Welcome to Colombia! This is a specific travel guide on how to enjoy the most beautiful archipelago in the world, the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina.
The archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina has the perfect location to enjoy one of the most diverse places in the world, with endless marine fauna and wildlife all covered by a sea of 7 colors that will make you fall in love.
A little bit of Archipelago San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina history
San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina were occasionally inhabited by the Miskito Indians, an indigenous group of Central America, before colonial times. They came to have a state of their own under the protection of the British Empire.
The following settlers of the islands brought with them the Protestant religion, becoming a fundamental element of the communities. They also introduced new species of flora and fauna as well as slaves from Africa.
In 1510 the archipelago came into Spanish possession, but they did not establish any settlements, since the continental area was more important to the Spanish crown; back then San Andres was under the jurisdiction of the Royal Audience of Panama.
In 1544 the Spanish Crown decided to hand over the administration of the archipelago to the jurisdiction of the General Captaincy of Guatemala.
Only until 1629 and 1630 European and English colonists settled in Santa Catalina and Providencia. Captain Morgan (Henry Morgan), settled in the archipelago from 1670 to 1680, turning it into his base of operations.
Tomas O’Neill presented the request to the crown to assign the archipelago under the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada. The request was accepted and signed on November 20, 1803, and a royal decree was assigned and named the archipelago of San Andres.
In 1822 the archipelago became part of the province of Cartagena, but in 1912 San Andres and Providencia were separated from the department of Bolivar becoming an independent province of Colombia’s territory.
Colombia vs. Nicaragua
On May 5, 1930, Colombia and Nicaragua signed the Esguerra-Bárcenas treaty which established the sovereignty of Nicaragua over the Mosquito Coast and Colombia over the archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina.
The archipelago became a free port during the government of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in 1953, transforming the island into a commercial and touristic point.
After that time, in 1991, under the new constitution, the archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina was declared as one of the 32 departments of Colombia.
Seaflower Biosphere Reserve
Finally, in 2001 UNESCO declared the archipelago a Biosphere Reserve calling it Seaflower. Know more about the biospheres reserves of Colombia in our entry Next Travel Ideas? Visit the Biosphere Reserves of Colombia.
The Raizal People
Today the islands are inhabited by the Raizal people. To avoid confusion with the denomination of “natives” given to the indigenous people, they are called “raizales” and are the product of the miscegenation between indigenous, Spanish, French, English, Dutch and Africans.
The British culture, which was the strongest colonizer of the Caribbean islands, is the predominant one in San Andres and among the Raizales.
However, the Raizal culture has its own cultural expressions: the Baptist religion, Creole language and its oral tradition that reflects the African roots of the majority of the population represented in the stories and tales for children.
The raizales of San Andres Colombia use English and Creole as their main language, although Spanish is becoming more and more common.
Where is the Archipelago San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina located?
The archipelago is located in the western Caribbean Sea on the Atlantic Ocean in Central America and is 775 km away from the Atlantic coast of Colombia. It is the only insular department.
The archipelago is made up of the islands of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina. Additionally, it is formed by cays and islets located on the volcanic platform to the west of the Antillean Sea.
About the weather, in the archipelago, you can enjoy a humid climate with temperatures between 25° and 31 ° C° (77° and 88° F°), and a high humidity between 82%.
How to get to the archipelago San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina?
The archipelago has 2 airports, one on the island of San Andres and the other one on the island of Providencia.
Bogota – San Andres island
Take a 1.5 hours flight from Bogotá, El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ) at San Andres Island.
Before 2020’s COVID pandemic, entering the island required a fee of COP 116,800; and children under 7 do not need to purchase the card. At present, there is no fee applicable to enter the archipelago San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina until 2025.
San Andres – Providencia and Santa Catalina
If you wish to visit the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina yous will take a 30-minutes flight from Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ) at San Andres Island to El Embrujo Airport (PVA) in Providencia Island.
There is also the possibility of reaching the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina by taking a 4-hour trip in katamaran to Providence Island.
What to do in Archipelago San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina?
Firstly, the best time to visit the archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina is during the dry season, in the months of April, May, November, and December.
San Andres island
To visit the places below on the island of San Andres you can rent a motorcycle and make the trip along a 15 km road that connects each one of these locations.
Sound Bay Beach, San Luis
This is a white sandy beach located in the neighborhood of San Luis, far from the crowded areas of the island. San Luis still preserves its wooden houses, and there you will find restaurants and bars that are run by locals.
This is the most important commercial beach on the island, with crystal clear waters and a pedestrian path of 2 km. It is very close to the airport as well as being the place with most restaurants, hotels, and duty-free stores on the island. From this point, it is possible to see the islet of Johnny Cay.
Cocoplum Bay & Rocky Cay
this beach is connected to Rocky Cay and it’s full of famous local restaurants. Rocky Cay natural pool is also a nice plan to consider taking a swim. Moreover, it is a good place to practice snorkeling.
Bengue’s Place & Charquitos Beach
These beaches are in the south area of the island, they have crystal clear waters and a wonderful wall of reefs which creates a quiet natural pool not affected by the waves.
Johnny Cay is an islet that is also a regional park of the island of San Andres. To reach this point you must take a boat and make a journey of 7 minutes. The beach here is characterized by its white sand, and the place is adorned by the presence of a large number of palm trees and iguanas. Bear in mind that there are no ATMs so that any and all must be in cash. One way trip from San Andres costs COP 8,000.
The Aquarium & Haynes Cay
The name of the aquarium is Rose Cay, while you are in the aquarium facilities you can take walks on sandbanks in the middle of the sea. From the aquarium, you can walk to Haynes Cay on the sandbanks.
Mangle Old Point Park
This is another regional park of San Andres. It is a sanctuary of flora and fauna located in Hooker and Haynes bays near the center of San Andres island. The tour can be done by kayak through the mangrove system inhabited by mussels, crabs, iguanas, and lizards, as well as endemic and migratory birds.
Ecoparque West View & La Piscinita
Both parks are located in the west of the island. There are no beaches but natural pools between stone cliffs, an ideal place for snorkeling throughout their crystal clear waters.
Local people have the opinion that La Piscinita is the most beautiful place to snorkel in San Andres.
This neighborhood is one of the most traditional of the island, where you can learn about local customs and traditions as well as visit the first Baptist church in Latin America, built-in 1847. The entrance fee is COP 10,000 and when visiting the bell tower the panoramic view of the entire island and the “sea of 7 colors” is worth the visit.
Casa Isleña Museum
This is a house of more than 100 years of construction where you can learn about the Raizal people and the pirate attacks that the island had in the past.
Big Pond Lagoon
In the center of the island, it is possible to find this freshwater lagoon that is home to caimans, iguanas, and turtles. Around the lagoon, you will find trees typical of the island.
San Andrés Botanical Garden
In the facilities of the National University of Colombia near the San Luis sector, you can find the San Andrés Botanical Garden. There you will learn about the flora present on the island, during the tour you will also see iguanas, birds, and lizards that live in the garden. The entrance fee to the garden is 3,000 COP.
Blow Hole & Morgan’s Cave
There is a small geyser known as the blowhole, very famous among visitors. In the blowhole there the seawater protrudes into the air through a natural hole in the coral reaching a maximum height of 20 meters. A small grotto is known as the place where the pirate Henry Morgan hid his treasures during his stay on the island. The entrance fee is COP 10,000.
Bear in mind that in Providencia you can rent a bicycle, a motorcycle, or a golf cart to move around the island if you do not want to walk.
Is the highest hill on the island at 360 meters above sea level and 4.6 km away from the airport. The average time to the top is approx. 50 minutes. From this point, you can appreciate the “sea of 7 colors” and the island’s Coral barriers.
Bridge of Lovers
It is a colorful floating bridge that joins the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina, crossing the Aury channel. This wooden footbridge is 180 meters long and it is said that at this point couples gather to contemplate the sunset.
Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park
This protected area is the only insular one in Colombia. It is responsible for protecting and preserving the flora and fauna of the archipelago which has the third-largest coral reef barrier in the world.
At the park, you can learn about the fauna and flora available in the archipelago in addition to making tours through the mangrove systems. It is also possible to do scuba diving and snorkeling activities. From the highest point of the island, you can have a wonderful view and enjoy the sunset.
Know more about this beautiful national park of Colombia in our entry Unique destination in the Colombian Caribbean: Old Providence McBean Lagoon Park.
This small island is part of the Old Providence McBean Lagoon NNP, it does not have a beach but it is an ideal place to appreciate the marine flora and fauna in diving and snorkeling activities. From the highest point of the island, you can have a wonderful view and also enjoy the sunset. The entrance fee is of cop 35,000.
The inhabitants of the island say that this is the most beautiful beach of Providencia, it has an extension of 300 meters. The beach has only one restaurant but at night it is possible to have bonfires on the beach.
Is the longest beach on the island with white sand and crystal clear waters. On Saturdays, you can enjoy a horse race performed by the natives as well as enjoy local food.
This is an ideal place for snorkeling.
Santa Catalina Island
This is a small hill that is a 25-minute walk at the end of the Bridge of Lovers through a paved track. The view from this point is magical to appreciate the sunset.
This is the most visited place on the island for the vegetation that can be seen in addition to enjoying the sea breeze.
Where to Stay in Archipelago San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina?
San Andres Island
Santa Catalina Island
On Santa Catalina Island it is not possible to find accommodations, so visitors should stay on Providence Island.
Things to Bear in Mind
- The island’s dry season is between the months of December and late May.
- Consider wearing personal protective items (sunscreen, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, trainer shoes, and hat).
- The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
- The use of binoculars to admire animals’ behavior is recommended.
- Carry valid identity documents and health insurance.
- It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
- If you take specific medications, take them with you in a personal first aid kit.
Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, littering cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, doing drugs, and capturing wildlife.
- Ministerio de Cultura, Colombia
- San Andres Island Website
About the authors
Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.
The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.