Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia!

Once upon a time….I had a flight scheduled from Bogota to Panama City.  BUT ~ my passport was about to expire, & Panama wouldn’t let me in the country (aka, I got deported)!!  Sooo, back in Bogota, I began researching great beach destinations in Colombia.  And I discovered an idyllic, island getaway that I’d never HEARD of: San Andres Island.  It looked like something out of a dream!  So, I booked a cheap flight from Bogota to San Andres for the final two weeks of my trip, & I’m putting everything I learned about the island here in this “Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia!”  

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Welcome to your “Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia!’ LOOK at that turquoise water!!!

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

I literally took this shot on the plane, with my phone, as we flew over the island!

Quick Facts About San Andres Island ~

  • The only airport on San Andres is Aeropuerto Internacional Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (ADZ).  There’s an “Entrance Tax” that must be paid at the airport, prior to departure, of 108,000 Colombian pesos ($35 US).  Be prepared to pay it in cash, as many airlines don’t accept credit cards for this fee.
  • Most of Colombia’s major cities (Medellin, Bogota, Cartagena) offer direct flights to ADZ.  Airlines that fly here include Avianca, LATAM, & Viva Colombia.  But the cheapest I found was Wingo ~ my flight from Bogota to San Andres cost only $43 US!  A direct flight takes about 2 hours & 15 minutes. 
  • San Andres Island is relatively small, at just 10 square miles, with a population of 67,000 people.  The main languages are: Creole, English, & Spanish.
  • Though San Andres is a Colombian territory, it’s physically closer to Nicaragua ~ set due east of the Nicaraguan coastline, past the Corn Islands.  The smaller, quieter island of Providencia lies north of San Andres, with ferries that shuttle between the two.
  • The average daily temperature in San Andres is 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).  Translation: the weather is balmy & tropical year-round, & VERY humid!!  San Andres is one of the most humid places I’ve been, making it feel much warmer ~ so be prepared! 
  • The best time to visit San Andres is between January & July, the drier season.  Rainy season is from August thru December, though you can get storms in May & June.  It rained once during my trip at the end of April, but lasted no more than a few hours.
  • To me, San Andres felt much more Caribbean-influenced than anywhere on mainland Colombia, with the possible exception of Cartagena.  This translates to a much more relaxed, informal feel, with reggae the preferred vibe.  Attire is VERY casual & beachy.  It really felt a world apart from Colombia, in many ways.
  • As a female traveler, I found San Andres quite safe overall (except when walking inland of the main town).  But compared to mainland Colombia, the men were definitely more vocal & aggressive with their attention.  If you’re walking alone, expect to be cat-called, have men pull over on the side of the road to offer you rides, etc.  It took me a few days to get used to this, & though I never felt unsafe, a bit off-putting.
  • The best things to do on San Andres Island include: snorkeling, diving (it’s a diver’ paradise!), sun-bathing, shopping (downtown has TONS of great shops), visiting the many cays that surround the island (typically via guided boat tours), visiting neighboring island Providencia, touring the island on a golf cart or ATV, learning how to kite-surf, & renting bikes (the island is mainly flat, & a great place for long rides). 
  • My one, main problem with San Andres is their accommodation: it’s across-the-board overpriced.  I couldn’t find any true luxury resorts on the island, & the more expensive hotels often had terrible reviews!  I ended up staying at a family-run hostel called The Rock House ($25+/night) ~ & I would definitely recommend it.  I felt safe there, the AC worked brilliantly, & the family who runs it is awesome.  Plus, it’s built into a rock-ledge with a gorgeous roof terrace for killer sunset views.

Map of San Andres Island

I’ve got two different maps of San Andres Island for you: 1) The local tourist map, & 2) Google Maps.  I actually prefer the tourist map in this case, because it gives you a great overview of the island: from the airport on the far right, to all the hotels & restaurants south of the airport, in the main town, to the red road that circles the entire island.  Many great dive spots are also shown, as well as some of the island’s popular cays.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

My favorite map of the island, that highlights great snorkeling & dive spots, plus some of the surrounding cays: Rocky Cay, Cotton Cay, & Johnny Cay!

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Same map ~ but western part of the island. Look for all the great dive spots along the northern side of the island!

San Andres Airport

Johnny Cay

La Piscinita (Good Snorkeling)

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island!

I spent most of my time in & around the main town of San Andres Island , enjoying my morning Juan Valdez coffee while walking miles along the boardwalk, admiring the turquoise waters of Spratt Bight beach.  You can “rent” a shaded beach chair at many spots along here, & trust me ~ you’ll need the shade, because the sun is STRONG!!  In two weeks, I went through two HUGE bottles of sunscreen.  You’re very close to the equator, so strong sunscreen here is essential.  (And I still got the best tan of my life)!

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Every day, I strolled for MILES along San Andres’ boardwalk, that parallels the gorgeous turquoise sea. The main beach in town is known as Spratt Bight beach, & it stretches on for over a mile.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

For a great day trip, take a 10-minute taxi ride from the main town down to San Luis: there’s a great beach with chic, beachy bars, & you can walk out on a sand bar to Rocky Cay (visible in the background of this shot). And for true adventurers, there’s a deserted shipwreck out there…

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Learn how to kite-surf while you’re on the island!  The best place to find an instructor is on the beach, just north of Juan Valdez Coffee. Most days, there was a yellow tent set up ~ head there, & ask for a lesson!

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Sunsets were across-the-board PHEnomenal in San Andres…

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island!

Should you take a guided boat tour out to Johnny or Cotton Cay?  These tours are some of the most popular things to do on San Andres, but they come with issues: the cays are quite tiny, & get SUPER crowded when tours land (which is typically all at the same time).  Restrooms are scarce, water & sand get crowded quickly, & many tours encourage people to touch & take photos with manta rays ~ which, as I understand it, is not a great practice.  My bottom line here: the cays can be VERY touristy. 

Your alternative is to ask your hotel for more private tours/guides, who can design a great day for you with the activities you really want to do ~ with less people.  This is the route I took, & I was much happier this way.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Our boat, docked on the beach next to Juan Valdez Coffee, looking out towards Johnny Cay. TONS of kite-surfers ride in this area, & we found great snorkeling (& a friendly SHARK!) just to the right of here, & had the waters all to ourselves.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

No filter.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

Manta rays can be found in the waters all around San Andres Island…

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

My guide told me that these particular sea urchins are safe for humans to handle (not all are), & that it does not harm the urchin to lightly touch it (though I’m not 100% sure this is true)…

Where to Stay in San Andres!

On a Budget (Under $50/night): My pick is The Rock House ($25+/night).  The bummer is that it’s a 2-mile walk to the main town ~ but it’s all along the ocean, & I got used to getting extra exercise each morning & evening!  Rooms are simple & clean, with great AC’s, & there’s a kitchen on-site if you want to cook.  The family will help you book tours & rent bikes, & the rock setting plus multiple terraces are a bonus! 

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World

For the money, The Rock House is probably your best bet on the entire island for value, location, & cleanliness! Plus: VIEWS!!

Mid-Range Option: Zojo Island ($70+/night), which puts you right in the main town, close to the beach.  Like The Rock House, rooms are simple, but some offer ocean views. 

More High-End Options: If you want to stay right on the beach, try Beach Hotel Cocoplum ($143+/night), which is directly on San Luis’ beach.  Lounge in a hammock or beach chair, grab a drink at the bar, or relax in the hot tub here.  Rooms are some of the most upscale on the island (but keep your expectations in check)!  To be right in the main town, try Hotel Calypso Beach ($119+/night).  It’s right on the boardwalk, across from gorgeous Spratt Bight beach, & you’ll be at multiple restaurants & bars within steps.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island in Colombia, Girl Who Travels the World, Hotel Cocoplum

To be right on the beach in bright accommodations: try Hotel Cocoplum.

Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island!

Thanks for reading this “Ultimate Guide to San Andres Island!”  If you’ve been, please comment below where you stayed ~ I’m curious what other good hotel options are, because they seemed to be few & far between!  Also, what do you think about holding & touching wildlife, such as urchins & manta rays?  In places like the Galapagos, for instance, this is entirely outlawed ~ you must stay 5-6 feet away from animals in the wild at all times.  Weigh in with your thoughts below!

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