A complete and up-to-date travel guide to visiting the unique destination of San Andres Island Colombia. Find out how to get here and discover the best things to do, the best places to visit, where to stay, and how to get around this awesome Caribbean island!
I think it’s safe to say that the tiny island of San Andrés is one of the best travel destinations in Colombia.
However, if you ask most backpackers or travelers on the Colombian gringo trail, they probably won’t even know it exists!
So, congratulations, you just stumbled upon the best-kept secret in the Colombian Caribbean (at least among foreigners)!
In this guide, I’ll fill you in on absolutely everything you need to know about visiting this small island paradise. First up is a quick travel guide on how to get here, followed by an awesome list of the best things to do in San Andres, Colombia!
- About San Andres Island in Colombia
- Where is San Andres Island?
- How to Get to San Andres Island from Mainland Colombia
- 25 Fun Things to do on San Andres Island, Colombia
- Where to Stay on Isla San Andres
- San Andres Island Packing List
- More Travel Tips for Visiting San Andres Island
- More South America & Colombia Travel Guides & Blogs
About San Andres Island in Colombia
If you check it out on Google Maps, you’ll see that the island of San Andres (Isla San Andrés in Spanish) is actually quite far from the Colombian mainland and geographically much closer to Nicaragua!
As with many of the Caribbean Islands, San Andres Island has a long history of colonization (mostly by the British). Today, although the native people of San Andres, the Raizal people, don’t consider themselves Colombians, the island is part of Colombian territory.
This makes this hidden gem a very unique Colombian travel destination since almost everyone speaks English (and Caribbean Creole).
Best of all, if you’re already traveling in Colombia, it’s very easy (and cheap) to get here from major cities. This means that you can add a beautiful coral reef island to your Colombia travel itinerary!
Where is San Andres Island?
San Andres Island is located in the Caribbean Sea, approximately 750 kilometers (466 miles) northwest of the Colombian mainland. The closest city (and the place offering the cheapest flights) is Cartagena.
As you’ll notice on the map below, this is quite a remote island, at least 190 kilometers (118 miles) from the closest land in Nicaragua. However, you do also have another beautiful island next door called Providencia, which forms a part of this tiny archipelago.
How to Get to San Andres Island from Mainland Colombia
By far, the easiest way to get to San Andres Island is to fly. I’m not aware of any boats that make the long journey here, and I wouldn’t say there’s any point in looking either.
You’ll find direct flights to San Andres Island from most major cities in Colombia, including Cartagena, Medellín, and Bogotá. As this is a popular travel destination among Colombians, you’ll find that flights are very cheap!
We ended up scoring flights for less than $30 USD each way (that’s under $60 for a return flight). And, we only booked a week in advance. I believe the cheapest place to fly from is Cartagena, which takes just over an hour in the air.
One thing to know is that most Colombian airlines charge ridiculous fees for baggage. That’s why I recommend leaving your larger baggage with your accommodation and just taking a small day bag (we left ours with our accommodation in Cartagena).
Tip: You can also find direct flights to San Andres from Panama city. However, flying here from other parts of Latin America is much more costly and involves some immigration hurdles.
About the San Andres Tourist Entry Tax (tourist Card)
Unfortunately, there is a tourist entry tax that is called the Tourist Card. This seems to go up every year but currently costs 124,000 Colombian pesos as of 2022.
When I was planning my trip, it was difficult to find a reliable source on where to actually buy this. However, I can confirm that you do need to purchase this card at your airport of departure. This isn’t very clear, but your airline is responsible for selling this tourist card to you.
I flew with an airline called LATAM, and there was a separate desk at Cartagena airport (next to the check-in desk), where I was able to pay the tax by card or cash.
Although it seems that this tax has been around for quite some time, the policies are still very chaotic. On my flight, several tourists didn’t seem to be aware of the tax, which held up boarding. Another annoying grievance I have with this tax is that after speaking with several Raizal people on San Andres Island, they told me that majority of the money goes straight to Bogatá, and the people see very little of the funds.
Tip: Although tiny, San Andres Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Gustavo Rojas Pinilla) is the 6th busiest airport in Colombia! This means lines can get long and very hot.
25 Fun Things to do on San Andres Island, Colombia
Okay, with the basic logistics out of the way, let’s dive into this awesome list of the best things to do in San Andres Colombia!
To make things easy for you, I’ve included a small San Andres Island map below with all of the best spots, tourist attractions, and worthwhile things to do pinned.
1. Hire a Golf Cart Or Motorbike To Explore the Island
By far, the best way to explore San Andres Island is to rent a motorbike or Golf Cart. That’s because the tiny Caribbean Island of San Andres covers an area of just 26 km² (10 sq mi). As a result, you can actually drive around the whole island in under an hour!
Prices vary depending on the season and the quality of the vehicle. However, generally speaking, motorbikes (moped/scooters) are much cheaper.
Since it was just Haylea and me, we rented a 115 cc moped, which we paid 100,000 COP per day for. This is a little pricey but was the best price we could find on the island after wasting a fair chunk of time looking around.
If you want to save time, you can reserve a moped or a hire golf cart online in advance with Viator, which includes drop-off at your hotel.
Tip: San Andres Island is an adventure playground! If you’re planning to rent motorbikes or scooters, I highly recommend travel insurance by WorldNomads. I swear by them as they are one of the only companies offering adventure insurance with cover for things like moto & scooter rental.
2. Take The Island Boat Tour
One of the absolute best things to do on San Andres Island of Colombia is to take a boat tour to some of the amazing cays, sand bars, and coastal attractions.
If you’re short on time or want to see as many of the coastal attractions in a single epic day trip, then I highly recommend the VIP boat tour (island hopping).
This is the most cost-effective way to see the best white sand beaches, cays, and coral reefs, and runs for approximately 7 hours. This is the boat trip that I took. It includes:
- Johnny Cay
- Aquarius (Cayo Acuario, also called Rose Cay)
- Bahia de San Andres (bay)
- Mar de 7 Colores (Sea of 7 Colors)
- The Mangroves
- “Manta Rays” – actually not Mantas but another smaller species of ray
- All environmental fees
Another great part about this tour is that you can book online in advance. This is very useful as you will not have to barter or risk the chance of being ripped off by tour operators. This tour offers a fixed price that is actually cheaper than I was able to find around town (especially around La Regatta).
Book: VIP Boat tour (all the coastal San Andres highlights)
3. El Acuario & Haynes Cay
If you’re looking for white-sand beaches, crystal clear water, abundant sea life, and healthy coral reefs, then you’ll want to check out this small island duo.
El Acuario and Haynes Cay are two small islands on the east coast of San Andres. If you take the VIP boat tour (above), you’ll visit this spot. However, you can also get here by taking a boat transfer from Spratt Bight beach (read my guide in the link for more information).
El Acuario is a small but very popular sand bar island surrounded by clear, turquoise water. There isn’t any vegetation here, but instead, you’ll find a few small bars and seafood restaurants. This is one of the best places on the island for swimming and snorkeling!
Just over 100 meters from El Acuario is Haynes Cay, a larger, rocky island dotted with palm trees and green, tropical vegetation. The fun part about this trip is that visitors can actually walk between the islands by wading through waist-deep water!
4. JOHNNY CAY NATURAL REGIONAL PARK
Perhaps the biggest attraction and the most popular thing to do in San Andres, Colombia is to take a day trip to Johnny Cay.
This is another tiny island directly out from the main beach in town (Spratt Bight). Again, a visit to this beautiful tropical island is included in the VIP tour but you can also get here with a boat transfer.
Johnny Cay is a little larger than Haynes Cay and has an epic white-sand beach with deep, clear waters. The island is full of coconut palm trees and all-around great island vibes.
One thing to know about this attraction is that it has its own protective designation as “Johnny Cay Natural Regional Park”, which means you have to pay an extra cost of 15,000 COP to get here.
5. Go Scuba Diving
Did you know that the Colombian island of San Andres is a world-renowned scuba diving destination? In fact, the main reason why many travelers venture to this spot is to explore the underwater world or to get their scuba diving license.
You’ll find loads of great dive sites around the island, which is full of coral reefs and marine life. Typical of dive sites in the Caribbean is the excellent visibility which often reaches 35 meters+!
Surprisingly, San Andres was one of the cheapest diving destinations I’ve visited in Central and South America! You can do your PADI DSD (Discover Scuba) for under $50!
If you’re already a licensed diver, there are many shops in the town and along the west coast.
Check availability: Scuba Diving (Discover Scuba)
…Or Helmet Diving!
What? Yes, that’s right, you can go helmet diving on this little island!
If you’re a bit worried about scuba, then this is a unique and fun new way to try underwater immersion.
6. Mar de 7 Colores (Sea of 7 Colors)
The shallow coral waters surrounding San Andres Island is nicknamed the Mar de 7 Colores, translating to the Sea of 7 Colors.
If you’re lucky enough to get a window seat on the plane in, then you’ll already get a glimpse of this before arriving. However, you can also make it out if you head out on one of the boat tours.
The colors are most visible on the north and east sides of the island, where the ocean hues range from a deep green to a light aqua blue. This is due to the many sand spits, deep sections, and patches of coral reefs.
Below are some photos that I captured with my drone to illustrate the famous Sea of 7 Colors!
7. La Piscinita
Being a popular travel destination, many of the best beaches in San Andres are unfortunately a little crowded. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, then take your moped or golf cart over to La Piscinita on the southwest coast.
La Piscinita translates literally to “the little pool”. And, this beautiful natural gem is exactly that! It’s a tiny but deep, round natural cove formed by the surrounding coastal rocks. The water here is among the clearest on the island and it’s a great place for swimming.
However, while there was once a bit of infrastructure here, everything was pulled down due to a 2022 Shark attack that tragically occurred here. After speaking with a local who was there at the time of the incident, he claims that this was very out of the ordinary. He explained that this was the first shark attack on the island in over 35 years and was likely caused by an anchored cruise ship chumming up the sea nearby.
Sadly, the diving board and pool ladder were removed as a result which doesn’t make much sense as West View is still open– literally a few hundred meters away!
Perhaps one of the funnest and most exciting adventure activities on San Andres Island is to go parasailing!
If you’ve never done this, then this Colombian Caribbean island is one of the best places to try it, since it’s super affordable (just $65 USD).
Most parasailing activities run on the east coast. This is perfect since it offers the best views of the Sea of 7 Colors!
9. San Andres Island Mangroves (Parque Nacional Manglares de Old Point)
Another interesting attraction on the beautiful island of San Andres is its protected mangrove reserve. This is known as the Parque National Manglares de Old Point and you’ll find it just south of the main town in San Andres.
If you’re driving up to town from San Luis or Cocoplum Beach, you’ll see the entrance on your right. There are often many tour guides sitting here who offer kayak trips down the mangroves.
10. El Hoyo Soplador (Blow Hole)
Yes, San Andres even has its own blowhole! This is a very small hole located on the southern shores and is usually quite a popular place to visit.
If you time your visit well, you’ll get a chance to see the explosion of water reaching far into the sky through the tiny hole in the rock. It’s best to visit during high tide and when there is a bit of swell coming in.
At the El Hoyo Soplador blowhole, you’ll also find some small rasta cafes and even a large restaurant. We visited during a popular time and there was a long line of Colombian tourists waiting for their turn to stand above the hole.
11. The San Andres Island Botanical Gardens
The San Andres botanical gardens, known as Jardín Botánico de San Andrés is located just north of San Luis on a steep road leading to La Loma.
The entrance fee is 7,000 COP for Colombian nationals and 10,000 for foreigners. Inside the gardens, you’ll get an opportunity to learn all about native Caribbean plant species and walk up to the viewpoint which offers a great panoramic view of the island.
12. Rocky Cay & Cocoplum Beach
For visitors looking to relax and unwind by the sea, checking out Playa Cocoplum and Rocky Cay is one of the best things to do on San Andres!
Cocoplum Beach is a popular beach with white sand and tropical palm trees. This is one of the best beaches for swimming on the island. There are also resorts and small beach eateries all the way along.
Just opposite Cocoplum Beach is the smaller island of Rocky Cay. Appropriately named, this rocky outcrop is not more than 10 meters long and harbors just a few palm trees. Just next to it is a prominent shipwreck called Barco Encallado which ran aground here many years ago.
Apparently, it used to be the case that you could walk all the way out to the cay from the beach. However, due to the eroding sandbar, this is no longer possible.
However, if you want to make it out to this small island, you can rent a kayak from one of the resorts or shops along Cocoplum beach. The distance is just over 200 meters, which makes it an easy paddle.
13. West View
On San Andres Island, you’ll notice that the East Coast is full of white sand beaches while the west side of the island is mostly rocky. In my opinion, the west coast has the most tranquil waters, especially when the prominent easterly winds blow.
One of the most popular attractions on the west coast of San Andres is a small little area called “Eco Parque West View”. This is a perfect place for swimming and jumping off the diving board into crystal clear water. There’s even a large water slide and the onsite bar sells beers and snacks.
The entrance fee to West View is 4,000 pesos.
One thing to know is that this can be a very popular spot! If you want to escape the crowds, head a bit further north to a small reggae bar just a few hundred meters up the road. The entrance fee to this spot is 3,000 pesos and we had the entire place to ourselves from afternoon to sunset.
14. Cueva de Morgan (Morgan’s Cave)
Cueva de Morgan is another tourist attraction on San Andres Island that is best suited to families with small kids. When I first got here, I was expecting to find a cave to explore. However, Morgan’s Cave is more of a small amusement park, with characters dressed up in pirate outfits and housing a replica ship.
Entrance fee: 20,000 per person
Of course, there is a small cave here as well but it’s hardly the main attraction.
15. Spratt Bight Beach
Spratt Bight Beach, or Playa Spratt Bight, is the main beach on San Andres Island. It’s a beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear waters on the east coast of San Andres town.
Its popularity mostly stems from the fact that it is very close to the majority of the hotels in town. You’ll find its shores lined with small sunshade tents and the main road just behind it full of street vendors.
While Spratt Bight is the most popular beach on the island, it’s still worth visiting. From the shore, you’ll also get an awesome view of Johnny Cay.
16. La Regatta Restaurant
If you ask a foodie what to do on San Andres Island, they’ll tell you to reserve a table at La Regatta Restaurant.
This is universally known as the best restaurant on the island and offers fine dining with a spectacular beach view. They serve mostly seafood with a steep price tag. Since I don’t eat a lot of seafood, I missed out on this one.
However, I did walk in to sneak a peak and kind of wish I reserved a table just for a drink at least!
17. Coco Loco Bar
If you’re looking for some nightlife on San Andres, make sure to visit Coco Loco Bar. This has the most vibrant nightlife scene on the island and is located right near the northern tip.
This club is named after the popular cocktail “Coco Loco” which is a mix of rum, tequila, vodka, lime, and coconut and is claimed to have been invented on San Andres.
18. Visit Providencia Island
Did you know that there are two main islands in this remote Caribbean group? The second is known as Providencia Island and is apparently even more pristine than San Andres! This island is slightly smaller but has a world-renowned dive site on its attaching Santa Catalina island.
It used to be the case that you could take a day trip or an overnight trip from San Andres. However, since the terrible storm “Lota“, much of Providencia has been destroyed and trips were still closed as of 2022.
As a result, I wasn’t able to visit. However, from what I’ve seen and have been told, it’s definitely worth visiting once trips resume. I’m sure the local people will also really appreciate the tourist money.
19. Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana (First Baptist Church)
On one of the highest points on the island, you’ll find the Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana the first Baptist Church. This was the first church built way back in 1847. There’s also a small school which runs in the church. To enter, there’s a donation required.
If you’re lucky enough to climb to the top of the tower, you’ll get awesome panoramic views of the coast.
20. Hang Out in the Villages of San Luis & La Loma
Tired of the nightlife? Looking for the perfect place to just chill out and do nothing at all? Make sure to visit the small local towns of San Luis and La Loma.
In the small town of San Luis, you’ll find a more local scene with a few tiny shops and seaside restaurants. La Loma on the other hand is located on the “mountain” as the locals call it.
There are a few great hotels and hostels up here with great views over the coast.
21. “El Mirador” Epic San Andres Viewpoint
Okay, San Andres isn’t exactly the tallest island in the world. However, if you’re looking for things to do on San Andres for sunset, make sure to add “El Mirador” to your list. This is the best viewpoint that I was able to find. It’s a local spot right near the old baptist church and has a large terrace with chairs and tables.
I had to pay an entrance fee of 2,000 Colombian pesos to enter which was well worth it! We were able to see all the way out to Johnny Cay and Acuarius, as well as the mangrove forest and beaches running from the north to the south.
22. Alligators at Laguna big Pond
One of my favorite attractions on San Andres is the Laguna Big Pond. This is a small man-dug pond housing over 100 alligators (caymans). The entrance fee to the Laguna Big Pond is 5,000, which includes a local guide.
Our guide showed us around the pond and explained all of the different plants and vegetables they grow there (including a suspicious green weed).
Apparently, the alligators are not native to the island but were brought here when an illegal wildlife trade flight had to make an emergency landing on the island.
We had a blast photographing the caymans and having a chat with our awesome guide.
23. Go Sailing
Is there a better place to go sailing than in the Caribbean?
While most of the boat trips and island hopping adventures on San Andres are small motorized vessels, there is one particular trip onboard an awesome catamaran that makes the experience much more fun.
You can book this sailing trip in advance on Viator but make sure to get in early as it’s only a small-group trip that is capped to 8 passengers.
24. I Love San Andres Island Sign
Okay, this is probably the most touristic thing you can do on San Andres Island. However, if you want to take an iconic vacation flick, head down to the I Love San Andres Sign (Letras I Love Sai), which you’ll find on the palm-lined southwest coast.
25. Coconut Palm Tree Road
To round off this San Andres Island travel guide, I have one more attraction for you. This unofficial photo spot is known as the “Calle de las Palmeras”, or Palm Tree Road.
If you’ve got yourself a scooter or golf cart, head down to the southern tip of the island. You’ll find this iconic road between the El Hoyo Soplador (the blowhole) and El Mateo Beach.
Where to Stay on Isla San Andres
San Andres is quite a small island but there are loads of accommodation options available. The best regions are downtown (El Centro), San Luis, or one of the many resorts along the east and west coasts.
Below are my top three recommendations for where to stay on San Andres Island, Colombia.
- Big V Raizal – an awesome homestay-style hostel run by an incredibly friendly native Raizal family. I stayed here and couldn’t recommend this one enough! Great prices, fun people, amazing breakfast, and all-round chill vibes.
- On Vacation Acantilado de la Tierra – The best all-inclusive resort on San Andres. Experience ultimate luxury with an infinity pool with ocean views, onsite bar, and amazing rooms.
- Villa San Miguel – awesome apartments conveniently located in central near the airport and just 2-minutes walk from Spratt Bight Beach.
San Andres Island Packing List
Still in the planning stages of your island adventures? Before you go, make sure to pack appropriately. Below is a quick packing list to San Andres.
- Grayl Water Bottle – you can’t drink the tap water on this island. I’ve used this awesome filter bottle for the past few years and have saved thousands of plastic bottles from landfills in the process.
- Sunscreen – is much more expensive on San Andres than on mainland Colombia. Try to get a reef-safe one to avoid damage to the underwater ecosystems.
- Bug spray – while there isn’t any Malaria here, dengue fever does exist. It’s best to wear bug spray, especially at dawn and dusk
- Water shoes – this is a good idea to bring when visiting the rocky cays
- Snorkel set – otherwise you will need to rent this if you would like to snorkel on the islands
- Hat – it gets hot here!
- Swimmers – a no-brainer
- Travel towel – a light and compact drying solution. Great if you’re trying to squeeze on the plane without checked baggage
- Flip flops – no need for anything fancy here!
More Travel Tips for Visiting San Andres Island
Need more travel tips? This section should answer all your questions about traveling on San Andres!
- Duty-free shopping – due to the location and some strange tax laws, this is a popular place for Colombians to come to do some duty-free shopping. Visitors will find loads of fancy stores in the heart of town (El Centro)
- Vendors – unlike many other parts of Colombia and Latin America, the vendors on San Andres are not pushy at all. These people are a very laid-back and friendly bunch!
- Internet connectivity – unfortunately, the wifi on the island is usually a bit lacking. However, if you get yourself a local Colombian sim card, the 4G is more than adequate and quite affordable. Claro is the best one since they fitted a 726-kilometer undersea data cable to the island.
- Food – there’s certainly no shortage of places to eat on San Andres Island. Besides La Regatta, my favorites were the Jerk Chicken Spot (San Luis) and Eat Alley (El Centro).
- Baggage – trust me, the best way to travel to San Andres is to take carry-on luggage only. This makes things much cheaper and easier. If you’re traveling in Colombia, leave your larger bag at your hotel or hostel before flying.
- Expenses – while San Andres is certainly more expensive than other parts of Colombia, the prices really aren’t that bad, especially in comparison to other parts of the Caribbean.
- Getting around – there’s a public bus that runs from El Centro down both coasts. The price is fixed at 3600 Colombian pesos (no matter where you get off). Alternatively, you can also get a moto-taxi for a little more (depending on the destination). However, moto-taxis have an absolute max price of 9,000. Taxis also run on the island but are much more expensive.
- Popularity – San Andres island is a very popular holiday destination for Colombians and other people from Latin America. However, you won’t find many gringos here.
When is the Best Time to Visit San Andres?
San Andres is a great place to visit all year round! The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius, making it an awesome holiday spot!
While San Andres does experience a rainy season, this is usually pretty tame with just a nice shower in the afternoons. Regardless, most people will tell you that the best time to visit is April to May or November to December.
How Many Days Should I spend on Isla San Andres?
This is a subjective question and will definitely depend on what you want to do on San Andres Island. I spent 5 days here and, as you can see, I got to explore quite a bit! Since this isn’t a very big island, you can easily cover most of the attractions in under a week.
In saying that, if you’re looking for some downtime or to simply relax, I’d say 4-7 days is more than adequate.
More South America & Colombia Travel Guides & Blogs
I hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive travel guide featuring the 25 best things to do in San Andres, Colombia!
While you’re here, make sure to check out some of my other travel blogs and articles to Latin America. If you’re planning your backpacking adventures in Colombia, make sure to check out some of my favorite destinations including Minca, Palomino, Cartagena, Medellín, and the mind-blowing Tayrona National Park!
Otherwise, here’s some more travel inspiration below.