San Andres is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. // © 2014 Thinkstock/DC_Colombia
Colombia offers a bold menu for travelers seeking adventure. With paragliding over Medellin’s peaks and valleys, hiking through the lush scenery of the coffee region, idling on horseback through the canyons of Los Nevados National Natural Park and trekking through the muddy jungle of Tayrona, the country lacks nothing for the wide-eyed eco-tourist. One of Colombia’s best-kept secrets, however, is a small island that is just a two-hour flight from Bogota — the island of San Andres.
It is believed that San Andres was discovered by Christopher Columbus and was home to the famous Captain Henry Morgan. Legend has it that some of Morgan’s treasure is still buried there, but the island’s real richness lies in its natural wonders. Part of a trio of islands with Providencia and Santa Catalina, San Andres was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000 in honor of its extensive coral reef. Fifty-seven coral species, 12 mangrove species, three marine plant species and four types of sea turtles are residents here. The islands are especially known for their incredible array of ocean colors that can be seen by airplane as visitors descend, earning the area its nickname, “Sea of Seven Colors.”
Most operators recommend spending four to six days on San Andres to enjoy the island’s offerings. Snorkeling and diving are of course some of the most popular activities. Experienced divers and beginners alike will find the underwater world easily accessible, with warm waters year-round and Caribbean colors blazing under the sea. For a glimpse of the island’s privateer history, divers can enjoy an assortment of shipwreck dives.
Visitors can also spend a day taking the ring road around the island, stopping at Johnny Cay, Morgan’s Cave and La Piscinita to see marine life. Colombian Journeys, a local partner of Big Five Tours and Expeditions, offers an eight-day tour that includes stays on San Andres, on Providencia and in Cartagena.
Getting to San Andres is relatively easy — direct flights to San Andres’s Gustavo Rojas Pinilla airport from Bogota or Cartagena are offered by Satena, Aires, AeroRepublica and Avianca. Or, visitors can travel internationally via Copa Airlines, Air Transat, Taca and Tame. But plan ahead — many flights are only offered once a week, adding to San Andres’s desert island charm. Adventuresome travelers can follow in Captain Morgan’s wake and opt to reach the island by sea.
San Andres also offers a comfortable place to crash after a day of exploring the island. The Hotel Casablanca lets visitors unwind in one of its 89 guestrooms, while offering a view of Johnny Cay, four on-site dining options, beach access and a commitment to eco-sustainability. And, of course, a bottle of rum.