San Andrés is Colombia’s Caribbean island and it’s a popular vacation location. In this article we look at 17 top things to do in San Andrés.
San Andrés is so different from Colombia that you will think you are in another country. In addition, San Andrés is located closer to Nicaragua than it is to Colombia.
The island of San Andrés is a popular vacation place from the mainland of Colombia. Also, the archipelago with several other islands is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. And it features many beaches, islets and coral reefs that are filled with flora and fauna.
In addition, the island is a great destination for lovers of snorkeling and Scuba diving. The blue-green water around the island has even been called “the sea of seven colors.”
I have been to San Andrés twice on vacation. It’s a great place to spend several days with so many things to do on the island and nearby.
The culture of the island is a mix of African descendants. And my impression was the majority prefer to speak English.
So, what are you waiting for? Pack a bag and head to San Andrés. While there, here’s 17 top things to do in San Andrés and nearby in no particular order:
1. Take a Boat to Johnny Cay Island
Johnny Cay is a small islet (island) located about a 10-minute boat ride from the northern coast of San Andrés, which is very popular with tourists.
Johnny Cay is tiny – only about 4,920 feet (1,500 meters) of circumference with palm trees in its interior. And it owes its name to a native who had the idea of establishing a small business selling coconut water. Johnny Cay was declared a protected Regional Park in 2001.
This small island is very popular with its pretty white beaches and shallow surrounding waters, which makes it a good place for snorkeling.
Johnny Cay Island was closed in 2017 for a while due to increased tourism that damaged the local ecosystem. And a study in May last year reported that the park received about 3,000 people on peak days, when it had the capacity only for 854 tourists.
The park now closes temporally for a few days each quarter to enable maintenance of the infrastructure of the park.
I recommend going during the week, as on the weekends it can be packed with tourists. And there are small food and drink stands on the island.
2. Go on a Day Trip to Cayo Bolíva
Cayo Bolíva is another small island near San Andrés with palm trees and white sand beaches. This island is further away than Johnny Cay. So, it’s not visited by as many tourists.
You can hire a boat or take a tour to go to Cayo Bolíva. It takes up to an hour to get there. So, a tour typically includes lunch and drinks and time to relax in the sun and takes most of a day.
If you want to spend a day at the beach without many people around this is a great place to visit. Also, you won’t find sellers of junk and massage services that you find on the popular beaches in Colombia.
This is an island where you can spend a few hours completely disconnected from the world and enjoy the beautiful beach setting.
3. Take a Ride on the Semi-Submersible Nautilus
Enjoy the underwater without getting wet in a boat ride with a submerged cabin with big underwater observation windows. So, if you don’t dive and don’t want to get wet this is for you.
In a journey of approximately 90-minutes, you will be able to observe a variety of colorful tropical fish and coral reefs from the comfortable submarine compartment of the Nautilus.
They have morning and afternoon departures at 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. Unfortunately, the guide in the boat when I went only spoke Spanish. And the cost was about $26. Also, there is a second semi-submersible available named Manatí.
4. Hang Out on the Beach
There are several beaches on the island of San Andrés where you can hang out on the beach. Rocky Cay, Sprat Bight and San Luis are three of the best beaches on the island.
Rocky Cay is a pretty beach with good snorkeling and it’s my favorite on the island. Also, you can walk through the water to a nearby tiny island. In addition, there is a nearby shipwreck.
Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds, as this beach is popular and relatively small. In addition, there is a restaurant, bar stands and some lockers.
Sprat Bight is the main beach on San Andrés island. And it’s normally packed with tourists and locals since several hotels are nearby. So, it’s best to go early in the morning to this beach. Also, there is beach food and drinks available and restaurants across the street.
San Luis beach normally has fewer people. And the waves are somewhat rougher as well. But it’s a nice beach where you can typically avoid the crowds found at Rocky Cay and Sprat Bight. Also, there is beach food and some beach-front bars available.
5. Go Parasailing
Parasailing was on the best things I did while visiting San Andrés. When parasailing you will climb to a height of about 330 feet (100 meters) with a parasail pulled by a fast boat. The views are amazing!
The duration of my parasailing adventure last year was about an hour and 20 minutes and I was in the air for over 20 minutes and the cost was 160,000 pesos. Richie Parasail is the company I used.
Note that this activity isn’t suitable for adults over 65 years old, anyone with physical difficulties, women in pregnancy or children younger than 5.
6. Rent a Golf Cart or Bicycle
A good way to explore San Andrés island is to rent a golf cart and take the road around the island and stop on the way at beaches and other sites.
Or if you want the exercise, bicycles are available for rent. And motorcycle rentals are available as well.
But in my opinion, the golf carts are the best option. When renting a golf cart, watch out for higher prices for foreigners. Look around and haggle for the best price.
The rate last year when I went was 100,000 pesos for 3 hours or 130,000 pesos for a full day (9 am to 6 pm).
Make sure to get the phone number of who your rent from in case you have problems. Also, be careful where you park, as it’s possible to get tickets for leaving carts unattended.
7. Check Out La Loma and the First Baptist Church
La Loma (The Hill) is a small village located on the north side of San Andrés island. This is a traditional village where many natives of the island live. The natives or Raizel people living here are descended from Afro-Caribbean slaves that migrated from Jamaica and other nearby Caribbean Islands.
This neighborhood is full of old wooden houses. And it has the Primera Iglesia Bautista (First Baptist Church) that was founded in 1844 by the Reverend Philip Beakman Livingston.
A highlight of La Loma is the view of San Andrés from the clock tower of this church. The church charges 5,000 pesos to enter the clock tower.
This small village is worth a visit due to the stunning views of San Andrés and the Caribbean Sea. It’s located only about 15 minutes from El Centro. And it’s worth spending an hour or two to see the village and the views plus have a drink at a local restaurant.
8. Take a Boat to Cayo El Acuario
Cayo El Acuario is another small island located east of San Andrés. It’s a short boat ride to this popular island.
The name “Acuario” mean aquarium. And this is a beautiful natural aquarium where you can find an abundance of fish and other aquatic life when snorkeling here. The water is shallow and warm. So, it’s a good place for snorkeling.
Cayo El Acuario has a white sand beach, crystal-clear water, snorkeling and coconut drinks are available. Also, there is a locker area with a locker fee of 10,000 pesos.
Since this is another small island, it’s best to visit during the week, as on the weekend it can be over-crowded.
9. Go Swimming at La Piscinita
La Piscinita is one of the best places for snorkeling around the island of San Andrés. So, it’s quite popular with tourists. And there are many fish to see with the crystal clear water.
The entrance fee is 5,000 pesos. And with the fee you’ll receive some bread that drives the fish crazy. Make sure to bring your snorkeling gear, as the rental prices here are high. Also, they have life jackets available for rental if you are not a confident swimmer.
This place is supposed to open at 8:30 am, but it frequently opens later. Also, there is a small restaurant with some pretty good food. Try to go during the week, as on the weekends it’s pretty busy.
10. Try the Island Cuisine
The seafood on San Andrés island is excellent since you are in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
Pargo (red snapper) fish is a good choice and is typically fried and served whole. And langostinos, warm-water lobsters, are found in abundance and are affordable
Also, along the beaches you will find little restaurants selling whole fried fish with coconut rice and patacones. In addition, you can find some with fresh ceviche well.
11. Walk Along the Waterfront Promenade
The North End of San Andrés is known as El Centro, which is where most of the shopping on the island is located.
While El Centro isn’t that attractive, the waterfront promenade is worth a stroll, particularly at sunset. This is a paved walkway next to the beach that runs from the “I Love San Andrés” sign to the Parque Ecological San Andrés.
Along this pathway you will pass many hotels, restaurants and bars. And some of these places are some of the nicest on the island. Also, there are some stalls selling drinks along the walkway.
This is a great stroll at sunset where you can find a good place for drinks or even dinner.
12. Take a Side Trip to Providencia
If San Andrés is too crowded for you, take a side trip to the island of Providencia, which is located 56 miles (90 km) from San Andrés.
You can take a short turboprop flight to Providencia or a 3-hour catamaran trip from San Andrés. Providencia is a remote and traditional Caribbean island with amazing scenery, beaches that aren’t crowded and it has superb diving and snorkeling.
In addition, Providencia is rural and slow-paced compared to San Andrés. The entire island of Providencia reportedly has less than 150 vehicles and only about 5,000 inhabitants.
Large-scale tourism never took root in Providencia, as it’s more difficult to get to. So, there isn’t a big selection of places to stay. There is only one upscale hotel – Deep Blue Hotel. Also, I recommend Monasterio del Viento, a tiny hotel with four rooms and two suits.
13. Go on a Fishing Tour
For a real adventure go on a fishing tour and try deep-sea fishing in the Caribbean Sea.
Fishing tours can also be combined with stops for snorkeling and beaches and also lunch. And of course, there will be music on board.
Also, if you catch fish like mahi mahi or wahoo, you could even grill them for lunch.
San Andrés Fishing & Pesca offers sport fishing trips by boat including equipment, captain and sailor. Also, they can stop at the best snorkeling sites of San Andrés island.
14. Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
With crystal clear water around San Andrés it’s a great place to go snorkeling or Scuba diving. There are over 130 species of fish, many coral reefs and rock formations and even some shipwrecks to see.
Also, the water is warm enough that you don’t need a wetsuit. So, it’s a good place to learn to Scuba dive.
With well-preserved coral reefs around the island that are full of marine life, San Andrés is a paradise for divers and snorkelers.
15. Visit Jardín Botánico de San Andrés
For flower, plant and gardening lovers, the Jardín Botánico botanical gardens in San Andrés are worth a visit. It’s also a nice change of pace from all the beach and water activities on the island.
Jardín Botánico is run by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. The gardens include 8 hectares with trails where you can see over 400 plant species. There is also a 12-meter-high lookout tower, which offers a 360-degree view of the island.
Free guided tours of Jardín Botánico are offered, which last about 1.5 hours. The guides show the visitors the prehistoric plants as well as ornamental, toxic, aromatic, medicinal, edible, fruit species, among others.
The different ecosystems of the island including mangroves, reefs, forests and some local animals are also present in this “living museum”.
Jardín Botánico is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to noon and f 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm. And on Sundays and holidays, it’s open from 10:00 am to noon and 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm. The entrance fee is 3,000 pesos for Colombians and 10,000 pesos for international tourists.
16. See El Hoyo Suplidor
El Hoya Soplador (the blow hole) is a naturally occurring phenomenon where you can see water shooting up to 64 feet (20 meters) into the air. This happens when waves hit the underground tunnels in the coral reef and force water up through a hole in the rocks.
El Hoyo Suplidor is located near the southern point of San Andrés island known as Punta Sur. But the water won’t be blowing out of the hole at all times, such as during low tide.
If you are into surfing, the sea at Punta Sur is much rougher than the north side of San Andrés island. So, the surfing is better and surfing contests are sometimes held here.
In addition, Restaurante Punta Sur is a good seafood restaurant nearby with a nice view of the sea. This is a good place to stop for lunch or a drink after seeing El Hoyo Suplidor. Crab is a specialty and they only take cash.
17. Go Shopping – San Andrés is a Duty-Free Zone
San Andrés is a duty-free zone, so it’s possible to find some things cheaper than on the Colombian mainland.
For example, in San Andrés’ El Centro where there are a few blocks of shopping you can find several shops that specialize in perfume. And you can see Colombians from the mainland stocking up on perfume since it’s much cheaper.
You can also buy alcohol at competitive process. Imported clothing can also be inexpensive compared to what you find on the Colombian mainland.
Also, keep in mind many stores close from 1:00 pm to about 3:00 pm for a siesta break. And aside from cheap duty-free shopping, most other things in San Andrés are more expensive than on the mainland.
How to Get to San Andres
The San Andrés Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport currently has regular flights from eight different airlines with direct flights to and from over 10 different destinations.
- Air Transat – Montreal (seasonal)
- American – Miami (starts December 4, 2021, twice weekly)
- Avianca– Bogotá, Medellín (starts December 2, 2021)
- Copa Airlines– Panama City
- LATAM– Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, Medellín
- Satena– Providencia
- VivaAir– Bogotá, Bucaramanga (starts December 18), Cali, Cartagena, Medellín, Pereira
- Wingo – Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena
In San Andrés, make sure to find out the fare before getting in a taxi. So, you won’t be surprised, as the taxis don’t have meters. Also, the taxi drivers in San Andrés tend to be bilingual.
The San Andrés island isn’t very big – it’s only 10 square miles. So, taxi trips are relatively short. Most hotels are located about 10-20 minutes from the airport.
Also, there are inexpensive buses available on San Andrés. The bus service on the island runs from 6:30 am to about 8:00 pm. And it’s cheap, only about 2,400 pesos.
Top Things to See and Do in Colombia
On the Medellin Guru website, we have been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Colombia in a series of top things to see and do in Colombia. This is due to many readers asking about several of these things to do in Colombia.
We have looked at 20 of the top things to see and do in Colombia, in alphabetical order:
- Caño Cristales – the most beautiful river in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful river in the world by some people.
- Carnival in Barranquilla – the second largest carnival in the world.
- Cartagena – Oozing history, romance and sun-drenched beaches, the allure of historical Cartagena is hard to resist.
- Ciudad Perdida – the site of an ancient city in Colombia that is older than Machu Picchu in Peru.
- Colombia’s Pacific coast – often overlooked by tourists visiting Colombia but offering untamed nature and undiscovered beauty that is off the beaten path for most foreign tourists.
- Desierto de la Tatacoa – the second largest arid zone in Colombia is Tatacoa Desert, which has surreal desert landscapes and some of the best stargazing in Colombia.
- Guatapé – a picturesque pueblo near Medellín known for its huge rock and lake. And it’s likely the most visited pueblo in Colombia by foreigners.
- La Guajira Peninsula – one of the most visually stunning places in South America, which is located on the northern tip of Colombia where the desert meets the sea.
- Las Lajas Sanctuary – the most beautiful church in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful church in the world.
- Medellín’s Christmas lights – Medellín’s annual world-class Christmas lights known as Alumbrados Navideños.
- Medellín’s Feria de Las Flores – Medellín’s world-famous flower festival each year.
- Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados – a popular national park in Colombia located in the heart of the Colombian coffee region.
- Parque Tayrona – known for its beautiful beaches and the world’s highest coastal mountain range.
- Popayán – a colonial gem in Colombia best known for its white buildings and churches, it’s a city off the beaten path for foreign tourists but is definitely worth visiting.
- Rio Claro Nature Reserve – located about three hours from Medellín, Rio Claro is the perfect place to unplug from hectic daily life and enjoy a picturesque crystal-clear river, canyon and tropical rainforest.
- Salento and the Cocora Valley – Salento is a picturesque pueblo in Colombia’s coffee region and the nearby Cocora Valley is one of the most striking landscapes found in Colombia.
- San Agustín Archaeological Park – the largest group of pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues in South America and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- San Andrés – Colombia’s Caribbean island which is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve featuring many beaches, islets and coral reefs that are filled with flora and fauna.
- San Gil – Colombia’s adventure capital that is full of things to do including white water rafting, paragliding, caving, rappelling, hiking and much more.
- San Jose del Guaviare – a hidden gem and eco-tourism location off the beaten path and offering wildlife watching, jungle trekking and delving into Colombia’s prehistoric past.
Also, we included San Andrés in our list of the top 20 tourist attractions in Colombia.
The Bottom Line: Top 17 Things to Do in San Andrés – Colombia’s Caribbean Island
San Andrés is a great place to go on vacation. You are still in Colombia but it feels like are are in another country in the Caribbean, as San Andrés seems very different than the Colombian mainland.
Also, there are so many things to do in San Andrés with beaches, snorkeling, diving, good seafood, several small islands nearby and so much more. It’s definitely worth adding San Andrés to your list of places to visit in Colombia.
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Editors note: updated on November 21, 2021 with additional flights to San Andres.