I heard a lot of people say that San Andres is awesome if you don’t go to Providencia. Indeed, the travelers I met that went to San Andres and skipped Providencia for all the aforementioned reasons (too expensive, too complicated to get to) did rave about it and had an awesome time there. But for those of us who have done both, well, let’s just say it’s hard to write objectively about the two islands. San Andres is paradise, but in all honesty, it kinda sucks after having been to Providencia. So, if you are going to go to both, you should take my advice and save the best for last. Go to San Andres first so it doesn’t look so bad when you are comparing it afterwards through the lens of perfect Providencia.
That being said, I can still see the charm of San Andres. It’s just a place that has reached it’s maximum capacity for tourism I think, and unfortunately you can’t help seeing the negative repercussions of that while you are there. I ended up just spending one night/day there and it was enough for me. Maybe one more night would have been nice so I could go to Acuario which I heard is not to miss and a few of the keys. Instead, as my time was limited I rented a motorbike and rode around the perimeter of the island and it was a perfect day in San Andres (you could also do it on a bicycle. San Andres is flat and ideal for bike riding). I was able to see everything except Acuario and it felt like enough for me.
The east side of the island is where all the sandy, beautiful beaches are and therefore, all of the tourists, but there are some beautiful bays to check out, like Rocky Key, a tiny island that you can actually walk out to through a bay of shallow water, and the bays of San Luis, with plenty of nice, affordable restaurants and bars right on the beach.
The west side of the island is far less crowded than the east , mostly because there are no sandy beaches but rather rocky cliffs as pictured below (wear water shoes or sandals!) But hey, that just means you get a a refreshing escape from the masses on the other side of the island, as well as some amazing snorkeling with tropical fishes in the “sea of seven colors”.
There are two bars in West View next to “La Piscinita” with diving boards where you can jump 15 feet into the beautiful water below that you should definitely check out while you’re over here.
Most of the action is happening in the center on the north part of the island where the airport is as well as most of the options for accommodation. Even there you have a beautiful, albeit extremely crowded, beach. There are also a lot of options for accommodation in San Luis town on the east side of the island for a less busy, quieter alternative.
So to sum up, San Andres is a great place for partying, meeting people and hanging out in civilization with wifi, modern conveniences and all your favorite creature comforts. It boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire world, there is no denying that. You will have a good time if you go there. But… it’s no Providencia.