Imagine floating in a hammock, sipping a drink out of a coconut while gazing at the crystal-clear water. That is San Andres Beach, Colombia—the best of the Caribbean.
Due to the coral reefs surrounding the island, the water appears to be several shades of green and blue—from deep sapphire to translucent aqua. It’s why this area is sometimes called the Sea of 7 Colors.
If you want somewhere to unwind, soak in the sun, eat delicious food, and have an overall affordable vacation, this is the place for you.
Where is San Andres, Colombia?
San Andres Beach, Colombia, is 720 kilometers (447 miles) away from Cartagena and 233 kilometers (145 miles) from the east coast of Nicaragua.
And to make this island even more unique, if you’re looking at a map of the Caribbean, it is near Jamaica.
This cool mash-up of cultures creates a very different vibe on this island.
So, that begs the question—why is San Andres part of Colombia?
Like many other Caribbean islands, it first belonged to the British, who searched for fertile land and other valuable resources.
Then, in the 19th century, Simon Bolivar, a Colombian independence warrior, took control of the island. And in 1826, the surrounding countries signed a peace treaty, recognizing each other’s borders and San Andres as part of Colombia.
Now that the mini-history lesson is out of the way let’s get to it.
Top things to do in San Andres
Enjoy all the beaches and islands
There are plenty of beaches throughout the island, but most sandy beaches are on the north and east sides of the island. The south and west sides are very rocky and unsuitable for a relaxing beach day.
Playa Spratt Bight
The best beach in San Andres, Colombia, is Playa Spratt Bight, the main beach on the island.
If you do not have a car, this is the beach you can walk to. Keep in mind the island is very, very small, so almost any hotel, hostel, or Airbnb will be within walking distance of this beach.
While sitting on the sand, you can see varying shades of blue and green water, watch people kitesurfing, and you are just steps from the main restaurants and bars.
The water is generally warm when you step in and feels like a heated pool.
The beach is quite spacious, so do not worry about finding a spot in the shade if you arrive later in the day. You can rent chairs and a tent for a little more than the cost of a coffee. Not only does this include somewhere to sit, but it also includes a waiter to serve you throughout the day.
Drinks are pretty affordable, even the fancy ones out of a coconut. You can also dig into some fresh fish without leaving your chair.
Along the beach is the boardwalk, which has a variety of duty-free shops, restaurants, bars, and local street vendors. You could easily spend all of your time on this beach. It is likely less than a five-minute walk from where you are staying and has everything you could possibly need or want.
Pro tip: Make sure you have cash for many of these places, as some will not accept credit cards.
There are small islands off the coast of San Andres called Rocky Cay and Johnny Cay.
Both are just a short boat ride away and worth a day trip. Locals consider them to be the best beaches in San Andres, Colombia.
Rocky Cay is the smaller of the two but offers excellent snorkeling opportunities. It’s known for its white sand, calm waters, and fewer crowds.
There is a shipwreck near the cay, which you can see from shore. Or, you can rent jet skis or kiteboards and get even closer.
In contrast, Johnny Cay is much more popular and has some of the best views. Snorkeling is the best here, with tons of colorful fish and marine life. There is also a little park on Johnny Cay, home to lizards and colorful birds.
Another breathtaking beach in San Andres is Playa Zarpata.
This beach is a bit of a drive from downtown, but the path is gorgeous. Imagine driving through the greenest forest of palm trees you have ever seen just to discover a white sandy beach that is much less crowded than Playa Spratt Bight.
We highly recommend getting the seafood platter from the local vendors, as it is absolutely delicious and enough to feed an entire family.
You can also rent a tent and chairs here.
This beach is one of the lesser-known beaches, so the main crowds will likely be locals. You know it’s good if the locals go there!
Pro tip: If you are interested in going to Rocky Cay, you can catch a boat from here.
Rent a golf cart and drive around
This is one of the best things to do on the island.
You can rent the golf cart for five hours or the whole day. You might have to fill up the gas tank yourself, but once you do, you can drive all over the island and check out some other beaches in San Andres, Colombia. They might not even have a name, but if there is just a patch of sand, you can have a good time.
There is only one road, so you do not have to worry about getting lost. If you keep the sea on one side of you, you will end up where you started. Make sure you stop along the way for photos and to grab some delicious food. If you only have time for one activity, we strongly recommend this one.
Enjoy the watersports
Playa San Andres has some of the best watersports in the Caribbean.
From snorkeling and scuba diving to windsurfing or paddleboarding, you can find just about anything. Prices for all these activities are very reasonable, and you can find vendors advertising various activities or tours along the beach’s main strip.
You can also go fishing with a full crew, which helps you catch bigger fish than you ever imagined.
Certain parts of the year are better than others if you want to go surfing, so try to time your trip from December to February or June to August to get the best waves.
The entire island of San Andres is duty-free, which means great deals on some of your favorite goods. It almost feels like you’re in the airport’s duty-free section while walking around. You can find luxury perfume, jewelry and watches, luggage, clothing, and all the snacks you need for your flight back.
Where to eat in San Andres
Compared to the rest of Colombia, San Andres Island is heavily influenced by Caribbean cuisine.
There are plenty of restaurants close to the main beach with impeccable service, a fun atmosphere, and absolutely delicious food.
You must try the Tesoros del Mar at La Regatta, which translates to “the treasures of the sea.” It is a seafood casserole with shrimp, squid, prawn, fish, mussels, clams, and a lobster tail. You will be dreaming of it long after you leave the island.
At Nikos, the coconut rice is divine; any fish you get will be incredibly fresh. The shining star of Nikos is the friendly service, so be sure to talk to your waiter to learn more about the island. If you pay attention to the patio, you can often see crabs roaming around while you enjoy your lunch.
Apart from these two restaurants, you can get good food pretty much anywhere you go. The Sea Watch Caffe has a great brunch, and Interstate 80’s has various foods you might miss from home. Head to the Beer Station next to the beach if you want a drink with a view.
Where to stay in San Andres
If you are looking at a San Andres map, you will want to stay in the northeast corner. This is where all the best restaurants, shopping, and beaches are, and the vast majority of the hotels or Airbnbs. It is a small area, so you will be fine walking around on foot.
There are plenty of hotels, hostels, and Airbnb’s for you to choose from, so you have your pick of where to stay. Accommodation is very affordable, especially if you are traveling with friends that can split the costs.
It is important to mention that a hurricane a few years ago damaged the island, and they have not had much assistance rebuilding. As such, much of the island looks like it is under construction.
In addition, there is a lot of poverty throughout the island, so we recommend staying somewhere owned or operated by locals to help support the economy and assist in their growing efforts.
San Andres, Colombia weather
Since San Andres is near the equator, you can expect consistent temperatures throughout the year. Highs are around 30°C or 86°F and only fluctuate a few degrees throughout the year.
The temps may be pretty consistent, but there is a distinct rain/hurricane season.
So, as with most Caribbean islands, the weather can sometimes be unexpected. Do not get frightened if your cloudless blue skies turn dark without notice, especially in the afternoons.
The rainy season picks up at the end of summer and rains the most throughout October and November. This makes sense, as it is hurricane season. So, if you plan to visit in the fall, keep an eye on the weather before you go.
For the sunniest trip, it’s better to travel from January through April.
Packing list essentials for San Andres
San Andres is an unforgettable destination. Most of these items are necessary, as you must protect yourself from the harsh Caribbean sun.
To prepare for your trip, you’ll want to pack the following:
- Bathing suits
- Microfiber towel
- Waterproof bag
- Polaroid camera
A speaker and a polaroid camera are nice additions to elevate your experience. Polaroids allow you to capture just a snapshot of the island’s beauty as keepsakes for when you return home.
Although you do not need to pack bottled water and can buy it on the island, it is essential to note that you cannot drink any tap water whatsoever. This includes brushing your teeth or making coffee. So, one of your first stops should be a mercado for a large bottle of water.
Apart from these essential items, the island is extremely relaxed, so you don’t have to worry about bringing fancier clothes. Even at the nicest restaurants, they expect to see you in bathing suits covered in sand. Of course, if you want to bring a nicer outfit, you can, but feel comfortable just bringing the basics.
How to get to San Andres Island, Colombia
San Andres Airport, ADZ, is tiny, but there are a few options.
You can fly very affordably, quickly, and nonstop from:
- Medellín to San Andres (1 hour 45 minutes)
- Bogota to San Andres (2ish hours)
- Cartagena to San Andres (1.5 hours)
Expect to pay significantly more if you check a bag.
You can also fly to San Andres directly from Cali, Barranquilla, and Pereira in Colombia, as well as Panama City, Panama and Miami, Florida.
If you want to see other beaches near San Andres, Colombia, explore Cartagena for a while, you’ll find some beauties.
Pro tips: Make sure you complete your tourism form before getting off your plane. They will check it when you enter the airport.
Outside the airport, you will need to get a taxi to your hotel or Airbnb—there is no Uber on the island. It’s a very short drive, less than 10 minutes, and shouldn’t cost more than a few bucks.
The airport is only a short walk from the San Andres beach, but you’ll have to go through some rougher areas. So, take a car rather than walk, especially at night.
The San Andres Airport, the Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ), is conveniently located on the island.
The downtown part of San Andres is the main town. The closest city on the Colombian mainland would be Cartagena. The closest in Nicaragua would likely be Bluefields.
Absolutely! Of course, you should practice standard safety precautions like at any other beach. Never leave your valuables when you get in the water, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t be flashy with your possessions. You will have no trouble if you follow basic safety tips.
Yes! The water is typically calm and warm, while Johnny Cay is best for strong swimmers.