SAN ANDRES, Colombia – San Andres Island has become a jewel for Colombia’s tourism industry, giving visitors a taste of a vibrant urban lifestyle and the beauty of the sea.
San Andres, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua, is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and its waters harbor the third-largest barrier reef in the world, a natural feature that is only smaller than those in Australia and Belize.
San Andres, just a two-hour flight from Colombia’s capital, Bogota, is the largest island in an archipelago that also includes Providencia and Santa Catalina islands, as well as 18 keys.
San Andres is also the largest island in the group, with an area of 26 sq. kilometers (10 sq. miles) and about 70,000 year-round residents.
The government has banned new construction on the island unless developers undergo a rigorous process, investing a large sum and demonstrating that the project will benefit San Andres and its residents.
Most of the lodging is British-style bed and breakfast offerings, providing visitors with an affordable stay that brings them into contact with locals.
The archipelago’s big draw, however, is nature, with an estimated 10 percent of the world’s marine plants and animals living in its waters.
One surprise for many visitors is the large military presence in the islands, with the Colombian armed forces deployed in the area to fight drug trafficking and provide a show of force in the face of Nicaragua’s claims to the archipelago.