In this article:
- San Andres Island is a Caribbean island off the coast of Nicaragua that is technically a part of Colombia.
- The island used to be populated mostly by the Creole descendants of Africans and Europeans; but an increasing number of Colombians are calling it home these days.
- San Andres Island offers a ton of amazing activities from day trips to smaller islands to scuba diving to kayaking through mangrove forests.
Among Western traveler circles, there are a few Caribbean islands that get all the press. Grand Cayman, Antigua, St. Martin, the Virgins, and St. Kitts and Nevis are all well-known destinations for high-budget vacationers from the United States and Canada.
You’ve probably seen at least a few of these names as a location tag on your friends’ Instagram posts during the winter months.
So, when I discovered that the cheapest flight from Bogota, Colombia (where I was at the time) was to a Caribbean island that I had never heard of called San Andres, I knew where I was headed next.
Interestingly, although San Andres Island is closest to the coast of Nicaragua, it’s actually politically a part of Colombia.
Even so, the culture of San Andres Island is quite different than that of mainland Colombia. First of all, due to the fact that the island was settled by English Puritans, English is the official language of the island, which makes it far easier to navigate for English-speaking tourists.
The island was also attacked at one point by the famous pirate Henry Morgan (yes, the one that can be found on the front of cheap rum bottles).
It has long been inhabited by the Creole-speaking descendants of the Africans and European people who first came to San Andres Island; however, they have been increasingly replaced by a Colombian population.
Today, the island is mostly populated by Colombians and the Creole population is dwindling.
Still, the Creole culture has a strong presence in the festivals, food, music, and daily life of the island. On top of that, the island is a treasure trove of natural beauty with rocky cliffs, pristine beaches, small satellite islands, palm trees as far as the eye can see, and so much more.
Although I spent less than a week in San Andres, I could have stayed for months, maybe years. And, after my stay, these are the six things that you absolutely have to do if you visit San Andres Island.
The Best Things to Do In San Andres Island
1. Rent a Scooter or Buggy
One of the highlights of my time on San Andres Island was, quite simply, driving.
My girlfriend and I decided to rent a motor scooter in hopes that it would make it easier to get around to all of the different attractions on the island. However, as soon as we hopped on the scooter, we realized that driving the scooter was the attraction!
Driving along the coast, seeing the waves lap up against the jagged cliffs, and feeling the Caribbean breeze on my face was definitely one of the best parts of the trip.
There is one road that goes all the way around the island, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost. If you can’t figure out where you are, simply head toward the sound of waves and the smell of shellfish.
There are tons of streetside stands selling cocktails. Resist the temptation and don’t drive drunk. You can save that for another day, which leads me to my next point:
2. Drink a Coco Loco
When you don’t have to operate a motor vehicle, make sure that you sample one of the island’s signature cocktails: the coco loco. To be fair, I’ve been to other parts of the world where their signature cocktail is also called a coco loco.
But the San Andres Island version is a completely different animal.
It’s a potent potpourri of spirits all masked by creamy coconut sweetness. I believe that the cocktail actually contained rum, vodka, tequila, brandy, coconut cream, coconut water, grenadine, and lime juice. However, after drinking one of them, it’s a bit hard to remember the details.
We got our coco locos from a lovely man named Georgie who sat down next to us and watched us get increasingly more giggly with every sip.
He was selling the drink for 20,000 Colombian pesos each (about $5 USD), which is a fantastic price when you consider that each of them contains about six standard drinks. Needless to say, by the time I stood up, I felt a bit wobbly at the knees.
3. El Acuario and Haynes Cay
If you’re interested in seeing some marine life, San Andres Island has plenty to offer due to the numerous reefs just off its coast. However, for some casual wildlife viewing, you can take a short trip to the small island of El Acuario.
The tour should cost you from 30,000 to 40,000 Colombian pesos and, once you’re there, you will get snorkeling gear so you can check out all of the little fishies that surround the island.
El Acuario can get rather crowded during the weekends, so it’s best to go during the week. But, if you’re really set on some peace and quiet, you can walk or swim over to the neighboring Haynes Cay for some relaxation.
The actual beach is extremely small; however, you can find your own little patch of sand and soak up the sun for a while.
4. Johnny Cay Natural Regional Park
Another amazing island just a short boat ride away from San Andres Island is Johnny Cay. You’ll probably see Johnny Cay out the window of the plane as you touch down at Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (which is an awesome name for an airport, for the record).
Getting over to Johnny Cay Natural Regional Park should only cost you around 5,000 pesos, but you should bring some more money with you so that you can sample some of the food and drinks that are sold there.
Have a drink out of a coconut, eat a lobster that came out of the ocean only minutes before, and enjoy the beautiful water and clean sand. If the sun becomes a little too much for you, you can also rent little tents to make sure you don’t get burnt to a crisp.
5. Old Point Regional Mangrove Park
Not all of San Andres Island is covered in beautiful beaches littered with tourists; parts of the island’s coasts are covered by thick mangrove forests that are full of wildlife.
If you want a more natural experience away from the crowds of people, check out Old Point Regional Mangrove Park.
Within the park, you can find a company that will rent you a kayak with a transparent bottom so you can see all of the amazing marine life as you paddle gently through the maze of mangroves.
Among the wildlife that you can see in the park are corals, rays, anemones, and starfish. You’ll probably also see some of the island’s black iguanas as well as some of the tropical birds that reside in the trees.
Plus, by taking a tour with the company, you’ll be supporting their mission to preserve this stunning natural area of the island.
6. La Piscinita
If you’re looking to go snorkeling during your time in San Andres, the first place that locals will recommend you go is La Piscinita, located on the west side of the island.
For a small entrance fee, they’ll provide you with a snorkeling mask and a small piece of bread. Then, you can jump off of a diving board that’s been built right over the ocean and watch as the fish swarm around you and eat right from your hand.
Once you get out of the water, make sure to check out the fantastic restaurant and try a bowl of rondon, a seafood stew cooked in coconut milk. Speaking of coconuts, there is also an entire home built from coconuts not far from La Piscinita.
If you want to see more of Colombia, head back to the mainland to relax in Rincon del Mar, party during the Carnaval de Barranquilla, or explore Pablo Escobar’s former estate-turned-zoo.