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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 😉