San Andrés Travel Tips – a Paradise for Divers with Perils

San Andres Kolumbien

San Andrés Travel Tips – a Paradise for Divers with Perils

A two-hour flight from Bogotá, off the Nicaraguan coast, is a little island paradise – or at least that’s what I was promised by many Colombians and Google image search. It is a paradise for divers, but the rest of the island did not impress me at all. If anything, it got me thinking…

I flew with Viva Colombia and landed in San Andrés around 11 pm. Viva Colombia is even worse than RyanAir but more about this another time. Since my hostel was only about a kilometre from the airport, I decided against getting a taxi. Which maybe wasn’t the best idea. I got stopped by police and the copper could not believe I was walking to my hostel – alone at night. He shook his head and gave me a lecture about how dangerous this part of the island was. Ouch! He radioed his colleague and they took me to my hostel on a moped (without a helmet I may add!). The hostel owner was also already super worried when we got there. Not a good start for San Andrés und I.

San Andres

Safety

I had a really long chat with the hostel owner where I was staying and found out about the following things:

  • the island is overpopulated
  • unemployment is high
  • although a fee of 104692 Pesos (ca. 35€) per person has to be paid upon arrival, most locals don’t feel like they are benefitting from the money
  • crime rates are through the roof – two travellers, who stayed at my hostel, got robbed and threatened with a knife on the way to the supermarket. Luckily the thieves “only” managed to steal their money and backpacks since they had left their passports at the hostel. The hostel owner also told me that there are a lot of pickpockets stealing phones. His uncle’s house got broken into and his poor uncle was so badly injured he had to be taken to hospital
  • don’t bring valuables like a camera, phone, etc …
  • The Carrera 8 is one of the most dangerous streets on the island and leads through the two most dangerous barrios – absolutely avoid it!
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What can you do in San Andrés?

DIVE! DIVE! DIVE! And that’s exactly what I came here for. I spent 4 days on the island, 3 of them diving. I booked with  Blue Dive Life and it was so much fun! The equipment is safe, the guides deliver amazing briefings, the dive sites aren’t too far from the shore and everything is done with a smile. Diving here is cheap cheap cheap! I paid 180€ for three full days. Nowhere else has been this beautiful AND cheap.

I don’t think San Andres would be a good choice if you are not a diver or into relaxing at the beach. I was really bored on the day I didn’t go diving. I rented a scooter and drove around the island to keep myself busy.

Exploring the island on a scooter

My hostel offered to rent me a scooter for 70000 Pesos (ca. 23€) for a day, so I could explore the island on my last day. Once more I was advised to be careful and that safety is an issue on San Andrés. I was told to leave my backpack in the hostel and store my things in the compartment under the moped seat instead. Don’t forget to lock up your moped – apparently, mopeds get stolen too.

Without breaks, you can drive around the island in about an hour. There aren’t all that many places worth checking out but I did find a few places I enjoyed. Here’s my list:

Ecofiwi – Mangrove wood: a nice short stop for a quiet walk through the mangrove forest. A wooden path leads through the trees and from time to time you can spot birds. There are two viewing platforms where the forest isn’t as dense.

San Andres EcoFiwi
Banana trees!

San Andres Ecofiwi Mangroven

Rocky Cay Beach: I am not usually a beach bum, but I stopped here to stretch my legs. Parking is free if you consume food or drinks at the Aqua Beach Club.  The beach is quite small but beautiful. You can wade/swim (in chest high water) to the small island Rocky Cay. Heads up: the beach is full of street vendors trying to sell you all kinds of knick-knack which I found to be super annoying.

Sound Bay Beach: less people, but just as beautiful.

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San Andres Sound Bay

Places not worth visiting:

  • Cocos House
  • Salto Morgas
  • Hoyo Soplador (a small geyser – but it is more like a hole in the ground)

Are you a  sun worshipper? Lots of small islands are scattered around San Andrés, some of them you can also visit. Your reception staff should know how to get to them. Packages are offered but they are rather expensive.

Places for Foodies on San Andrés

Fish, fish, fish!

Donde Francesca: You can find this restaurant in the Sound Bay. It is right at the beach, and you can enjoy your food on their sun terrace. I ordered shrimps and hands down, they were the best I have ever eaten. The main course was served with Fruto de Pan, a potato like veggie local to San Andrés, and coconut rice. Yummy! Definitely a dish you should try!

Aqua Beach Club: The ceviche here is absolutely amazing but the portion sizes are rather small. This is the place to go if you are only feeling a bit peckish.

Peru Wok: the ceviche in this restaurant wasn’t as good as the one I had in the Aqua Club, but it was served with mango and avocado which was absolutely amazing. Peru Wok also has a sun terrace overlooking the endless sea. You can see the island Johnny Cay from here.

Bread Fruit: a small bakery that serves arepas, fresh juices and other breakfast combos.

San Andres Donde Francesca
Shrimps with coconut rice – Donde Francesca

Accommodation on San Andrés

I decided to stay at the Karibbik Haus Hostel, it’s not right in the centre, but only a short walk (10-15 mins). Here some more details about the hostel:

  • dorms sleep six people, there’s AC and it costs approx. 21€
  • no plugs on the upper bunks, but several on the lower bunks
  • large lockers available (but not in the dorms)
  • toilets and showers are separate
  • WiFi works
  • the kitchen is well-equipped
  • terrace with hammock and ocean view
  • living room with TV, bookshelf and cosy sofas
  • the whole hostel is very clean
  • staff is super helpful

Further travel information about San Andrés

  • Like already mentioned: this island is perfect for divers and sun worshippers.
  • A tourist card, costing  104692 Pesos (ca. 35€) has to be purchased upon arrival.
  • The maximum stay is 4 months out of the year – you risk getting banned for life if you overstay.
  • Do not forget to bring good sunscreen, the sun here is super intense.
  • Don’t be dally with the safety situation on the island and always ask the reception staff where it’s safe to go and where is best avoided. Going for walks is really dangerous in some barrios.
  • Take quick showers and only use little when you’re doing the dishes – the water purification process is really expensive.
  • Do not drink tap water 😉
  • I’ve gathered all my expenses and wrote down how much four days on San Andrés were for me.
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What I thought about San Andrés

The island itself isn’t really worth a visit, the diving is absolutely beautiful, spectacular and easy. Check out the Colombian mainland coast if you are after a relaxing holiday on the beach.

I am unsure about returning to San Andrés. Safety is important to me and this island is way too dangerous for my liking. I am toying with the idea to visit the neighbouring island Providencia instead. It is supposed to be just as nice and much safer.

The street vendors roaming the beach and constantly trying to sell me stuff definitely annoyed me.

A lot of the houses are rundown and their yards are covered with trash.

Diving: yay! – rest of the island: nay!

How to get around

Don’t forget the sunscreen! 😉

Keep on travelling

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19 Comments

  • My mind is made up. I would go for the two F’s while in San Andres…food and forest. That ride in the forest on a scooter or even a long lazy walk would be so refreshing. Whetting up an appetite for all that delicious food.

  • That seems like a shady place. It may be difficult to travel to a place knowing that you can be in trouble. Thanks for the heads up. 😀 If someone even goes there then they should be always in the safe zone which kind of defeats the purpose of backpacking for me.

  • Too bad you didn’t love it besides diving but I would love a diving holiday! The photos look great. The diving prices are awesome but the dorm prices seem a bit steep!

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, and although the Island itself wasn’t impressive for you it is good to post about these things so that other travelers can make informed choices. However, on the other hand, the diving looked incredible and oh so cheap – that I would probably give it a shot for a couple of days!

    • I’ll go back for the diving! Only for the diving ha! There’s another island somewhat close by called Providencia – the diving there is said to be even better!

  • I heard about this place too late when I was in Colombia and so I didn’t have time to fit it into my schedule. Next time I go to Colombia, I will be there though 🙂

  • Wow! this is awesome. I love the scooter trip (I miss riding on it so bad. lol). Diving must be fun (even though i dunno how to swim). But am up for challenges. My hubby and I will definitely love this. 😀

  • San Andres looks like my kind of paradise. Doesn’t really bother me that the only things to do are relax on the beach and dive because I love both! Good to know that safety is an issue before going and stay aware but that’s never stopped me from traveling before!

  • WoW, you really discredited San Andres! Too bad you had such a bad impression of the island. I have been there so many times, as well as my friends and family and nobody has been robbed or attacked or anything. If you go to a bad neighborhood anywhere in the world, you may be in trouble. Book a nice hotel or hostel in the touristic area of San Andres, and your perception of the island will change completely.

    • Dear Nohra-Cecilia!
      I don’t think I’m discrediting the island. I’ve been there twice myself and have talked to a lot of people on the island. This was my personal experience and I’d rather get one bad comment like yours than have someone tell me that they were robbed because I would have recommended this island and not said that there are certain dangers.

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