San Andrés is a coral island in the Caribbean Sea. Politically tied to England, and historically part of Colombia, San Andrés and the nearby islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina form the department of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. San Andrés, in the southern group of islands, is the largest of the department. The official languages of the department are Spanish, English, and Creole.
While San Andrés is located 50 km (31 mi) south of Providencia, the Colombian archipelago is approximately 230 km (140 mi) east of Nicaragua and about 750 km (470 mi) north of the Colombian mainland. This archipelago encompasses a total area of 57 km2 (22 sq mi), including the outer cays, reefs, atolls and sand banks, with the area of the islands being 45 km2 (17 sq mi). In 2000, it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, named “Seaflower Biosphere Reserve», which not only includes the islands but also about 10% of the Caribbean Sea, amounting to a vast marine area of 300,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi). The purpose of this declaration is to ensure that the ecosystem, which is rich in biodiversity, is well preserved and conserved.
The department's capital is located on the northern end of the island. Named San Andrés but nicknamed El Centro, it is the department's main urban center. Along the 30 km (19 mi) road that circles the island there are many picturesque beaches, coral reefs, cays, geysers, and coves. Also of note are La Loma, the town of San Andrés, the Baptist Church, Seaquarium, the large pond of La Laguna, and a freshwater lake amidst mangrove forests. There are coconut palm plantations, lush pastures, and tall native trees reaching 20 meters (66 ft). Surrounded by the warm Caribbean Sea, all of these features have made the island an «exotic holiday destination».