San Andres Island: Colombia’s Caribbean Paradise
If you love white sand beaches, clear blue waters, and sunny days… this is the destination for you. San Andres Island is one of three Colombian islands in the Caribbean, near the coast of Nicaragua.
The island, and its nearby partners Providencia and Santa Catalina, are culturally very different from the rest of Colombia. They were historically tied to Great Britain, changed hands a bit, and were officially recognized as a Colombian department in 1928. Due to this, English is actually one of the official languages of San Andres Island, along with Spanish and Creole.
The trip to San Andres Island from Medellin, or any part of the Colombian main land, can be pricy, but we did our best to keep it budget friendly. Read on to see photos, a budget breakdown, and my review of of our seven day stay in this gorgeous tropical paradise!
Flights: $100pp roundtrip from Medellin to San Andres Island, compare flight prices on Skyscanner to find the best deals.
Pro tip: The airport on the island is basically in the centro, and walkable to almost all hotels and hostels in the area. We paid for a taxi to our hostel because we didn’t realize this. Once we did, we just packed our bags and walked the 10 minutes to the airport for our flight home.
Hostel: $190 total for 6 nights in a private double room. This is relatively cheap for the island, because it was a very basic room and a pretty far walk off the main strip. We also definitely did not realize our room didn’t have air conditioning until we were in it. PAY FOR AIR CONDITIONING PEOPLE. This is non negotiable. We stuck it out for 3 nights before we caved and upgraded to pay for the air because it was just that miserable. It was only about $8 more a night and soooo so worth it.
Tourist Tariff: $35 pp. This was a fun surprise at the airport! When boarding we were turned away from the gate (major Nepal flashbacks) and sent to another to buy our necessary “Tourist Tariff Card”. Everyone needs one to enter San ANdres island, and it’s no problem to grab them at the airport before your flight. Just be ready for the extra cost!
Food & Drink: $10 to $20pp for a nice, sit down seafood meal. We decided to stretch our stay to 6 nights, so our budget was pretty thin on the food & drink front. We mostly grabbed cheap meals like Subway to bring to the beach or sought out Colombian restaurants outside of the Centro to save some money. The food is definitely more expensive than it is in Medellin, and the variety isn’t too great either. Alcohol, though, was surprisingly cheap and had more options (because San Andres is closer to Central and North America?) than we were used too. We drank small bottles for rum for $1, and there were plenty of wine choices in the $5 to $10 range as well.
Transport: $50 Buses can take you to any destination on the island for 80 cents each. We usually took the bus only two or three times per day, so it’s an insignificant cost. We also rented a scooter for one day of island exploring, which was $20 for the day.
Rainy/Dry Season: The wet season in San Andres Island kicks in around June, so luckily we just missed it. It runs until November, so your best bet for sunny beach days is to visit between December and May. Even during the wet season it’s still worth visiting though, as you can expect a rainstorm every day, but usually still have plenty of beach friendly weather as well. A common San Andres saying is “every day is a beach day”, so no matter what time of year it is, you shouldn’t miss it!
Average Temperature: When we visited in late May, it was HOT. Temps ranged from about mid 80’s to low 90’s Fahrenheit every day. We had one cloudy gray day without rain, and one 10 minute rain shower, and the rest of the time the weather was sunny and perfect. Because the island is so close to the equator, this temperature really doesn’t fluctuate at all throughout the year.
While it’s mostly rocky coastline, San Andres Island also has three very large, beaches to choose from. Spratt Bright is in the center of town, while Rocky Cay is about a 10 minutes bus ride from the center, and San Luis closer to 15 or 20 minutes away. We spent days on all three beaches, and they each have their pros and cons depending on what you prefer.
Rocky Cay: Rocky Cay was my favorite beach! It was less crowded than Spratt Bright, but still had restaurants and vendors around. The main draw of Rocky Cay is the island it’s named after. The small island is about a quarter mile offshore (major guess here, I’m terrible at distances). The coolest part about it, though, is that the water is so shallow that you can walk all the way out from the beach to the island and the sunken ship next to it. It was a very unique experience. We also loved Rocky Cay because its the only one of the three beaches that’s set off the roads. The barrier of palms made it feel much more secluded and relaxing.
San Luis: San Luis beach is a popular choice for those who like less crowded and more serene beach vacations. This beach stretched the longest down the coastline. Some areas were just sand on the side of the road, and others were more built up around restaurants and hotels. Some patches we walked down were completely deserted, so it’s definitely a secluded choice and perfect for a packed lunch or picnic on the water. We also noticed the waves were stronger and larger on these beaches for the adventurous types!
Spratt Bright: If you stay in the center of town, you’ll certainly end up on this beach a couple times. It is by far the most crowded beach on the island, but as a reward for dealing with the crowds you also get the best amenities here. Tons of markets, shops, and restaurants line the beach, and you can rent a chair for a day for only $1.50. Vendors regularly pass by with fresh fruit and other snacks, making this the easiest beach to relax on for sure. We even set up shop next to the Juan Valdez coffee shop so we could access their wifi all day as well! For the most part, Daniel and I spent our days on Rocky Cay and San Luis, and then would enjoy Spratt Bright during sunset on the boardwalk or laying in the sand sharing a bottle of wine.
San Andres Island is surrounded by five tiny islands that are popular day trip destinations for tourists to visit. For me, flying to San Andres was enough, and I didn’t feel the need to spend the money or time on a boat trip visiting the surrounding islands. However, I’ll give you a breakdown of what I read & learned about each one while on our trip.
All the boats leave from the Portofino Marina in the Centro, and have varying amounts of daily departures based on which island you choose and how close/popular it is. Make sure you check a day or two ahead of time on the trip you want to take at the marina, though, because the government systematically shuts down the islands for a few days or weeks at a time to protect the environment from over use by tourists. Usually only one is closed at a time and others are always accessible.
Johnny Cay: The closest and most popular island (pictured below) can be seen from Spratt Bright beach. The round trip boat ride costs about $8. Most reviews stated that the beaches were super crowded from tourists and everything sold on the island was overpriced, which is why we decided to give it a miss.
Acuario and Haynes Cay: I know nothing about these islands, except that they’re a little farther out and more expensive to reach than Johnny Cay. It’s common to book a boat that hits Johnny Cay, Acuario and Haynes Cay all in one day.
Rocky Cay: Teeny, tiny, little guy off the Rocky Cay beach. No need to pay for a boat to this one, as you can just walk from the coast line to reach it. Once there, you can grab a drink on the rock or rent a snorkel to explore the wildlife and sunken ship around the island.
Cayo Bolivar: This was the island I had my heart set on visiting! It’s the farthest out from San Andres Island and requires a 50 minute boat ride. The cost is $60pp, and includes lunch and a snorkel to visit the family of sharks that lives near the island. Because of the cost and distance, this island has hardly any visitors and seems like a serene day trip. Unfortunately the price was a bit too steep so we had to give it a miss. Next time!
To Do & See
Morgans Cove: So, apparently this pirate stashed tons of his gold in a cave on San Andres Island back in the day, and now it’s a museum of sorts that you can visit for $5pp. We skipped it, but it could definitely be good to see for an hour or two, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Hoya Soplador: This is a blow hole. Some water comes through a hole in the rocks. I don’t know why it’s so popular.
West View: One of my favorite places on San Andres island, and a must see! Entrance is only $1.50 and comes with bread to feed the fish 🙂 This is an area on the rocky side of the island, so instead of laying at a beach, they built a high dive to jump off the rocks into the water. Kind of scary at first, but very fun! The water is also crystal clear here, so we rented snorkels for $1.50 and had a blast watching all the schools of fish pass by. We swam out further than most and were even lucky enough to see a stingray!
Another popular activity here is the Aquanaut, which is an astronaut type helmet connected to an air tube. Groups would put them on and then walk along the bottom of the ocean with a guide for 30 or 40 minutes. It looked like an awesome time, and cost about $30 each. Additionally, West View has a questionable water slide, a restaurant, lockers and a bar selling drinks in freshly cut coconuts. Yum!
La Piscinita: Kind of like West View, and just down the road from it. it also has a diving board, but no water slide. I’m not sure about the snorkel rental either or abundance of fish. This seems to be less of a destination and more of a relaxed and uncrowded restaurant.
Scuba Diving: So bummed we missed out on this! My friend got her advanced certification of the island, though, and recommends San Andres Diving or Sharkeys. She paid about $200 for 5 dives and her certification, and said her favorite was the Blue Wall, an underwater cliff that you can dive along and see for 30 or 40 meters up and down.
Rent scooters/go carts: Always a must when visiting an island! There are tons of shops to choose from. Our scooter rental was $20 for 8am – 6pm, which was more than enough time. We rode all around the island (a couple times!) explored into the palm forests, tried new restaurants off the beaten path, and even found a lookout with a view of the whole island. Go carts are a bit more expensive but are also probably more comfortable. Definitely recommend getting one for at least a day. The cost also includes the helmet, but I’m not exaggerating when I say we were the ONLY people on the entire island wearing them. Oh well. Helmet hair may be unattractive but so are traumatic brain injuries.
We found the food on San Andres Island to be average but expensive, which is usually the case on an island. Our favorite meal was definitely Rosa Del Mar on the main boardwalk in the Centro. We paid about $18 for a GIANT plate of coconut shrimp and chicken fajitas, both of which were amazing. Outside of that though, we mainly packed lunches for the beach, or grabbed a meal at whichever restaurant was closest. Tamara’s Kitchen was a stand we ate at a bit down the road from Rocky Cay which was cheap and better than the main restaurant on the beach there. But all in all, nothing we ate really stood out.
As far as drinking and nightlife on San Andres Island, it doesn’t really exist. there we’re a few clubs, Coco Loco in the centro seemed to be the most popular, but for the most part most of the visitors and islanders just grabbed a bottle or a few beers and drank on the beach and boardwalk. Day or night, it didn’t matter. Cost effective, and a guaranteed beautiful view and ambiance. We didn’t visit any of the bars on the island because we preferred chilling on the beach instead.
In conclusion, San Andres Island is a wonderful, beautiful, tropical paradise. However, due to its location I found the people and culture to be very different from the rest of Colombia. If you want to lay on a beach, this is definitely the place for you. If you want the true Colombian experience, though, and are only visiting for a short time, I’d suggest giving San Andres a miss and hitting the beaches on Cartagena instead. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Six days, for me, wasn’t even close to enough on this tropical paradise, and I can’t wait to come back again soon!
All my love,
PS if you’re prone to altitude sickness, don’t fly straight from the island to Bogota. We flew direct from San Andres Island to Medellin, and I still had a pounding headache for a day or two from the altitude change!
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