We had planned to visit both Acuario and Johnny Cay, two of the top attractions to see while on San Andrés, during our few days on the island. It’s possible to do both on a combo tour. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating.
On our first full day, both islands were closed and we wouldn’t know until the next morning if tours were possible. When we woke up on the second day, we found out Johnny Cay was still closed but tours were running to Acuario. Our host, Jacobo, was able to book us on a tour that normally included Johnny Cay, but on that day would only visit Acuario and two other places, Mantarrayas and Manglares. It cost COP$30,000 per person.
We were picked up at 9am in front of our hotel at Rocky Cay Bay and taken to a small marina in San Andrés Town. There were dozens of tourists waiting their turn to board small boats that would take them to Acuario in less than ten minutes. When it was our turn, we hopped onto a crowded boat, put on life jackets, and were shuttled to the small island offshore.
We arrived at Acuario (also known as Rose Cay) and were let off the boat. The island is bare except for a few small structures containing restaurants and snorkeling equipment for rent.
The first thing we did was find a person to guard our things, which were kept in a large bag. We were given a tag to identify the bag when we finished. It was also possible to rent snorkeling equipment and water shoes for COP$10,000 each (as of December 2017), and to buy a waterproof cell phone protector for COP$15,000 to take pictures underwater.
Next, we were given a few hours to spend in the crystal clear waters around Acuario to go snorkeling. It was extremely crowded and hard to find space (and fish). People were huddled together and getting excited about seeing one or two small fish at a time, but obviously moving away from the crowds it was possible to see several fish.
After about an hour of snorkeling, we walked over to another island, Haynes Cay, to have lunch at Bibi’s Place. Haynes Cay is green and has much more space to move around than Acuario. It’s also a scenic place to relax or snorkel, and the shipwreck is an amazing backdrop. Apparently, the ship has been trying to reach San Andrés since 2009!
When we finished with our lunch, we walked back over to Acuario and waited for our boat, which was to leave at 3pm.
Our next stop was just a minute away at Mantarrayas. This is a protected space in which manta rays come to feed. It’s possible to jump off the boat and pet them with the help of a handler.
Finally, we were taken on a cruise through the mangroves (Manglares) at Old Point. This regional park can be further explored on your own, with kayaks and boardwalk trails.
In the end, we returned to the marina and took a walk through town before heading back to Rocky Cay Bay. All in all, it was an enjoyable day but we all felt it would have been better if access to Acuario was restricted to a certain number of people per day. We thought it was overcrowded and too difficult to maneuver without running into another snorkeler, but money is more important than experience to those running the tours.
In all honesty, the snorkeling wasn’t that great, either. The water is fantastic but the variety of fish is lacking. With fewer people allowed, perhaps more fish would come back to the area.