From the moment we stepped out of the tiny, slightly run down airport and into the naked heat of the midday sun, we knew we were going to love the island of San Andres.
In the short walk from the airport to our hostel, it already felt totally different to the everywhere else we’d visited in South America. The buildings were Caribbean style wooden structures, there were people sat outside in the streets playing dominoes as the world went by and the cool breeze carried the sounds of Bob Marley.
San Andres island is located in the Caribbean Sea and is part of Colombia despite being located closer to both Panama and Nicaragua. It was coveted by various slave trading superpowers and so came under British, Dutch and Spanish rule at different times before the early 1900s.
With elements of Caribbean, South American and British colonial influences at play, it has got a totally unique culture which sucked us in and left us wanting more.
This is a story about how we fell in love with the beautiful island of San Andres.
Blue Almond Hostel on San Andres Island
We don’t usually talk in much detail about our accommodation, but whilst on San Andres island we stayed at the Blue Almond which is hands down one of the top hostels we stayed in throughout our entire time in South America, so worth a mention.
It’s an intimate, family run place where we immediately felt welcome and at home. Juan and Jen, the owners, are some of the best people we've met on our travels and they introduced us to everyone staying in the hostel by name when we checked in.
It's in a really good location close to “El Centro” and the atmosphere in the place is amazing. Whilst it’s not a “party hostel”, having fun and socialising are the focusses here. From “Just Dance” competitions in the common area, to a night out which they organise every Wednesday at a local bar with incredible cocktails, the owners are just like fellow dormies as they participate in everything with you.
There’s even a cool dog called Shaggy Bombastic who has his own Facebook page documenting his laid-back life on the island.
MotorBiking Around San Andres Island
Despite being diminutive in size at only 26km2 across, there’s plenty of adventure to be found on the island.
As a starting point hiring a moped is great way to get an overall view of the place. With a bit bartering we managed to get ours for COP50,0000 (about a tenner) which is the best price you are likely to get.
The roads are pretty safe and whilst busy in the centre, there’s a road that runs the entire perimeter which we had pretty much to ourselves for large stretches.
It felt amazing riding along the coast with the salty sea air rushing through our hair, a complete sense of freedom and views of uninterrupted blue skies and turquoise waters.
The scenery was simply breath-taking and meant we ended stopping at regular intervals to enjoy a coconut water from the beach side shacks and to appreciate the natural beauty around us. Check out our video of us biking around here.
Fun Activities on San Andres Island
Our first stop was at Rocky Cay, a golden stretch of beach with crystal clear waist high waters leading out to a tiny island just overlooking a rusting shipwreck which has become a popular spot for diving enthusiasts.
A little further round we came to West View Point, a centre for various activities. A slide and diving board propel you off a 3m drop into a natural ‘swimming pool’ in the sea which is calm, extremely deep and full of colourful and inquisitive sealife. We rented snorkels and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours paddling amongst the tropical fish.
At the highest point, in the centre of the island, is the historical wooden structured First Baptist Church which we were able to climb to enjoy panoramic views in all directions. We were fascinated at the speed by which the volunteers on hand here interchanged between chatting with visitors in Spanish and English, to talking with each other in the local Creole dialect.
Scuba Diving on San Andres Island
Thanks to its crystal clear waters with near perfect visibility and virtually untouched coral reefs, San Andres is regarded as one of the world’s top diving spots. And so it would have been rude for us not to experience our first journey into the underwater world here.
We went with ‘Scuba San Andres’ and we couldn’t have asked for more competent, patient and encouraging mentors for our maiden dive. We were quite nervous about it beforehand, but by the time they had taken us through the basics in their company swimming pool we were excited to head out and try it for real.
It was quite literally an out of this world experience, seeing the open water from a totally different perspective. We saw stingrays, brightly coloured coral as well as numerous dubiously named tropical fish. Truly unforgettable.
A short boat ride off the north coast is the picture perfect, uninhabited island of Johnny Cay. You can’t stay overnight so it’s a daytrip only but we loved it so much that we went twice.
ou can walk around the whole of Johnny Cay in about 10 minutes and despite being a popular tourist spot, it was possible for us to find our own personal piece of paradise by venturing from the main beach where we savoured the ubiquitous, sweet, rum laced coco locos.
The centre of Johnny Cay is covered in palm trees and dotted with wooden shack style restaurants and shaded seating areas, which we took advantage of by stopping for delicious, melt in your mouth fresh fish and coconut rice lunches whilst swaying to the laidback beats of the reggae music. Watch our video for a real taste of Johnny Cay.
Added to all of this, our friends Leon and Louise visited us whilst we were staying here so it made it all the more special to share these experiences with good friends from home – thanks guys!
Even though we spent two weeks on San Andres island chilling and relaxing on its various beaches, combined with lots of adventures, we still don’t feel like we’ve scratched the surface. Which is great because it gives us the perfect excuse to go back!
Until then we’ve got plenty of incredible memories and beautiful photographs to remind us of the island that stole a little piece of both of our hearts.
James & Sarah x