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So you’ve decided to holiday in paradise… let’s get you ready for a fun-packed adventure on Isla San Andrés, Colombia! It’s a popular spot with holidaying Colombians, but its international reach is small, so it’s rarely over-crowded and it doesn’t suffer from the touristic drudgery of Cancún or Mallorca.
Despite being a relatively small island, it packs a punch, and luckily for you there are plennnnnty of things to do on San Andres. I’m here to let you know all the best options!
If you need to know more about the island than the things to do on San Andres, I have lots of info for you in other posts:
- How to get to San Andres, Colombia
- Key info for San Andres: where to stay, where to eat, and crucial FAQs
- How to rent a golf cart on San Andres Island
15 excellent things to do on San Andres, Colombia
1. Rent a golf cart
Since I felt that the golf cart rentals on San Andrés Island topic was worth a whole post on its own, there’s loads of info to be had through that link.
I’d say it’s the one of best things to do on San Andrés as soon as you arrive, as this form of transport gives you cost-effective freedom to explore most of the things to do on San Andres listed in the rest of this post.
2. Get a boat to Johnny Cay
This is the heart-shaped island that sits just a stone’s throw away from Isla San Andres. Colombia didn’t cop out on the paradise credentials here, with clean white sand, uber-turquoise waters and tall palms for some respite from the sun. Many people view this as one of the best things to do on San Andres, and the sea is so beautiful it made it as the cover photo for this travel guide.
You can get return boats to Johnny Cay for 30k (in addition to an 8k national park tax) to spend the whole day, or you can get a place on one of the ‘VIP’ boat tours, that include Johnny Cay and El Acuario, plus a few other sights for 50k with the national park tax already paid (though we managed to negotiate it down to 45k pp for 3 of us).
Luckily it all worked out, but we actually just booked through some random guy on the beach when we were tipsy enough to not bother looking anywhere else. Yep. Smart.
Unless you go through a middleman tour agent, payments are generally cash-only on the day – plus you will need to stock up on the general spending monies when visiting Johnny Cay as nowhere on the island will take card.
You unfortunately cannot stay on Johnny Cay overnight; the island closes to visitors at 6pm every day and opens back up at 8am.
Other than chilling in the beautifully clear sea, there are a few other spots to check out around Johnny Cay. In the centre, you’ll find not only the lines of long lunch benches and colourful bar huts pumping out reggae music, but further in there is a pristine park of palm trees that provide an excellent opportunity for both shade and generic Instagram photos.
Heading out from there, you’ll find that the far side of Johnny Cay is almost entirely a beach of rocks, with hot little natural pools to soak yourself in and plenty of crabs to chase (joking, crabs have feelings too). If you’re sick of the Johnny Cay crowds around the sandy side, this is a lovely place to swim in the sea. You can walk the whole way round the island in about 15-20 minutes.
VIP boat tours to Johnny Cay
The VIP boat tours start at 9-to-9:30am, at which point you’re taken to the port and made to wait like cattle for half an hour or so until your boat arrives. The boats typically hold between 10 and 25 people, and not all of them have shade.
When you arrive on the island – which by 10am is already overcrowded, you’ll be taken to your group’s table, given some spiel by your guide and offered the opportunity to pre-order a lunch for 30k. Although this sounds expensive, on island terms it’s actually not so bad, and you’re not allowed to bring your own food and drink to Johnny Cay anyway. Also, the Pargo (red snapper) is bloody excellent so I was glad I ordered it.
For those fancy-pants among us, you can also select a fresh lobster for around 145k or seafood platters for 2-3 people in the region of 120k. Try and get in early for your meal, a) to get a seat and b) to enjoy calmer waters whilst everyone else is eating. At around 1pm, most VIP boat tours start to leave for El Acuario, which I’ll get to in a bit.
I thought maybe Johnny Cay might become less busy after lunch, but for every boat that left it seemed two more arrived. There’s a nice little photo spot without any crowds in the section of sea that the boats pull into, but otherwise this is what Johnny Cay looks like (on a Monday):
3. Snorkel at El Acuario
This is a ‘natural aquarium’ just off the coast of Rocky Cay Beach. You can get a bus, golf cart or taxi down to Rocky Cay Beach and then take a short boat from there, or you can sail from the port in the main town.
El Acuario is the next major stop on the VIP tour, after a questionable ‘stop’ to see the Sea of 7 Colours – the same sea you can see from the shore – and a rusty old shipwreck for an extra 5k each but you can’t exactly say no if the rest of the boats wants to see it. I did at least learn about the coral and marine life there, though, plus some amusing theories of why the boat crashed.
Anyway, El Acuario sits next to a larger island, Haynes Cay, both jammed with wooden shack bars, of course. It’s BUSY but has a cool vibe. You can either chill in the natural pools or rent snorkels for 10k COP and take a look at the aquatic life around the islands.
While your boat will drop you off at El Acuario, it is also possible to walk to Haynes Cay, but guides warn you that you should only do it in proper sea shoes as the rocks are slippy and sharp in places. You can rent sea shoes for 10k COP. Guides will tell you to rent a locker to keep your stuff safe, but rumour has it that things are known to go missing from them, so it’s better to bring a waterproof drybag to strap around you as you swim.
Out in the natural pools, you can pay a photographer to take a picture of you with the underwater ‘I <3 SAI sign’; just don’t get in the tog’s way if you’re not going to pay, they won’t take too kindly to it! The marine life around El Acuario is, as its name might suggest, pretty good, though admittedly it is more rocks than live corals in this area.
The further out you go towards the ‘barriers’ it gets deeper and things get a little more interesting. I caught sight of a Great Barracuda at well over a metre in length (4ft+) amongst many other tasty-looking fish, and the area is a hotspot for big rays. Though the rays are wild, I sort of wondered whether they were feeding them to keep them there.
After the stop at El Acuario, we were driven just off the island where our guide jumped into the sea and literally grabbed a ray out of the water. He encouraged us all to get in and touch/take pictures with the wild ray, which to be honest felt a little sad as it flapped around in his arms, and so lots of people sat out.
Almost every VIP boat offers this ray experience, and there are some tours that exclusively show you the rays up close, in which guides have crowds of 30 or 40 surrounding them to catch a glimpse of one of the poor creatures.
After the natural aquarium, there is another non-existent VIP stop at the mangroves. How these were marketed as part of the day, I don’t know, as it involved passing by them on the way to the port and the guide saying ‘these are the mangroves of San Andres. We used to be able to go in them but we’re not allowed anymore’ and driving on.
Luckily, I wasn’t too fussed about seeing them, but if you had your heart set on seeing some trees growing along the shore then you can take separate kayak tours to and around the mangroves.
4. Search for treasure at Morgan’s Cave
Back in the day, this part of the Caribbean was used by British pirates to raid, loot and generally cause havoc in Spanish-owned areas. Morgan’s Cave is a strange sort of museum/exhibition thing dedicated to the place that the captain allegedly buried a ton of treasure.
Mentally prepare yourself for lots of creepy life-size figurines dressed in clothes from Morgan’s era. Entry costs 17k COP, and reviews on TripAdvisor tend to include the words ‘bizarre’ and ‘avoid’.
5. Have your face destroyed by El Hoyo Soplador Geyser
This natural geyser is literally just a hole in the rock that sprays water when waves come in underneath and the pressure builds. However, it’s pretty funny watching the water obliterate people’s faces when they stand next to it.
It can get quite busy at times so you’ll usually end up sharing the water spot with some old woman who’s pushed her way through, but it’s fun anyhow.
A whole sub-economy has been built up around the geyser, with bars, shops and ‘tour guides’. The first time we went, we got stung – a lady came up to us when parking our golf cart and told us we needed a guide to see the geyser, and that there was no payment but it would be expected that we have a cocktail in her family’s bar afterwards. ‘Deal’, I thought, and followed her eagerly.
As it turns out, all she did was lead us 20m to the small hole in the ground, point at it, and then wait until we had finished looking at the geyser to then take us to her bar for an overpriced, non-alcoholic cocktail.
While I appreciate the hustle, if you want to give back to the community making a dime at this place, do it on your own terms. Admittedly, the cocktails were pretty damn tasty, and you can get some decently priced souvenirs at the shops, so it’s not all bad.
The next time I visited El Hoyo Soplador, I somehow managed to keep my head down and avoid the ‘guides’, and lo and behold, I didn’t get lost between the car park and the geyser.
6. Dive into natural pools… with a beer
At West View, you can pay for 5k COP entry to the ‘ecopark’, which offers a simple water slide and diving board (which locals may call a ‘trampoline into the sea’, but don’t get too excited). You can also pay extra for activities like Aquanautas helmet diving and a ride on the Jetboat, a speedboat that’s hell-bent on getting you as wet as possible.
This place invests in good marketing, grabbing people with billboards as soon as they land at San Andres airport, so it’s a pretty popular park to go to. This means one thing in South America… Q-U-E-U-E-S. However, go just 100m down the road and you’ll come across Reggae Roots Bar & Restaurant, a wooden bar that looks fairly close to falling down, but was at one point painted in a typically Caribbean fashion.
Entry to this bar is free providing you buy a drink or one of their actually pretty good lunches, and they have a diving board that goes into a beautiful little cove in the sea, much like the natural pools you can pay to enter elsewhere. The diving board is some 3m above the water, so thanks to the laidback nature of the bar you rarely have to queue, but instead are likely to have a least a couple of cheers if you manage to brave the dive.
The main downside to this bar is that they claim not to have a ‘nice enough’ toilet, and the barman actually advised me not to use the one they do have. But you know, you’ve got the sea, so…
7. Make a splash at La Piscinita
This is basically a larger version of the cove at Reggae Roots Restaurant & Bar, except it’s more famous and therefore more busy. You can dive in and swim in the natural pool made by a curvature in the rocks. There are lots of fish around this area; you can rent snorkels for 4k COP from the restaurant at West View to have a spy of them.
Note that you can’t bring your own food and drink into La Piscinita, and entry costs 5k COP (which includes a bit of bread to lure in the fish).
8. Go cocoloco at a Caribbean bar
If you’re not too bothered about diving into the ocean, but fancy a truly Caribbean-feeling bar on the island (with a working but still fairly ropey toilet), add Barquitos to your list of things to do on San Andres. You’ll notice it from its red, yellow and green décor, with a makeshift cocktail bar and swing on the side of the road opposite. This isn’t too far anti-clockwise from the main town, and while it’s chilled in the day-time, reportedly the parties go on until ‘whenever people want to leave’ at night.
On San Luis beach, it’s definitely worth stopping by Arnold’s beach shack. Of a night-time, the creatively-named main town chain Caribbean 1, Caribbean 2 and Caribbean 3 (there are 4 and 5 somewhere but they’re less legendary) provide bars in which to have cheap, chilled drinks with the opportunity to chat with some usually open locals.
9. Get high in San Andres Botanical Garden
This is located a little inland, taking Avenida Loma Barrack between the towns of San Luis and San Francisco. The hill is mighty but you only need to get halfway up it, so don’t worry if you’re hoping to visit the Botanical Garden whilst renting a golf cart on San Andres!
The main draw of the San Andres Botanical Garden is that it has a huuuuge 12m high observation tower from which to check out the east of the island from above. You’ll be able to see Johnny Cay and El Acuario from here.
You can take an hour-long tour of the Botanical Gardens to learn more about the flora and fauna on San Andres. Entry costs 10k COP, and opening times are a little confusing: 9-12 then 2-4:30pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays, then 10-12 and 2-4:30pm on Sundays and bank holidays. It’s closed on Mondays.
10. Snap a photo on the most beautiful road on San Andres island
How a main road became an Instagram spot on San Andres, I’ll never know, but every minute you’ll find people risking their lives to take a photo in the middle of it (me included; I can’t judge too much). It’s situated right on the cape of the southern-most point of the island, just before El Hoyo Solpador, which you’ll definitely pass when renting a buggy on San Andres.
If you’re like me, rounding the corner of the road to see a tree-lined avenue with palm forest on one side and the rocky coastline on the other will take your breath away. That rounding of the road does make this a very dangerous spot though, and buses tend to take the turn at speed even though they DEFINITELY KNOW that this is where tourists go. Natural selection is real, kids.
11. Get sandy on San Andres beaches
For many, exploring the beaches is one of the most important things to do on San Andres. White-sanded, turquoise-watered beaches line almost the whole of the East side of the island, but the west is mostly just rocks, so here’s a very brief (admittedly I haven’t been that brief up until this point) rundown of the 3 best beaches of San Andres:
– Spratt Bight
Without fail the busiest beach on San Andres Colombia! With good reason though, as it lines most of the main town. Luckily, there’s enough sand to go around, and the area is still very clean. Tourists tend to cluster at the South-Eastern end of it, where there are more food & drink options like the Beer Station, El Corral and Juan Valdez, and a swimming section is sectioned off with buoys.
You can still swim further up the beach though, so we really recommend not following the herd (sometimes there are enough people there that it really does start to resemble a herd) and head further up the beach to where it starts to clear. There are plenty of small drinks stalls up this way to ensure you won’t die of dehydration.
Go north enough past the concrete pier, and you’ll hit the area that locals like to hang out in families, play music and drink beer, which is always a good vibe on weekends.
Even further from that, you’re near the airport, and there are hardly any people to contend with on the beautiful white sanded beach.
– Rocky Cay Beach
One of the first beaches you’ll come to when renting a buggy on San Andres and driving clockwise. This is a small, understated beach with a relaxed bar on one end (you can park down the road opposite this bar for free, alongside the pink house) and places to rent kayaks etc. down the other.
You can see El Acuario from this beach, and when the tide is low you can walk along a sandbar to Rocky Cay, a small isla with a snorkellable shipwreck.
– San Luis beach
By far my favourite, and one that’s very much enjoyed by locals too. San Luis beach is a huge stretch of sparsely populated sandy goodness.
Indigo beach bar is a good’un here, with hipster woven egg-beds and the like (though not cheap on Colombian terms), but we prefer instead to go casual with a (highly potent) Cocoloco from Arnold, who runs a bar shack on the beach just down to the left of Indigo. This guy is a total geezer, so be sure to have a chat with him in English, Spanish or Creole if you’re feeling snazzy. Cocktails will set you back 20-25k COP, but you can get national beers for 5k.
12. Dodge Caymans at Big Pond Lagoon
Also known as Lake La Loma, this lagoon is located on the (very steep) road up to the La Loma area, and is the only natural source of fresh water on the island. Taking the road past the Botanical Garden, you’ll see a sign and probably someone stood with a clipboard pretending to be a guide to the Big Pond Laguna.
Note, you don’t actually need a guide to see this place, much like Hoyo Soplador, nor do you need to pay ANY entrance fee, but hustlers gon’ hustle. It’s been known for ‘guides’ to get aggressive if you refuse to pay, so only head down there if you’re feeling bold. The lagoon is home to caymans so it’s not really a place to swim, but perhaps cool to see anyway.
13. Hire a jetski
From Spratt Bight beach, jetskis cost 120k per half an hour and 200k or so for the hour for a powerful two-person jetski. For a single-person, less powerful beast it will cost 90k (30mins) and 160k (1 hour). However, this jetski price is somewhat flexible depending on your level of Spanish or friendliness with the locals!
You can actually jetski to Johnny Cay from Spratt Bight beach, though you’d have to be careful of crossing boats’ paths.
14. Journey out to Bolivar Cay
The furthest of all of San Andres’ 5 cays (i.e. teenier islands around the teeny island), Bolivar Cay requires an almost 2-hour round journey by boat to get to. This trip costs 60k COP per person including lunch, but is worth it to dodge the crowds of Johnny Cay and El Acuario.
15. Shop till you drop!
As previously mentioned, San Andres is a duty-free island, but unfortunately most of the shops here are high-end brands or boutiques anyway, so you’re not necessarily going to find bargains. There are some deals to be had on technology though, but make sure you’ve checked the going prices before leaping into buying a high-ticket item.
San Andres is particularly popular for stocking up on perfume and alcohol, with it not uncommon to see Colombians trying to board the flight back to the mainland with an entire suitcase of the good stuff. You’ll find shops all over the main town, with some cheaper unbranded clothes shops along Calle 2.
If you need to know more about the island than just the things to do on San Andres, don’t forget that I have lots of info for you in other posts:
- How to get to San Andres, Colombia
- Key info for San Andres: where to stay, where to eat, and crucial FAQs
- How to rent a golf cart on San Andres Island
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Last Updated on 8 November 2023 by Cuppa to Copa Travels