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Isla San Andrés, Colombia, is a destination that has over the last few decades become wildly popular with mainland Colombians looking for a slice of paradise during their annual leave. For me, San Andres was often just a stopover for trips to Isla de Providencia with a few nights here and there, so it was only on my third visit when I stayed for 5 consecutive nights and spent a couple of days (and nights…) hanging out with locals that I felt I knew enough to write an unbeatable travel guide to San Andres Island, Colombia.
So tah dah! Here it is: everything you could possibly need to know about visiting Isla San Andres, where to stay on the island, places to eat, and more.
This San Andres Colombia guide is going to get COMPREHENSIVE (possibly the most comprehensive San Andres guide on the internet) so alongside this crucial FAQs post, I’ve decided to split it into multiple other posts in order to save your soul:
- Amazing things to do on San Andres, Colombia
- How to rent a golf cart on San Andres Island
- How to get to San Andres, Colombia
Want to skip to something in particular?
What is Isla San Andres?
A little about Isla San Andres, Colombia – it’s a coral island that is as little as 6 hours’ sail away from Nicaragua and 3 days’ sail from Cartagena. There have been on-going disputes with Nicaragua about ownership, but for now the island legally belongs to Colombia.
San Andres is a duty-free island, but that’s about where the savings stop, as everything else is priced very highly compared to the rest of Colombia. It’s small, and would take only around an hour to circle if you weren’t to make any stops when renting a buggy on San Andres (but I’m not recommending you do that – there are way too many things to do on San Andres as you make your way round the island!).
Should I go to San Andres Island or Providencia?
Isla de Providencia is the sister island of San Andres, to be found 95km to the North. For us, the main difference between San Andres and Providencia is the vibe on the islands, with the latter being more chilled, more exclusive-feeling and more expensive.
Quality of accommodation and restaurants on Isla San Andres is inclined to be higher because it caters more to Colombians who want an easy resort holiday to unwind in the day and go shopping at night (sort of like Marbella is for Brits, and my guess would be Cabo for Americans?), but this can leave it feeling a little more tacky in places.
Colombians LOVE a bit of mass tourism, and tend to travel to San Andres Island in big family groups, so it’s a difficult place to find that same feeling of remoteness that you can on the beaches of Providencia. That being said, in the South of Isla San Andres, it becomes far more remote and more along the lines of what you can expect from Providencia, with some really nice accommodation options.
The locals on Providencia seem to relate more to being Caribbean than Colombian, whereas the feeling I got on San Andres Island was that it was the other way around. In terms of languages on San Andres and Providencia, a lot more Creole and English are spoken on Providencia, with Spanish seemingly the go-to on San Andres (though most locals can at least understand if not speak English, too).
How safe is Isla San Andres, Colombia?
In my experience, safety on San Andres Island is generally fine, but you need to exercise caution. This is the same in any area where tourism has built up a shiny, swanky centre that attracts rich mainland holidaymakers but the rest of the island still lives in ramshackle houses with poor infrastructure.
Story time: when Andy’s brother stayed out to drink on the beach with a local man and his half-brother (who was born and raised on Isla de Providencia and has never left Colombia, but has genetically British roots so honestly looks more European than Andy does), the British-looking Providencia brother apparently passed out at 4am along the beach wall.
At various points in the night, Andy’s brother said that people came up to the local man and ENQUIRED POLITELY if it was ok to rob the fair-haired Providencia man, thinking him to be a tourist. This story seems both worrying and mildly hilarious… Anyway, keep extra wits about you if you can’t blend in as a local, and don’t put yourself in harm’s way.
The same goes for the rest of travel in Colombia, to be honest. Generally, try and stay in either the main town centre, San Luís or at one of the resorts dotted around the coast. I go into some of the details of no-go areas in my post of golf cart rental on San Andres. Most of the island is absolutely fine though, if not downright charming.
Check out my 32 tips for staying safe in South America if you’re particularly worried about safety.
WiFi on San Andres Island
Though each time I visit it gets better and better, WiFi connections on San Andres are still very slow. I found it very difficult to video call on Whatsapp, etc, or download anything, though regular browsing is ok if you have the patience.
On the plus side, 4G now works fairly well throughout the island!
Are there ATMs to withdraw cash on San Andres?
Yes, quite a few. San Andres town is by all accounts a highly developed area, though a lot of establishments will still only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to stock up on the paper. Don’t forget to check out my list of ATMs in Latin America that give free cash withdrawals to foreign cards, and get yourself Revolut card to save on commission fees if you live in Europe or Australia.
Climate in San Andres: when to go
Like the rest of Colombia, San Andres Island doesn’t have typical seasons, only rainy season (June-November) and dry season. I’ve visited in three months – in March, August and September – and experienced around 30 degrees Celsius / 86 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures every day I was there.
However, the September visit was the wettest, and I saw 2 warm but heavy showers that lasted an hour or so then returned to brilliant sunshine.
During my August visit, Hurricane Dorian was passing by, and the secondary wind and storms were bringing up copious amounts of seaweed that littered every beach. Though temperature is never an issue, Caribbean hurricane season is certainly worth thinking about when booking a trip to San Andres Island!
Can you drink the water on San Andres?
Unfortunately not. You’ll have to buy a little arsenal of drinking water from the shops.
As San Andres is so hot, I recommend investing in something like a Chilly’s bottle, which keeps your drink cool for 24 hours, and warm for 12 hours for when you’re back in a cold climate. I couldn’t live without mine while I travel!There are sometimes issues with general water supply on the island, and it’s only in the high-end hotels that you’ll find hot showers. Most showers are slightly lukewarm, coming from a plastic vat of collected water that sits and warms slightly above the roof. Prepare yourself for more of a hosepipe than a shower!
Where to stay on San Andrés, Colombia
It’s best to stay either in the main town (to the South-East of the airport), in the town of San Luis, or in one of the fancier hotels further down the island. Keep in mind that accommodation on San Andrés is pretty expensive for the quality you’re offered, so you may have to make some compromises on the type of place you’re staying in.
Although basic, in the main town I had a great 5-night stay at El Hostal by Pochet (more of a guesthouse than a hostel, in all fairness). It’s just a few blocks from the action down a quiet-ish street, and is more reasonably priced than most in the area. The woman who runs it, Nuris, is a jolly bundle of smiles, and she looked after us well.
I also stayed at a number of central apartments that weren’t too amazing for what I paid, and at The Rock House Hostel, which is very good quality but a little too far out. It’s built into the rocky cliffs that border a strange estate of tiny alleyways which taxis refuse to go down because (I shit you not) they say they don’t know how to 3-point turn or reverse back out.
Those after a resort vibe should look into Hotel Bahia Sardina, which is right near the action of the town, backs onto the sea and is well-rated. If you don’t mind branching out to the rocky side of the island in favour of good vibes, an absolute banger of a hostel is República, which boasts a pool and beautiful gardens for a very reasonable price.
If you’re looking for something a bit more premium, check out these top hotels on San Andrés.
Where to eat on San Andres, Colombia
Isla San Andres caters to all budgets, from the holiday-making splurgers to the penny-counting backpackers. Being an island, it would be rude of you not the try the mega-fresh seafood, and I highly recommend getting your mouth around a pargo/red snapper at some point.
Here are some of my favourite places to eat on San Andres, roughly in order of budget:
1. La Regatta
SWAN-KAAAAY! La Regatta is by far the best restaurant on San Andres, and it’s famous throughout Colombia. I’ve now been 3 times and watched 3 engagements; it’s that kind of place. It serves mostly – but not entirely – seafood, cooked by highly-trained chefs and served by waiters who actually understand customer service. The Pescado San Andres and Tuna al Viento (note: this is raw tuna) are strong favourites in our camp.
Expect to pay around 45-50k per main dish, and 25-30k for a cocktail. You must reserve in advance by popping in to book a table or emailing La Regatta at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are queues for miles most nights. Also, you need to dress up for this one. I’ve even seen men having the shame of being lent a shirt to wear in front of everyone in the queue because they turned up in a vest.
Drawing me in with their clever little play on words, this alleyway restaurant is pretty damn hip, and cooks up some mighty-fine Italian cuisine to serve under the glimmer of a string of lightbulbs.
A 25-ish cm pizza costs on average 33k here, with pasta being cheaper at around 25k.
3. Reggae Roots Restaurant & Bar
This is the place I mentioned way up there, you know, the one with the free diving board. As you’ll probably only access it when renting a golf cart on San Andres, it’s perfect for lunchtime.
Despite its crumbling décor, lack of usable toilet and oftentimes awkward service, this place actually does a pretty banging chicken lunch for 25k, or 30k for fish.
4. El Corral
Sorry, it’s got to have a mention. This is a BIG burger chain in Colombia, but despite its fast food vibe, the ingredients seem of good quality and the prices match it. Best for an after-drinks nibble if all the rum made you forget to have dinner (it happens far too often). One of the cheapest burger combo meals will cost around 22k.
5. Restaurante Lydia
Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to eat in this restaurant as it was closed on the Wednesday that we tried to visit it. However, it comes highly recommended by locals as a place that locals go – this is important to mention as quite often locals in South America have a habit of recommending the places they THINK tourists want to go, which are just the same touristy places with zero authenticity that the asker was trying to avoid.
Restaurante Lydia can be found along the sea-side of the main road in San Fransisco.
6. Donde Denis D.
If you’re looking for a lunch that will fill you up without filing for bankruptcy, look no further than Donde Denis D, on Avenida Providencia (Carrera 2). This is a typical menú del dia restaurant, where the set-up is basic and the menu is limited to 6-7 choices, but you get a soup, juice and large main meal for 12k COP.
While a little on the steep side for the rest of Colombia, in the centre of San Andres town this is cheap as chips. I ended up going back to this place 3 times, and if anything, it got better with every lunch!
7. La Bodega
Opposite Donde Denis is also a very decent fast-food joint called La Bodega, that serves particularly good hot dogs – be sure to order the ‘super perro’. It’s very popular with the police when they come off shift, as it’s right next to their accommodation.
8. Unnamed street stall
Basic though it may be, this stall is one of the greatest places to get a cheap dinner in the main town. On the corner where Avenida Costa Rica meets the beach promenade, you’ll find this family-run kitchen that feeds hundreds of locals and tourists every night. Meals with a crazy-tasty main dish, coconut rice and salad, fried yucca or plantain sides cost 14k, or 20k for a fish main. The Caribbean-style chicken is to die for. They also offer an incredible shrimp ceviche for 20k some days.
Once you’ve bought your food, you can either grab one of the plastic chairs in front of the stall if they’re free, or sit along the promenade wall. Give any leftovers back to the stall when you’re done; they like to feed the stray dogs in the area at the end of the night.
And WOW I really wasn’t expecting these Isla San Andres Colombia FAQs to get to the 2500 words mark, but the tips just kept on flowing! And there’s still more, remember, in these further San Andres island posts:
- Amazing things to do on San Andres, Colombia
- How to rent a golf cart on San Andres Island
- How to get to San Andres, Colombia
If there’s anything this BLOODY COMPREHENSIVE set of Isla San Andres posts didn’t cover for you, please drop it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer or refer you to someone who can. San Andres island is an awesome tropical break from exploring the mainland, and really not so expensive to travel to when you compare it to other Caribbean islands.
I do still absolutely recommend at least a 3-night stay on Isla de Providencia, but as the vibes are so different on San Andres and Providencia that neither should be overlooked. I hope this Isla San Andres Colombia guide helps you have an amazing time eating, beaching and golf-carting on San Andres. And for the love of the gods, don’t lose your San Andres tourist card!
Now that you’ve reached the end of this post on Isla San Andres, Colombia, make sure to check out my guides to:
- Isla de Providencia
- Isla Barú & the Rosario Islands
- Sailing the San Blas Islands to Panama
- Must-visit islands in South America
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Last Updated on 26 January 2024 by Cuppa to Copa Travels