The Caribbean island of San Andrés is an extremely popular holiday destination with Colombians and visitors alike, who are drawn to the irresistible combination of heavenly beaches, freshly caught fish and excellent snorkeling opportunities. Read on for the best things to see and do on San Andrés.
The tiny island lies just off the coast of Nicaragua, but it’s Colombian territory, despite mainland Colombia being almost 500mi (805km) away. With a storied past as a pirate haven, an English colony and now a Colombian department (along with neighboring islands Providencia and Santa Catalina), San Andrés is a cultural melting pot and an island paradise where you can swim through crystal-clear waters and tuck into fresh seafood. Cheap direct flights are available daily from all major Colombian cities.
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Head to the west side of the island, where the beaches turn to cliffs and the snorkeling is unbeatable. Locals take the bus, but you can also rent a scooter or take a taxi. Once here, you’ll find a little shoreside bar and restaurant called Reggae Roots. The rasta-themed cabana is the best spot to watch the sunset over the Caribbean while sipping on a beer. Arrive early to nab a lounge chair, jump off the cliff-side diving board and swim in the clear waters before dark.
Just a short drive from San Andrés town you’ll find the Botanical Gardens, full of lush vegetation, native plants and bright blooms and offering stunning views of the whole island. The gardens are part of the National University of Colombia, and students come here from all over the world to study in the nursery, laboratory and herbarium. We recommend a guided tour, where you’ll learn about everything from the prehistoric flora of the island to modern conservation efforts.
You’ll find fresh seafood all over the island, from beachside stands to fine-dining restaurants. If you’re looking for something upscale, we recommend stopping by La Regatta, where dishes such as hot garlic crab claws, lobster tail in béchamel and conch in coconut sauce are all on the menu. For dessert, don’t miss the award-winning coconut and key lime pies.
For the snorkeling trip of a lifetime, book a boat east to Haynes Cay (Islote Córdoba in Spanish), an islet off the coast of San Andrés. A colony of iguanas has taken up residence on land here, but we recommend spending your time in the water. The clear, rocky shores are perfect for spotting shoals of fish – the area is even known as a natural aquarium due to its aquatic diversity, and local guides can point out rare fauna on snorkeling tours.
South of San Andrés proper, you’ll land in the small town of La Loma, a hillside settlement where many locals live. It’s a traditional village, and its tall, red-roofed Baptist church is a highlight. Here, you’ll have views of the whole island and the surrounding sea. It’s a great way to spend a few hours, especially if you pop into a local restaurant for lunch. When you’re ready, take the bus back to town.
If you’re looking to go off on your own, renting a golf cart for the day can be a great way to cruise around and take the scenic route. Circle the island – and neighboring Providencia – and stop at beaches along the way. If you want to head inland, renting a bike may be a better option, as the golf carts can struggle with hills.
On the rocky shores on the south side of the island, a unique natural phenomenon called El Hoyo Soplador, or the blow hole, thrills and delights visitors. The geyser shoots sea water through a gap in the coral when conditions are right, soaking those standing nearby. Compared to the rest of the island, the south side is quite remote, but the geyser is included on many tours.
Johnny Cay is a smaller island off the coast of San Andrés. The beaches on this tiny coral islet are pristine and the waters bright turquoise – it’s the perfect place to relax with a cocktail in hand. Boat services run every few hours.
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