San Andres, a small Colombian island located in the Caribbean Sea close to Nicaragua and only a 45 minutes flight away from Panama City … can this be true ? Or yes, it can! Honestly, I had never heard of San Andres before moving to Panama so I was more than just positively surprised when this small island came into the mix of our travel destinations. Especially as we are traveling with our small kids, a short flight to a small Caribbean island did indeed sound fantastic. When we arrived and explored the turquoise water, the white sandy beaches and the palm tree settings, we enjoyed San Andres so much that since then we have already come back a second time !
San Andres is a rather small island with the main town and airport in the North and the calmer areas in the other parts of the island. It is a true Caribbean island with an interesting mix of both Colombian and Caribbean culture. There are cars, motorbikes and buses that are used. However, most tourists navigate in small golf carts, which was the option that we chose, too. In this type of car you can make the tour of the whole island in approximately 45 minutes, and explore everything in a calm and laid back way. Especially our kids loved to go in our small cart from spot to spot, the wind in their hair and their eyes open, exploring everything they could see around them.
There are various hotels and houses to rent on the island. During our first stay, we lodged at Villa Maru , a nice property located just 10 minutes from the airport and main town, with a beautiful sea view. We loved the attention of the staff and it’s proximity to the town. During or second stay, we lodged in a room in la Casona del Mar, a beautiful house with a big terrace and pool, which we had booked via airbnb. This accommodation did fit us particularly well as the house featured a big pool and a kitchen which was open to our use at any time of the day, a feature which comes handy when travelling with small kids.
Both times, our hosts arranged the golf cart rental for us and helped us as well with any other questions we had regarding navigating San Andres.
For food, San Andres has a lot to offer, featuring lots of restaurants serving all different types of food from Caribbean to more Colo mbian and even international specialties (think Italian Pizza). Our favourite was by far La Regatta, a beautiful seafood restaurant in the main town, built on the water at the habour (make sure to reserve as it gets very busy here).
During the day, the beach restaurant Donde Francesca was our go-to spot. We just loved the overall set-up, the service and especially the drinks and the food there (if you eat seafood you must try the pulpo!). You can either eat on the beach or reserve one of the wooden tables (make sure to reserve before coming as this place is in high demand). To stay on the beach – which was definitely our favourite on San Andres island – you can also rent parasols and sun chairs. The combination of the nice set-up allowing us to eat and drink while hanging out comfortably on the beach with our kids made the whole thing for us so easy that we came here every day!
Not far from Donde Francesca, you can find the Kingston Jerk Spot where you can eat delicious Jamaican style Jerk chicken. That said, the spot is not always open so make sure to either ask someone for opening times or just drive by every time you come to this part of the island to look whether the BBQ is on.
Beaches and Things To Do
There are various beaches and especially for small children there are parts where the water is very shallow. When driving around you can just hop on hop off wherever it suits you and where the beach feels best for you and your little ones. That said, our favourite beach was still the one near San Luis at Donde Francesca.
There are definitely some activities to do on the island, such as exploring the natural pool (la piscinita), taking a train-looking bus tour or snorkelling and diving or a trip to neighbourhood islands. That said, given the young age of our children, we were just fine with hanging out on the beach and driving around while soaking up the beautiful scenery and looking at the colourful houses and street art (especially in the North East of the island).
San Andres is definitely worth a trip, for those who travel with or without kids (though I guess that if you are travelling without small children, the neighbour island Providencia may also be worth a try, being more off-grid and hence even more private). The size of the island is just right, there are plenty of spots to lodge (hotels, airbnbs), nice restaurants for eating out but before all that many beautiful white sandy beaches, just perfect to relax and enjoy the Caribbean vibes.