Surrounded by a large barrier reef, San Andrés is Colombia’s Caribbean playground. Here the waters are of seven shades of blue, the sandy beaches are white, and coco locos, the official island cocktail, are always served. Days here are spent lazing on the beach, island hopping, snorkeling and diving, and enjoying fresh seafood. For many Colombians, the deals at the many duty-free stores are too good to pass up—that’s one reason why they visit the island in the first place.
San Andrés has a population of about 75,000, about two-thirds of which are of mainland Colombian origin. The rest are English- and Creole-speaking Raizales, many of whom have origins as Jamaican slaves. There is also a community of “Turcos” or “Arabes,” whose roots can be traced to mostly Lebanon and Syria. Their presence on the island is not an insignificant one, as demonstrated by a brilliantly white modern mosque that stands prominently in the commercial center.
Finding Your Way Around
The island of San Andrés resembles a seahorse floating gently eastward in the western Caribbean Sea. It is only about 13 kilometers (8 miles) long from top to bottom and 3 kilometers (2 miles) wide, and has a total area of 26 square kilometers (10 square miles). The Circunvalar ring road more or less circles the entire island.
The “town” of San Andrés is usually called the Centro or the North End. It is in the snout of the seahorse, in the northeast. This is the center of activity and where the majority of the island’s restaurants, hotels, and shops (nearly all of which are owned and operated by mainland Colombians) are found. About 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of the main drag here, Avenida Colombia, is the paseo peatonal or malecón, the Spratt Bight Pathway, a delightful pedestrian promenade along the Spratt Bight beach. About two kilometers northwest of the Centro is the airport.
The west side is quieter, with a handful of points of interest, hotels, and restaurants. The coastline on the west side is all coral; there are no beaches. At the southernmost point of the island is the Hoyo Soplador blow hole. Continuing counterclockwise, the town of San Luis extends along the southeastern edge of the island. This area has some good beaches, hotels, and restaurants, and is much more laid-back than the Centro.
The middle part of the island, called La Loma (The Hill), is the highest point on the island. The main point of reference here is the stately white First Baptist Church. This is home to the largest community of Raizal people.