An authentic paradise
Almost forty scuba diving sites, one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, a blue sea that’s also green and even purple, people brimming with friendliness… to name but a few of the charms of the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, located in the Colombian Caribbean.
This group of islands, located about 230 kilometers east of mainland Central America and 750 kilometers north of mainland Colombia, was declared a UNESCO world biosphere site in the year 2000, the “Seaflower Biosphere Reserve”. The reserve site is not just the islands and its outlying cays; it also takes in 10% of the Caribbean Sea, covering an expanse of over 300 thousand square kilometers.
Travelers flock to these paradisiacal islands from all over the world in search of perfect sunsets, white beaches and towering palm trees that sway in the breeze and, coupled with the carefree smiles of the local islanders, make this destination one of the best places to spend a tropical vacation.
In this tiny paradise English, Spanish, pirate and buccaneer influences blended with the afro-descendent communities to give rise to a broad and wealthy culture. In fact, to this day you’re likely to hear the islanders speak Creole, a unique mix of Elizabethan English, Spanish and African dialects.
But, don’t worry! San Andrés locals also speak Spanish and English, so you’ll have no problem getting around and communicating.
This cultural mix has left its mark on the music, which features rhythms like reggae, reggaeton, soca, calypso, merengue, vallenato and salsa.
Photo: Courtesy ProColombia
What to do in San Andrés?
San Andrés’ most spectacular feature will reveal itself to you as you’re flying in… behold the sea of seven colors! No wonder the Archipelago was chosen as the world’s top Sun and Beach destination at the 2014, 2015 and 2019 World Travel Awards.
So, whatever you do, you just cannot miss the natural beauty of the islands and their paradise beaches.
Nestled between the most gorgeous beaches on the island you’ll find Spratt Bright, located in the shopping district of San Andrés. Flanked by a promenade full of restaurants, hotels, bars and shops. This 2-kilometer-plus stretch invites you to relax and catch some rays or sign yourself up for a spot of watersports, such as kitesurfing or jet skiing.
If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, Sound Bay is your place, tucked away in the heart of the area largely inhabited by islanders.
Another gem of a beach is Cocoplum. Sheltered by a barrier reef, its serene, crystal-clear waters make it an ideal choice for spending a peaceful day with the little ones in the family. And you can even wade out through its shallow waters to visit Rocky Cay, a stony outcrop about 200 meters from the shore that is surrounded by rich underwater life.
Make sure you don’t miss the “Acuario”, a grouping of cays made up of Haynes Cay and Rose Cay. On the first of these, a coral cay, you’ll find examples of Caribbean fauna and can try out one of the restaurants serving up local specialties. The second is a beautiful sandbank that shrinks and grows with the ebb and flow of the tide.
Its pristine waters are renowned as a natural aquarium and even the absolute beginner can enjoy exciting snorkeling experiences right off the shoreline.
Every afternoon Manta Ray Tours are held in a clearing off the front of the cay. The manta rays come in their droves to be fed by the visitors in their natural habitat.
Another very interesting visit is the Botanic Gardens, an 8-hectare space in the center of the island where the air is fresh and pure. There you can view vegetation that dates back to the dinosaur era and a host of other native plants.
And on the west side of the island, you’ll find Westview Park in front of the La Piscinita area, a perfect place to go diving. There you’ll find Mermaid’s Cave and the famous cabins made from aromatic coconut wood. You can swim and ramble around the eco-park and admire the mango, tamarind, pineapple and plum tree crops, as well as the breadfruit tree. These fruits are used to make sweet treats and desserts that are on sale to the public.
Lastly, other attractions well worth a visit on the island are Pirate Morgan’s Cave, where, legend has it, the pirate stashed his treasure trove of riches stolen from the Spanish.
Photo: Courtesy Mario Carvajal
A visit to Johnny Cay guarantees a unique visitor experience. You can get there in just 15 minutes by speedboat across the tranquil waters of the sea of San Andrés.
Johnny Cay island is famous for its beaches, such as Bahía Sardina, with its white sands set against the deep green of its palm trees, a perfect place to sit in the cool shade and taste the exquisite fried sea bream with plantain and sip a yummy cocktail, like the traditional cocoloco. The beaches are perfect for a blissful stroll around the entire circumference of the island; in some areas, exotic coral formations jut out to create delightful waterholes.
The local soundtrack brings the gentle lilt of reggae music and the colors of the Rastafarian flag cheerfully adorn the place. To set foot on Johnny Cay is to let go and wind down to the sway of the music and kick back with the islanders who always cater for their visitors with a smile and a friendly joke or two.
Another fantastic experience is getting to know the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina, affectionately known as “the hidden gem of the western Caribbean” for their natural beauty and marine wealth.
To get to Providencia, you can hop on a 20-minute flight from San Andrés or else take the pretty 3-hour catamaran ride to get there.
Once you get there, you can get to Santa Catalina by crossing the Puente de los Enamorados (“lovers’ bridge“) on foot; a 150-meter floating structure which, legend has it, guarantees eternal love to all couples who cross it together.
In Providencia and Santa Catalina you can enjoy incredible landscapes, magnificent beaches and fun-filled days of snorkeling and scuba diving.
Tickle your taste buds with the typical dishes of the islands, such as seafood, fresh fish and local specialties like plantain cake and crab pasties.
Photo: Courtesy Mario Carvajal
Activities you won’t want to miss out on
Amazing activities await you in San Andrés, like swimming among 300 manta rays; delighting in the Acuario, an open sea aquarium bursting with a diversity of local marine species; and gazing in wonder at the seven-colored sea around the archipelago and its heavenly beaches so beautifully sheltered by its stunning barrier reef.
The more adventurous visitors also have plenty to find in San Andrés, like snorkeling, kitesurfing, windsurfing and jet skiing, not to mention scuba diving among the coral reefs where the visibility is over thirty meters and just breath-taking.
Another great idea is to rent a car and enjoy a spin around the island on wheels. You’ll find a ton of options for car rentals in San Andrés.
That way you can also hit the shopping malls, if you like, and browse around for all kinds of top-quality products at very affordable prices.
And, as evening falls, get ready to enjoy the San Andrés nightlife, full of fun and tropical rhythms at world-class discos and clubs.
- Thanks to its Caribbean location, the weather in San Andrés is pure paradise. Temperatures range between 26 and 29 °C all year round so it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, the average temperature always hovers around 27 ºC.
- Bear in mind that the dry season is from December to May and the rainy season goes from June to November. Of course, the dry season is more advisable for travel, but don’t worry though, in the wet season the rains are not heavy or constant, and they will certainly not spoil your stay.
- Remember that tourists traveling to San Andrés should purchase a tourist card at the travel care desk in the waiting room on the day of their flight. Check the balance beforehand. Also, remember that this card must be paid for in cash.
- Last of all, you should know that it’s not hard to find accommodation in San Andrés, since the island has a huge selection of hotel offerings, including resort hotels, boutique hotels and local guest houses, which are heritage buildings or residences owned and hosted by the indigenous population offering a guest stay representative of the local island traditions.
With these tips you’ll enjoy a wonderful stay in San Andres, a true Caribbean paradise that greets you with its warm breeze and waves as you arrive at the most welcoming place on Earth. Start feeling it right here!