San Andrés is a Caribbean island that belongs to Colombia. It sits about 500 miles north of the mainland and while you’re on Colombian soil, you won’t feel like you’re in Colombia (except for tourists from the mainland). You’re more likely to hear reggae than reggaeton and Creole and English spoken by natives rather than Spanish.
You can fly to San Andrés on direct flights from major cities in Colombia as well as from Panama City. On arrival, you have to present a tourist card which you have to purchase in order to board your flight in the first place. It costs COP$104,500 (as of December 2017). The card must be kept and returned to the authorities when you leave the island.
To get to your hotel from the airport, unmarked taxis are available. They don’t run on meters but it shouldn’t cost more than COP$15,000 to get into the main town. To areas further away, such as Rocky Cay Bay, it should cost about COP$25,000 (as of December 2017).
To get around the rest of the island, you can use public transportation for a few thousand pesos, take taxis (the costs run up quickly), or rent a “mule” for about COP$100,000 for the day. Many tourists choose the latter option, which gives you more freedom to see different parts of the island.
There are numerous tour agencies on the island that can take you to different attractions. You should also be able to book tours through your accommodation, but make sure the prices are fair. I’ve heard from some Colombians who have stayed at all-inclusive resorts that tours not included in their packages were sold at much higher prices than they would have found on the street.
Unfortunately, for our experience, many of the tours were unavailable due to weather conditions affecting the sea. The popular Johnny Cay was closed for our entire stay, but we were able to make it to Acuario. If the sea is too choppy to visit these attractions, you can also take a tour of the island that stops at important points of interest and a few beaches.
San Andrés is an important diving destination thanks to the coral reefs surrounding the island. I’m not a diver, but it’s regarded as an excellent and reasonably priced place for scuba diving.
Rocky Cay Bay
There are several resorts and hotels within the San Andrés city limits, many of them all-inclusive. Unfortunately, we heard several horror stories from Colombians buying packages to theses resorts, including cockroach infestation, terrible food, and hotels not honoring the packages. A better option is to stay at a hotel or apartment outside of the city. We chose Rocky Cay Bay, an apartment that sleeps up to seven that sits just a few steps from one of the best beaches on the island.
The apartment had two bedrooms and a sofa bed, a kitchen, and bathroom. A glass sliding door opened up to a gorgeous view of the sea. Nearby, we were able to find a supermarket to purchase food and personal items we needed for our three day stay. There were also restaurants on the beach that opened for lunch.
The owner, Jacobo, was very helpful organizing tours for us. He speaks English and lived for a time in the United States. He was even able to call ahead to order lunch for us on one of the tours so we would have it ready on arrival.
The only downside was that if we wanted to eat at a restaurant for dinner or head to another part of the island, we would have to find transportation to the city on a crowded bus or pay for a taxi ride. Also, the beds were a bit soft and the water pressure could have been better, but the advantages outweighed the disadvantages by far.
Rocky Cay Bay cost us about COP$1,400,000 for seven people for three nights, and we would happily stay there again.