La Loma is a little town in the central hilly region of San Andrés where traditional island life continues. It's where the natives (Raizal people) live. The Raizales are a Protestant Afro-Caribbean ethnic group speaking English Creole language of the archipelago. Most inhabitants live on agriculture. La Loma is one of the places where you can appreciate picturesque English-Caribbean achitecture: traditional wooden houses, simply framed and airy, with wooden shutters. From the top is a great view of beautiful Caribbean, known for having seven shades of blue and green.
Most visitors head to La Loma to visit its pretty Baptist Church, the first to be founded on San Andrés, in 1844. This red-roofed whitewashed building stands on the top of the hill and its spire once served as a landmark for sailors, a kind of unofficial 'lighthouse' that guided ships into San Andrés. Despite being partially rebuilt in 1896 the building still provides a fine example of the traditional architecture of the island.
Visitors seeking a quiet alternative to the tourist-focused capital of San Andrés will enjoy San Luis. Located on the island's east coast, the so-called town has no centre and is in fact just a small village, a simple 3 km string of houses along the coast. This is a tranquil place where the sound of the waves can lull you to sleep, and most of all, far from the noise of the city. San Luis is a native area of the island and has nice and relaxed feel.
This former coconut-shipment port is notable for its wooden houses and pretty English-Caribbean architecture. It has some of the best beaches on the island, including Cocoplum Bay, Jenny Bay and Sound Bay, and superb snorkeling. There are some tourist facilities, characterized by harmonizing with their surrounding. Visitors keen to interact with the locals will find it an ideal place. Frequent buses connect San Luis with San Andrés town via a 15-minute journey.
If you like snorkeling, don't miss the west coast of San Andrés. I think it's the best spot on the island to snorkel. Make sure to stop by West View at La Piscinita, a natural pool formed by island cliffs, where you safely swim among colourful fish. The place is described by the locals as a sea-bath due to its calm warmth. There is no beach; you either jump from the rocks or use staircase that lead to the water. A nearby restaurant serves as a changing room and snorkel-rental joint. It also serves variety of local cocktails and a decent menu of seafood.
The water is bright blue and very clear and the sensation of swimming surrounded by a rainbow of tropical fish, from blue, orange to black and yellow ones, was magical. I will always remember my last day of the year 2008 which I spent greater part underwater :))
To get from San Luis to West View, I took a bus to San Andrés (El Centro) first and then changed it to one that went to El Cove. On the way back I made a stop in La Loma and had a very pleasant walk through the village which was already in festive mood. The longest night was supposed to begin soon. I had to wait quite a long time for a bus to San Andrés but was more lucky with the connection to San Luis.
Johnny Cay, sometimes called Islote Sucre, is the nearest small island to San Andrés and the most beautiful. It's a joyful place with coconut palms, famous for its calypso, reggae and socca music as well for its fresh fried fish and rum and coconut cocktails. It offers white sandy beach and transparent waters though the sea can be rough. You can walk around the island in 15 minutes and there are some excellent reefs off the eastern coast.
Most people visit Johnny Cay to hang out and have a picnic on the sand. As a popular day trip it can often be packed with tourists far beyond its capacity during peak season. However, when it is quiet, sunbathing on Johnny Cay must be a fun place to spend the day. Unfortunately, the island was packed with Colombians when I visited as it was just two days before the New Year.
A tiny layer of water (only about 60 m) separates Haynes Cay from Acuario so you can walk there on foot. Dense thickets of coconut trees provide plenty of shade not far from Acuario. This pretty, palm-covered islet is often part of a standard boat tour around San Andrés, usually a short stop-off for a spot of snorkeling. Sharp exposed coral make water shoes essential for swimmers and divers.
Its shallow waters have a significant coral reef where the diversity of marine species live, including the abundance of conch and variety of other shells. Both, Haynes Cay and Acuario, are surrounded by all the colours of the San Andres sea and most aquatic sports are practiced around these islets.
Acuario is a sandbank surrounded by shallow and calm water with the abundance of fishes that swim around you. The snorkeling here is very nice. If you forget to bring your snorkeling gear you can rent some on the beach. It is necessary to wear water shoes because there are lots of rocks and coral. You can also rent them here or even better buy as you'll most probably need them again elsewhere on the island. Other facilities are pretty basic, but include toilets and a collection of small lockers for rental by the hour.
Frequently visited by tour boats and a popular spot with holidaying families, Acuario is packed to capacity at weekends and during peak season, so stick to midweek if a more chilled-out vibe is your thing.
Visiting the nearby islets is one of the most popular things to do on the island. Numerous small independent tour companies offer boat excursions, most of them depart from San Andrés town. As I was staying in San Luis I had to get to El Centro first. Getting out of the bus near the harbour I soon sighted a kiosk of one of the companies. I booked the tour and they told me that we were going to live in about half an hour. While waiting outside I met a friendly family from Bogotá with whom I then spent the rest of the day.
It was a whole day tour. First they took us to Acuario (a sandbank surrounded by shallow water, good for snorkeling) and the nearby Heynes Cay, followed by a beautiful tiny islet Johnny Cay where we had a delicious fish lunch in a coconut grove and enjoyed a lovely white-sand beach and crystal clear water of the sea. All the islets that we visited are breathtaking but unfortunately packed with tourists during the New Year time.
After arrival in San Andrés town I walked with the family along the beach to their hotel and then took a bus back to San Luis.
San Andrés town lies on the island's northern tip and is surrounded by beaches and packed with hotels, restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. It is the main town, commercial and administrative centre, known locally as El Centro. Being a duty-free zone, the town often gets crowded with Colombian shoppers who come from the mainland looking for foreign-made goods at duty-free prices.
Playa Sprat Bight is the main road and follows the coast. Also known as the town beach or simply referred to as la playa, this sandy stretch in Bahía Sardinas is the island's main beach. It faces the Johnny Cay and the reef that protect the island. Proximity to the town centre means this 450-m white-sand stretch can get crowded, especially during the high season (December). Those looking for sand to relax in tranquillity should head to the island's eastern shore.
The first day I visited the town with Caselita, the owner of the homestay in San Luis. We also walked the side streets, where the locals live, which I found much more interesting.
The only thing on the tour that we actually saw was this church which was founded in 1844 and which the cab driver was very proud of. He said the wood was brought by horses to construct it. It was founded when evangelical missionaries from the south of the United States came to stay.
We went into the church. On a good day you can see all over the island, and the steeple is a landmark for sailors.
It is in the small town of La Loma. Nearby, several older homes still show the traditional island architecture: wooden houses, simply framed and airy, with wooden shutters.
One of the things we were supposed to visit was Morgan's Cave. In common with other Caribbean islands, these islands were visited often by pirates. Between 1670 and 1689, the English corsair (Henry Morgan) took over the islands and used them as a base of operations and, according to legend, as a hideaway for his much acclaimed treasure.
We decided not to visit here because it was rainy and it didn't look very appealing. There would have been no place to park and we would have had to walk a long ways. It was a very narrow road and hard to turn around.
El Acuario is just a sand bar in the middle of nowhere, near Haines cay (you can walk your way through waist-deep water, there) with three casitas that act as overpriced bars and restaurants and a truly spectacular sea. Spectacular snorkeling just metres away.
The problem with El Acuario is the same problem that poses Johnny cay... tour boats get there roughly at the same time and it's really hard to take in the surrounding beauty when you have to share it with over 100 other people.
To appreciate it more, you could take the tour there, immediately walk over to haines cay and relax there until the last boat leaves. Then when it's quiet and deserted, walk there and enjoy the sea and colourful fishes, with a handful of other people at most.
Arrange your return trip with the batman for an extra price. Ours was not willing to return to pick us up, but we asked Bibi on Haines cay (the rasta who owns a restaurant there) and he agreed to take us back to San Andrès in the afternoon on his boat.
Johnny Cay is a small island right off the main beach of El Centro, about 10 minutes by boat... It's a very popular destination (because of its beauty) but it can often get quite crowded, hence taking some of the charm away.
the best way to visit this cay is early in the morning, and until 1 PM. let me explain: the typical tour leaves in the morning and goes to the aquario, where you will normally stay until 11.30 AM or noon, ten your boat will move on to Johnny Cay the problem is that, with your boat, there will be dozens of other boats. Each boat=25 people.
The best way, therefore, is to pay some extra money and go there as soon as possible, on a chartered boat... and then have your boatman pick you up when the crowds arrive and return to El centro and relax on the beach there.
If you are seasick, try to pick a day when the sea is calm - and the crossing, though short, tends to be a bit on the rough side.
Haines Cay is a small corner of tropical heaven... you can reach it by boat from El Centro and it's a tiny lovely island with two restaurants. There's no beach but the setting is superb. The best way to get there is to pay 10000 COP per person for a tour that takes you to the Aquario, and then walk over to the cay and stay there all day.
You can walk to the cay from the Aquario and the water will reach your waist in its deepest part... and only because I'm quite short. When the boats leave at noon-ish, the cay becomes nearly deserted, and there's nothing to bother you tere, except the beautiful sea and some soft reggae music played by Bibi, the owner of one of the two restaurants.
If you have lunch or drinks at Bibi, you can use the beach chairs for free. Ask your boatman if he's willing to come and pick you up in the afteroon for an extra charge. Should he refuse, don't panic. Ask Bibi! Most likely he'll give you a lift back in his boat in the afternoon, for just 10000 COP per person - but only after he'll have shown you the cay's iguana that live on the trees..
Rocky Cay, in my opinion, is the best beach oll over San Andrès. The cay is a small rocky island that you can reach from the beach by wading though shallow waters. Just follow the strip of light green cristal clear water.
Rocky Cay is located north of San Luis, where the Cocoplum Hotel is - do bring your coral shoes here... not for the sea but for stepping onto Rocky Cay. There's some quite good snorkeling spots nearby that you can swim or walk to.
This beach is spectacular but it is not a good beach for swimming... the water is very shallow, occasioally there are deeper natural pools but you can just stand there, not swim. The bay by it has deeper waters, but the sea is often choppy (a kitesurfing paradise, though) and there's quite a bit of undertow.
Playa Paraiso, paradise beach, is a dreamy beach on the south of the island, where you can find two restaurants: restaurant punta paraiso and Donde Francesca. It is a unspoiled beach with very little people and a long stretch of sand.
The best thing about this beach is the lack of people and the proximity of the restaurants. If you have drinks or lunch there, they will keep your belongings safe while you head out to swim. And when it gets too hot you can rest in the shade under the restaurants' roofed balconies.