts a pool and beautiful gardens for a very reasonable price.
Renting a buggy on San Andres Island
This is by far ONE OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO ON SAN ANDRES ISLAND. In fact, it’s so good that we’ve now done it three times with different visitors. Here’s a quick vlog of our first time we rented a golf buggy on San Andres:
Though there are public buses that go all the way around the island for 2,500 COP, renting a buggy on San Andres is still the best way to get that true sense of freedom. You can park your buggy anywhere on the island for free, and stop as long as you want once you find a beach that you love. Here are some of the things to do on San Andres that you can get to with your buggy:
Big Pond Lagoon
West View Ecoparque
Reggae Roots Restaurant & Bar
San Andres’ most beautiful road
Hoyo Soplador geyser
Photos at the ‘I <3 SAI’ sign
All the Isla San Andres beaches!
More about these things to do on San Andres Island later on in this travel guide!
What’s the cost of renting a buggy on San Andres?
Well, it depends on which type of buggy or golf cart you want, how many people you are and how much you care about renting a buggy on San Andres that’s in tip-top condition. There are buggy and golf cart garages scattered all around the main town; the centre of town tends to have the best quality, newest and therefore most expensive buggies. The cheapest we found was a 4-seater golf cart for 90k at an old workshop called Danilo’s Yard, but it was so rickety that we probably wouldn’t skimp out quite so much when renting a buggy on San Andres Island next time. Buggy and golf cart garages often have different prices for one day from morning until 6-7pm, or for a full 24 hours. You also tend to have better negotiating power if looking for just a half-day rental, though wherever possible it is worth having the full day to explore. Hangovers forced us to just a half-day on our most recent visit!
You’ll also need to factor in fuel for the buggy or golf cart, which after a whole day of driving around San Andres island is usually only 20k COP or so. Some garages allow you to just pay 20K as a fixed fee for not refuelling if you didn’t have time to get to the petrol station before returning the vehicle.
The best buggy prices we found were:
150k for the day/ 250k for 24hrs for a big 4-seater buggy with a luggage tray at the back (plus or minus a little depending on the power of the buggy)
120k for the day for a smaller 4-seater buggy without luggage tray (rear seats facing backwards) at a reputable garage. These models aren’t available for 24 hours because the lights aren’t good enough to drive at night
90k for the day for a 4-seater golf cart with backwards rear sears at Danilo’s yard – slightly less reputable; the golf cart couldn’t reverse and there was definitely something wrong with the steering. But hey, we made it!
If there’s only 1 or 2 of you in your travel party, more economical than renting a buggy on San Andres would be to rent a moped for 60-70k COP. Just be aware that the mopeds don’t usually come with helmets.
Safety when renting a buggy on San Andres
The only main road goes right the way around the island, so if you stick to this with your buggy, it’s pretty difficult to get lost, but locals say it’s best to be back up in the North side of the island come nightfall. All places that offer renting a buggy on San Andres warn you not to take it into the centre of the island, up La Loma, presumably because there’s a higher risk of being robbed up there. While we thought it was a little over-cautious when we drove through it with Andy’s mum and stepdad just on the most major road it has, a few weeks later we drove to the Perry Hill part of La Loma to meet a local friend, at which point we realised that this warning is probably about a little more than getting a vehicle robbed.
We had old ladies crossing the street to tell us to get out of the area, and people on mopeds driving alongside us to ask what the hell we were doing there, and then tagging us slowly to escort us out of the neighbourhood while we were struggling to get the golf cart up the super-steep hill. Driving a low-powered buggy through many parts of La Loma, you’re a sore thumb and a sitting duck in an area that’s impoverished and still reeling from troubles with narco-traffickers. Though we didn’t heed the advice previously, we would certainly recommend you keep to the outer ring road when renting a buggy on San Andres – or at least don’t delve too deeply into things in the middle of the island! There’s not much to see in La Loma other than a church and a 2k COP viewpoint, so you’re not hugely missing out. Stick to the stunning Isla San Andres coastline!
Things to do on San Andres
1. Get a boat to Johnny Cay
This is the heart-shaped island that sits just a stone’s throw away from Isla San Andres, Colombia. It’s real paradise, with clean white sand, uber-turquoise waters and tall palms for some respite from the sun. People view this as one of the best things to do on San Andres, and the sea is so beautiful it made it as the cover photo for this travel guide. You can get return boats to Johnny Cay for 30k (in addition to an 8k national park tax) to spend the whole day, or you can get a place on one of the ‘VIP’ boat tours, that include Johnny Cay and El Acuario, plus a few other sights for 50k with the national park tax already paid (though we managed to negotiate it down to 45k pp for 3 of us). Luckily it all worked out, but we actually just booked through some random guy on the beach when we were tipsy enough to not bother looking anywhere else. Yep. Smart.
Unless you go through a middleman tour agent, payments are generally cash-only on the day – plus you will need to stock up on the general spending monies when visiting Johnny Cay as nowhere on the island will take card. Other than chilling in the beautifully clear sea, there are a few other spots to check out around Johnny Cay. In the centre, you’ll find not only the lines of long lunch benches and colourful bar huts pumping out reggae music, but further in there is a pristine park of palm trees that provide an excellent opportunity for both shade and generic Instagram photos.
Heading out from there, you’ll find that the far side of Johnny Cay is almost entirely a beach of rocks, with hot little natural pools to soak yourself in and plenty of crabs to chase (joking, crabs have feelings too). If you’re sick of the Johnny Cay crowds around the sandy side, this is a lovely place to swim in the sea. You can walk the whole way round the island in about 15-20 minutes.
You unfortunately cannot stay on Johnny Cay overnight; the island closes to visitors at 6pm every day and opens back up at 8am.
VIP boat tours to Johnny Cay
The VIP boat tours start at 9-to-9:30am, at which point you’re taken to the port and made to wait like cattle for half an hour or so until your boat arrives. The boats typically hold between 10 and 25 people, and not all of them have shade. When you arrive on the island – which by 10am is already overcrowded, you’ll be taken to your group’s table, given some spiel by your guide and offered the opportunity to pre-order a lunch for 30k. Although this sounds expensive, on island terms it’s actually not so bad, and you’re not allowed to bring your own food and drink to Johnny Cay anyway. Also, the Pargo (red snapper) is bloody excellent so we were glad we ordered it.
For those fancy-pants among us, you can also select a fresh lobster for around 145k or seafood platters for 2-3 people in the region of 120k. Try and get in early for your meal, a) to get a seat and b) to enjoy calmer waters whilst everyone else is eating. At around 1pm, most VIP boat tours start to leave for El Acuario, which we’ll get to in a bit. We thought maybe Johnny Cay might become less busy after lunch, but for every boat that left it seemed two more arrived. There’s a nice little photo spot without any crowds in the section of sea that the boats pull into, but otherwise this is what Johnny Cay looks like (on a Monday):
2. Snorkel at El Acuario
This is a ‘natural aquarium’ just off the coast of Rocky Cay Beach. You can get a bus, buggy or taxi down to Rocky Cay Beach and then take a short boat from there, or you can sail from the port in the main town. El Acuario is the next major stop on the VIP tour, after a questionable ‘stop’ to see the Sea of 7 Colours – the same sea you can see from the shore – and a rusty old shipwreck for an extra 5k each but you can’t exactly say no if the rest of the boats wants to see it. We did at least learn about the coral and marine life there, though, plus some amusing theories of why the boat crashed.
Anyway, El Acuario sits next to a larger island, Haynes Cay, both jammed with wooden shack bars, of course. It’s BUSY but has a cool vibe. You can either chill in the natural pools or rent snorkels for 10k COP and take a look at the aquatic life around the islands. While your boat will drop you off at El Acuario, it is also possible to walk to Haynes Cay, but guides warn you that you should only do it in proper sea shoes as the rocks are slippy and sharp in places. You can rent sea shoes for 10k COP. Guides will tell you to rent a locker to keep your stuff safe, but rumour has it that things are known to go missing from them, so it’s better to bring a waterproof drybag to strap around you as you swim.
Out in the natural pools, you can pay a photographer to take a picture of you with the underwater ‘I <3 SAI sign’; just don’t get in the tog’s way if you’re not going to pay, they won’t take too kindly to it! The marine life around El Acuario is, as its name might suggest, pretty good, though admittedly it is more rocks than live corals in this area. The further out you go towards the ‘barriers’ it gets deeper and things get a little more interesting. Andy caught sight of a Great Barracuda at well over a metre in length (4ft+) amongst many other tasty-looking fish, and the area is a hotspot for big rays. Though the rays are wild, we sort of wondered whether they were feeding them to keep them there.
After the stop at El Acuario, we were driven just off the island where our guide jumped into the sea and literally grabbed a ray out of the water. He encouraged us to get in and touch/take pictures with the wild ray, which to be honest felt a little sad as it flapped around in his arms, and so lots of people sat out. Almost every VIP boat offers this ray experience, and there are some tours that exclusively show you the rays up close, in which guides have crowds of 30 or 40 surrounding them to catch a glimpse of one of the poor creatures.
After the natural aquarium, there is another non-existent VIP stop at the mangroves. How these were marketed as part of the day, I don’t know, as it involved passing by them on the way to the port and the guide saying ‘these are the mangroves of San Andres. We used to be able to go in them but we’re not allowed anymore’ and driving on. Luckily we weren’t too fussed about seeing them, but if you had your heart set on seeing some trees growing along the shore then you can take separate kayak tours to and around the mangroves.
3. Search for treasure at Morgan’s Cave
Back in the day, this part of the Caribbean was used by British pirates to raid, loot and generally cause havoc in Spanish-owned areas. Morgan’s Cave is a strange sort of museum/exhibition thing dedicated to the place that the captain allegedly buried a ton of treasure. Mentally prepare yourself for lots of creepy life-size figurines dressed in clothes from Morgan’s era. Entry costs 17k COP, and reviews on TripAdvisor tend to include the words ‘bizarre’ and ‘avoid’.
4. Have your face destroyed by El Hoyo Soplador Geyser
This natural geyser is literally just a hole in the rock that sprays water when waves come in underneath and the pressure builds. However, it’s pretty funny watching the water obliterate people’s faces when they stand next to it. It can get quite busy at times so you’ll usually end up sharing the water spot with some old woman who’s pushed her way through, but it’s fun anyhow.
A whole sub-economy has been built up around the geyser, with bars, shops and ‘tour guides’. The first time we went, we got stung – a lady came up to us when parking our buggy and told us we needed a guide to see the geyser, and that there was no payment but it would be expected that we have a cocktail in her family’s bar afterwards. ‘Deal’, we thought, and followed her eagerly. All she did was lead us 20m to the small hole in the ground, point at it, and then wait until we had finished looking at the geyser to then take us to her bar for an overpriced, non-alcoholic cocktail.
While we appreciate the hustle, if you want to give back to the community making a dime at this place, do it on your own terms. Admittedly, the cocktails were pretty damn tasty, and you can get some decently priced souvenirs at the shops, so it’s not all bad. The next time we visited El Hoyo Soplador, we somehow managed to keep our heads down and avoid the ‘guides’, and lo and behold, we didn’t get lost on the way to the geyser.
5. Dive into natural pools… with a beer
At West View, you can pay for 5k COP entry to the ‘ecopark’, which offers a simple water slide and diving board (which locals may call a ‘trampoline into the sea’, but don’t get too excited). You can also pay extra for activities like Aquanautas helmet diving and a ride on the Jetboat, a speedboat that’s hell-bent on getting you as wet as possible. This place invests in good marketing, grabbing people with billboards as soon as they land at San Andres airport, so it’s a pretty popular park to go to. This means one thing in South America… Q-U-E-U-E-S. However, go just 100m down the road and you’ll come across Reggae Roots Bar & Restaurant, a wooden bar that looks fairly close to falling down, but was at one point painted in a typically Caribbean fashion.
Entry to this bar is free providing you buy a drink or one of their actually pretty good lunches, and they have a diving board that goes into a beautiful little cove in the sea, much like the natural pools you can pay to enter elsewhere. The diving board is some 3m above the water, so thanks to the laidback nature of the bar you rarely have to queue, but instead are likely to have a least a couple of cheers if you manage to brave the dive. The main downside to this bar is that they claim not to have a ‘nice enough’ toilet, and the barman actually advised me not to use the one they do have. But you know, you’ve got the sea, so…
6. Make a splash at La Piscinita
This is basically a larger version of the cove at Reggae Roots Restaurant & Bar, except it’s more famous and therefore more busy. You can dive in and swim in the natural pool made by a curvature in the rocks. There are lots of fish around this area; you can rent snorkels for 4k COP from the restaurant at West View to have a spy of them. Note that you can’t bring your own food and drink into La Piscinita, and entry costs 5k COP (which includes a bit of bread to lure in the fish).
7. Go cocoloco at a Caribbean bar
If you’re not too bothered about diving into the ocean, but fancy a truly Caribbean-feeling bar on San Andres (with a working but still fairly ropey toilet), give Barquitos a shot. You’ll notice it from its red, yellow and green décor, with a makeshift cocktail bar and swing on the side of the road opposite. This isn’t too far anti-clockwise from the main town, and while it’s chilled in the day-time, reportedly the parties go on until ‘whenever people want to leave’ at night.
On San Luis beach, it’s definitely worth stopping by Arnold’s beach shack. Of a night-time, the creatively-named main town chain Caribbean 1, Caribbean 2 and Caribbean 3 (there are 4 and 5 somewhere but they’re less legendary) provide bars in which to have cheap, chilled drinks with the opportunity to chat with some usually open locals.
8. Get high in San Andres Botanical Garden
This is located a little inland, taking Avenida Loma Barrack between the towns of San Luis and San Francisco. The hill is mighty but you only need to get halfway up it, so don’t worry if you’re hoping to visit the Botanical Garden whilst renting a buggy on San Andres! The main draw of the San Andres Botanical Garden is that it has a huuuuge 12m high observation tower from which to check out the east of the island from above. You’ll be able to see Johnny Cay and El Acuario from here. You can take an hour-long tour of the Botanical Gardens to learn more about the flora and fauna on San Andres. Entry costs 10k COP, and opening times are a little confusing: 9-12 then 2-4:30pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays, then 10-12 and 2-4:30pm on Sundays and bank holidays. It’s closed on Mondays.
9. Snap a photo on the most beautiful road on San Andres island
How a main road became an Instagram spot on San Andres, we’ll never know, but every minute you’ll find people risking their lives to take a photo in the middle of it (us included; we can’t judge too much). It’s situated right on the cape of the southern-most point of the island, just before El Hoyo Solpador, which you’ll definitely pass when renting a buggy on San Andres. If you’re like us, rounding the corner of the road to see a tree-lined avenue with palm forest on one side and the rocky coastline on the other will take your breath away. That rounding of the road does make this a very dangerous spot though, and buses tend to take the turn at speed even though they DEFINITELY KNOW that this is where tourists go. Natural selection is real, kids.
From Spratt Bight beach, jetskis cost 120k per half an hour and 200k or so for the hour for a powerful two-person jetski. For a single-person, less powerful beast it will cost 90k (30mins) and 160k (1 hour). However, this jetski price is somewhat flexible depending on your level of Spanish or friendliness with the locals! You can actually jetski to Johnny Cay from Spratt Bight beach, though you’d have to be careful of crossing boats’ paths.
11. Beach it up!
White-sanded, turquoise-watered beaches line almost the whole of the East side of San Andres – the west is mostly just rocks. Here’s a very brief (admittedly we haven’t been that brief up until this point) rundown of the 3 best beaches of San Andres:
Without fail the busiest beach on San Andres Colombia! With good reason though, as it lines most of the main town. Luckily, there’s enough sand to go around, and the area is still very clean. Tourists tend to cluster at the South-Eastern end of it, where there are more food & drink options like the Beer Station, El Corral and Juan Valdez, and a swimming section is sectioned off with buoys. You can still swim further up the beach though, so we really recommend not following the herd (sometimes there are enough people there that it really does start to resemble a herd) and head further up the beach to where it starts to clear. There are plenty of small drinks stalls up this way to ensure you won’t die of dehydration.
Go north enough past the concrete pier, and you’ll hit the area that locals like to hang out in families, play music and drink beer, which is always a good vibe on weekends. Even further from that, you’re near the airport, and there are hardly any people to contend with on the beautiful white sanded beach.
Rocky Cay Beach
One of the first beaches you’ll come to when renting a buggy on San Andres and driving clockwise. This is a small, understated beach with a relaxed bar on one end (you can park down the road opposite this bar for free, alongside the pink house) and places to rent kayaks etc. down the other. You can see El Acuario from this beach, and when the tide is low you can walk along a sandbar to Rocky Cay, a small isla with a snorkellable shipwreck.
San Luis beach
By far our favourite, and one that’s very much enjoyed by locals too. San Luis beach is a huge stretch of sparsely populated sandy goodness. Indigo beach bar is a good’un here with hipster woven egg-beds and the like (though not cheap on Colombian terms), but we prefer to go casual with a (highly potent) Cocoloco from Arnold, who runs a bar shack on the beach just down to the left of Indigo. This guy is a total geezer, so be sure to have a chat with him in English, Spanish or Creole. Cocktails will set you back 20-25k COP, but you can get national beers for 5k.
12. Dodge Caymans at Big Pond Lagoon
Also known as Lake La Loma, this lagoon is located on the (very steep) road up to the La Loma area, and is the only natural source of fresh water on the island. Taking the road past the Botanical Garden, you’ll see a sign and probably someone stood with a clipboard pretending to be a guide to the Big Pond Laguna. Note, you don’t actually need a guide to see this place, much like Hoyo Soplador, nor do you need to pay ANY entrance fee, but hustlers gon’ hustle. It’s been known for ‘guides’ to get aggressive if you refuse to pay, so only head down there if you’re feeling bold. The lagoon is home to caymans so it’s not really a place to swim, but perhaps cool to see anyway.
13. Journey out to Bolivar Cay
The furthest of all of San Andres’ 5 cays (i.e. teenier islands around the teeny island), Bolivar Cay requires an almost 2-hour round journey by boat to get to. This trip costs 60k COP per person including lunch, but is worth it to dodge the crowds of Johnny Cay and El Acuario.
14. Shop till you drop!
As previously mentioned, San Andres is a duty-free island, but unfortunately most of the shops here are high-end brands or boutiques anyway, so you’re not necessarily going to find bargains. There are some deals to be had on technology though, but make sure you’ve checked the going prices before leaping into buying a high-ticket item. San Andres is particularly popular for stocking up on perfume and alcohol, with it not uncommon to see Colombians trying to board the flight back to the mainland with an entire suitcase of the good stuff. You’ll find shops all over the main town, with some cheaper unbranded clothes shops along Calle 2.
Where to eat on San Andres, Colombia
San Andres caters to all budgets, from the holiday-making splurgers to the penny-counting backpackers. Being an island, it would be rude of you not the try the mega-fresh seafood, and we highly recommend getting your mouth around a pargo/red snapper at some point. Here are some of our favourite places to eat on San Andres, roughly in order of budget:
SWAN-KAAAAY! La Regatta is by far the best restaurant on San Andres, and it’s famous throughout Colombua. We’ve been 3 times and watched 3 engagements; it’s that kind of place. It serves mostly – but not entirely – seafood, cooked by highly-trained chefs and served by waiters who actually understand customer service. The Pescado San Andres and Tuna al Viento (note: this is raw tuna) are strong favourites in our camp. Expect to pay around 45-50k per main dish, and 25-30k for a cocktail. You must reserve in advance by popping in to book a table or emailing La Regatta at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are queues for miles most nights. Also, you need to dress up for this one. We’ve even seen men having the shame of being lent a shirt to wear in front of everyone in the queue because they turned up in a vest.
Drawing us in with their clever little play on words, this alleyway restaurant is pretty damn hip, and cooks up some mighty-fine Italian cuisine to serve under the glimmer of a string of lightbulbs. A 25-ish cm pizza costs on average 33k here, with pasta being cheaper at around 25k.
Reggae Roots Restaurant & Bar
This is the place we mentioned way up there, you know, the one with the free diving board. As you’ll probably only access it when renting a buggy on San Andres, it’s perfect for lunchtime. Despite its crumbling décor, lack of usable toilet and oftentimes awkward service, this place actually does a pretty banging chicken lunch for 25k, or 30k for fish.
Gotta have a mention. This is a BIG burger chain in Colombia, but despite its fast food vibe, the ingredients seem of good quality and the prices match it. Best for an after-drinks nibble if all the rum made you forget to have dinner (it happens far too often). One of the cheapest burger combo meals will cost around 22k.
Unfortunately, we didn’t actually get to eat in this restaurant as it was closed on the Wednesday that we tried to visit it. However, it comes highly recommended by locals as a place that locals go – this is important to mention as quite often locals in South America have a habit of recommending the places they THINK tourists want to go, which are just the same touristy places with zero authenticity that the asker was trying to avoid. Restaurante Lydia can be found along the sea-side of the main road in San Fransisco.
Donde Denis D.
If you’re looking for a lunch that will fill you up without filing for bankruptcy, look no further than Donde Denis D, on Avenida Providencia (Carrera 2). This is a typical menú del dia restaurant, where the set-up is basic and the menu is limited to 6-7 choices, but you get a soup, juice and large main meal for 12k COP. While a little on the steep side for the rest of Colombia, in the centre of San Andres town this is cheap as chips. We ended up going back to this place 3 times, and if anything, it got better with every lunch!
Opposite Donde Denis is also a very decent fast-food joint called La Bodega, that serves particularly good hot dogs – be sure to order the ‘super perro’. It’s very popular with the police when they come off shift, as it’s right next to their accommodation.
Unnamed street stall
Basic though it may be, this stall is one of the greatest places to get a cheap dinner in the main town. On the corner where Avenida Costa Rica meets the beach promenade, you’ll find this family-run kitchen that feeds hundreds of tourists and locals every night. Meals with a crazy-tasty main dish, coconut rice and salad, fried yucca or plantain sides cost 14k, or 20k for a fish main. The Caribbean-style chicken is to die for. They also offer an incredible shrimp ceviche for 20k some days. You can either grab one of the plastic chairs in front of the stall if they’re free, or sit along the promenade wall. Give any leftovers back to the stall when you’re done; they like to feed the stray dogs in the area at the end of the night.
And WOW we really weren’t expecting this San Andres, Colombia guide to get to the 7000 words mark, but the tips just kept on flowing! If there’s anything this BLOODY COMPREHENSIVE guide didn’t cover for you, please drop it in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer or refer you to someone who can. San Andres island is an awesome tropical break from exploring the mainland, and really not so expensive to travel to when you compare it to other Caribbean islands.
We do still absolutely recommend at least a 3-night stay on Isla de Providencia, but as the vibes are so different on San Andres and Providencia that neither should be overlooked. We hope this Isla San Andres Colombia guide helps you have an amazing time eating, beaching and renting a buggy on San Andres. And for the love of the gods, don’t lose your San Andres tourist card!
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