If you’re looking for great beaches and the tranquilo lifestyle, a visit to San Andres Island, Colombia, should be on your radar!
Isla San Andres is a small Colombia island off the coast of Nicaragua. Yes, you read that right- this “Hawaii of Colombia” is actually much closer to Nicaragua than Colombia!
Despite requiring a special entry fee (payable at Colombia airports before you leave the mainland) and the far distance, locals and tourists flock to the San Andres island cluster to trade city traffic and one of the longest work weeks in the world for coconuts and warm sand.
San Andres is one of the most popular places to go in Colombia (remember it’s Colombia, not Columbia!). The small island features a rich Afro-Carribbean culture in the middle of the warm Carribbean sea, complete with a strong Rastafarian population, visits from some of history’s most famous pirates, and a local diet made almost entirely of coconuts and wild chickens.
You can’t blame Colombians for being proud of their favorite national getaway, but is it really worth the hype?
We expected a miniature Oahu after the glowing reviews of pristine beaches and 4-5-star resorts on this vacation island, but the real view did not match the Instagram filter. San Andres is more rustic than advertised, most beach front properties are half-built, spray painted houses with demoed cars in their yards, and the city is full of strip malls selling off-off brands in buildings which may have been gleaming in the early 80’s.
While it’s not the modern, beautiful island Colombians are so proud of, the Isla San Andres is charming in its rusticness. Some from large cities could feel refreshed to visit such a natural, down-to-earth location where locals don’t put on airs (or shirts), but it’s important to keep your expectations in check.
If you’re planning to visit San Andres Island, here are our top things to do!
Top things to do in San Andres Island, Colombia
Whether San Andres is the holiday vacation of your dreams or weekend escape from a week of work, there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy on your trip!
1. Snorkel at the San Andres Acuario
The San Andres Aquarium is all-natural. A change in water temperatures and reef structure just off the main island has created the perfect environment for rays, sharks, and tropical fish of all kinds to gather. Snorkeling at the acurario has become one of the most popular things to do on San Andres Island, as being surrounded by such stunning marine life ads to the fun and allure of staying on a Caribbean island!
The acuario is free to snorkel, but not necessarily free to access. The area is too far away to swim from the mainland, so you’ll need to buy a spot on a boat tour to take you out to the site. Simply walk any public beach to find people with a private boat offering tours! Your trip could cost around $30 USD (100k COP)/ person.
2. Visit Captain Morgan’s Cave
Captain Morgan, the famed 19th century pirate, once sought refuge on San Andres Island while plundering the Caribbean sea. The island cave he and his comrades lived and stored treasure in is now mostly buried under water, but a replica has been constructed above ground on the same site for visitors to explore.
A visit to Captains Morgan’s Cave costs 17k COP (around $5) per adult to enter, and includes a bilingual guided group tour to a small coconut museum, a studio featuring local artists, a replica of Capt. Morgan’s cave, a replica of his ship, and the entrance of his now unusable original cave.
3. Hang out at the Hoyo Soplador Blow Hole
The San Andres blow hole is a small but fun point of interest on the island.
A meter-long hole is formed in the beachfront limestone on the Western coast of the island. When strong waves approach the island, the water is forced up the hole resulting in an impressive gust of water. Not only does this area have the naturally-occurring blowhole, the bottom of the limestone outcropping at the hole opens up to an increasingly wide crack which leads to the ocean. Visitors are encouraged to dive into the water and swim through this crack up the blowhole!
The San Andres blowhole area is controlled by a group of vendors selling snacks and drinks. Proprietors ask all visitors to buy a drink or donate 20k/ small group to enter.
4. Go cliff jumping at West View
West View is the adventure zone for Isla San Andres. After parking your mule across the street, you pay your 5k COP/ person and collect a slice of bread at the West View entrance then walk down a wooden walkway to the most exciting things to do on San Andres Island.
In front of you are a 30-foot cliff jump, an even taller water slide ending in a 6-foot drop, and platform access to Aquanauts helmet diving and jetboat tours.
And that slice of bread? That’s for the schools of tropical fish which call the surrounding waters, also known as piscinita, home. Throw bits of bread into the water or cram it into your hand to see the fish up close while snorkeling the warm, clear water.
5. Tour San Andres Island on a Mule
The most popular mode of transportation around San Andres Island is a Mule, a golf cart seating 1-3 people. Renting one for the day helps you feel like a local and see more of the island!
Drive around the small island to see all the sights of the island in one day. The adventures of the rocky west coast, different museums and interest points throughout the island, and the local town at the apex of the islands hill (don’t miss the Baptist Church. They are very proud of that!)
Not only can you see the variety of activities and landscapes Isla San Andres has to offer, you do it all from the comfort and fun of a golf cart with a opened sides and ceiling cover. Enjoy the fresh air, sun, and breeze!
Find Mule rentals from rental centers in town. Simply ask about cost, which should be around 120-150k COP/ day for small golf cart which carries 1-3 people.
6. Hang out on the Isla San Andres beaches and walk to Rocky Cay
Of course going to the beach and swimming in the warm, clear water is one of the best things to do in San Andres! It’s the main reason so many people travel to the island, after all. With average temperatures in the high 80’s, an afternoon on the white sand staring at turquoise water can be just what the doctor ordered.
And when you need a break from the mystery novel you’re reading on the beach, take a walk down to a neighboring island. That’s right- walk. On the island’s east coast you’ll find a strip of beach which ends at a sandbar leading you to Rocky Cay. It takes around 20 minutes to walk along the sandbar to the island, where you’re encouraged to don snorkel fins and mask to snorkel the abandoned ship wreck just beyond Rocky Cay.
The water is warm and clear, and jetski’s and boats are required to maintain 300 feet distance from Rocky Cay and the ship wreck, so it’s a safe, fun, free thing to do in San Andres Island!
7. Take a boat ride from San Andres to Providencia and other islands
Local boat tours offered from the beach will most likely only take you to a couple mediocre snorkel spots and the Acuario, so if you’re interested in visiting Providencia or the other nearby islands you’ll need to head to the marina in town to catch a tourist boat.
Providencia, the second largest in the San Andres archipelago, is considered a popular destination for it’s more tranquilo atmosphere than Isla San Andres. After riding for 3 hours, you’ll be welcomed aboard the more rural, uninhabited island for a low-key vacation of swimming and exploring on your own.
If you’re interested in a more rustic island experience, Providencia is definitely the place for you! You will need to make arrangements to stay overnight, however, as making the trip there and back to Isla San Andres in one day would be difficult. Be warned that Providencia island does not have nearly the infrastructure that San Andres enjoys, so hotels, restuarants, and internet service are all at an “adventure” level.
8. Walk around Downtown San Andres
The main town area of San Andres is on the northern end of the island. Here is where you’ll find the airport, many apartment buildings, hotels, a few strip malls, and the main public beach.
Downtown isn’t big or too exciting, but wandering around can account for a fun hour or two of your day. Pass from the Barracuda Plaza past shopping centers to the coast, where you’ll find public beaches, a boardwalk with a San Andres sign, and street artisans and wall art.
9. Visit the crocodiles at Big Pond
Yes, San Andres is the sort of place that names landmarks “big this” and “small that”. Take your mule down a road flanked by cultural statues to Big Pond, a rather small pond near the top of the hill (center on the island).
The draw to this dirty pond is the small crocodiles which populate the water. Run by a group of local Rastafarians, it’s fun to entice the friendly crocodiles onto shore with a slice of bread while talking to a real life rasta in front of a tienda painted with Bob Marley.
Each individual element of Big Pond isn’t much, but put it all together and you have one strange, interesting activity not to miss. Entrance runs 5k COP/ person without a guide.
Top San Andres Island Hotel and Resort
When we spent 5 days on San Andres Island we chose to stay at Sol Caribe Campos, an all-inclusive resort on the island. We considered other hotels, a furnished apartment, all-inclusive resorts, and AirBnBs, but ultimately chose Sol Caribe Campos because of it’s amazing reviews and tons of amenities.
Here’s what we loved about this San Andres hotel:
- Secluded hotel away from traffic and city noise
- Free shuttle to private beach with sun tents and drink bar
- Comfortable, renovated rooms
- 3 Pools with a variety of features
- 3 Restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
If you’re considering a trip to San Andres Island I suggest you stay at this hotel, too!
Traveling around Colombia?
Colombia is a country on the brink of a tourist take over. You can easily spend weeks and months exploring from coast to coast and love every minute of it. Follow these travel guides to make the most of your time in this beautiful country!
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Planning a trip to San Andres Island, Colombia? Pin this article on things to do for later!