With its white-sand beaches, vivid turquoise waters, and a wealth of marine biodiversity, San Andrés, Colombia, offers travelers a quintessential Caribbean vacation experience.
In addition to its beautiful nature, San Andrés also has a rich and interesting history – Marked by piracy, cultural diversity, and colonial influence.
San Andrés Island, part of the San Andrés Archipelago, is a Caribbean island owned by Colombia. The San Andrés Archipelago comprises three main islands: San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina. Out of the three, San Andrés is the largest and most developed.
In recent years, San Andrés has become one of the top tourist spots in Colombia.
The History of San Andrés, Colombia
Before the arrival of European explorers, the San Andrés Archipelago was inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Raizal, who had a unique culture and language.
In the early 16th century, Spanish conquistadors, like Alonso de Ojeda, claimed the island for Spain. Throughout the colonial period, San Andrés became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Henry Morgan.
Later, the British established a presence on the island, lasting over a century.
In 1822, San Andrés was officially ceded to Colombia. Still, its history of shifting colonial powers left a lasting influence on its culture and the Creole language spoken by the Raizal people.
Today, this captivating island is a vibrant blend of African, Indigenous, and European heritage, offering a unique cultural experience to its visitors.
On the island, they not only speak Colombian Spanish but also Creole. San Andrés is one of the last locations in the world that still has Creole listed as an official language outside of Haiti.
Best Time to Visit San Andrés, Colombia
San Andrés offers year-round appeal, but it’s important to know the different seasons on the island before planning your trip.
December to April, the dry season, when daytime temperatures range from 83 to 86 °F. This time is excellent for water activities and sunbathing.
May to November is the rainy season in San Andrés, which most vacationers avoid. However, if you visit during the off-season, you can experience a far less crowded island.
Beaches of San Andrés, Colombia
San Andrés is famous for its pristine beaches. Spend your days sunbathing and swimming at places like Playa San Luis, Playa Spratt Bight, and Playa de San Andrés.
Playa Spratt Bight is the biggest beach on San Andrés and is considered the best the island offers on the mainland.
Try out various water sports, such as windsurfing, kitesurfing, jet-skiing, and paddleboarding, which are readily available on the island. Soar above the crystal-clear waters and enjoy panoramic views of San Andrés on a parasailing tour.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
The island offers excellent opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. San Andrés is a fantastic place to learn scuba diving. You can sign up for a beginner’s course or discovery dive from many of the diving operators on the island.
Explore the colorful coral reefs and the diverse marine life. Popular dive sites include La Rocosa and Trampa de Tortugas. San Andrés is known for having particularly good visibility for scuba divers, and many dive schools on the island make it easy to plan a trip.
Take a boat tour to El Acuario and Haynes Caye. El Acuario is named as such because it’s like a natural aquarium. Here, you can swim with stingrays and colorful fish in shallow waters.
For a one-of-a-kind underwater experience, try Aquanautas Helmet Diving. Walk on the ocean floor with a helmet that provides air, allowing you to observe marine life up close without traditional scuba equipment or training.
Unique Activities in San Andrés, Colombia
Johnny Cay: Take a short boat tour to Johnny Cay, a small, picturesque island with white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Morgan’s Cave: Visit Morgan’s Cave, a natural sea cave named after the pirate Henry Morgan. You can take guided tours to learn about its history and see the stalactites and underground pools.
El Hoyo Soplador: El Hoyo Soplador is a natural phenomenon on San Andrés where a hole in the beach rock shoots out water when a wave comes in – creating a natural blowhole!
Take the ‘Tourist Train’: If you don’t want to drive yourself, you always have the option to hop on the ‘tourist train’ for a ride around the island’s perimeter. The San Andrés Tourist Train operates like a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, but much more scenic.
Local Cuisine and Markets
While in San Andrés, be sure to try the local food! Try traditional dishes like coconut rice, fried fish, and seafood platters. Fish is freshly caught on the island, and come evening, it’s common to see fish frying on the beach.
San Andrés has a thriving Rastafarian Culture, and you can enjoy many Rasta bars serving “Coco Loco” (a fresh coconut and rum drink) while playing Bob Marley music.
Visit the local markets and shops to buy souvenirs such as Colombian coffee, handcrafted items, and jewelry.
San Andrés, Colombia Vacation Tips
You can easily access San Andrés Island via direct flights from Colombian cities like Bogota, Medellin, or Cartagena. Airlines like Avianca, LATAM Airlines, and Viva Air operate flights to Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport multiple times daily. Flights are usually less than one hour in length.
While Uber is widely used in Colombia, ride-hailing services aren’t available in San Andrés. It’s best to arrange your transport ahead of time or drive yourself.
Consider renting a golf cart to explore the island. Many travelers also rent motorbikes and scooters to get around San Andrés, an excellent option for those who already know how to drive a scooter.
One main ring road in San Andrés loops around the entire island and connects to the main town area, called El Cento. You can circumnavigate the island of San Andrés in less than one hour on a motorbike and two if you’re using a golf cart for transport.
San Andrés is primarily a cash-first location. There are numerous ATMs on the island where you can withdraw Colombian Pesos or you can exchange money before you depart for the island.
Your San Andrés, Colombia Vacation
San Andrés is a wonderful Caribbean Island in Colombia that’s easily accessed from any main city via a short flight. Due to its unique culture, white-sand beaches, plentiful activities, and vibrant culture, San Andrés is a great tourist spot in Colombia.
If you would like to add a beach destination to your Colombian travel itinerary, you can’t go wrong with choosing San Andrés. Also, consider stopping by the neighboring Providencia and Santa Catalina islands for a worthwhile trip!
This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex.
Katie Caf is a full-time traveling blogger who has lived abroad for over three years. A former New Yorker, Katie now lives in Bali and is passionate about empowering travelers, especially other women, to explore the world.