Go here if you like: Caribbean islands, beaches, diving, snorkeling, piña coladas, eating fish and coconut rice
A bit of context: The archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina is a department of Colombia located in the west of the Caribbean Sea, 750km from Colombia, 230km off Nicaragua and 770km from Jamaica. The islands have three recognized languages: San Andres Creole, Spanish and English. The area, called Seaflower, has been a UNESCO biosphere site since 2001 owing to its incredible marine life.
San Andres is the main hub and you have to go through there to get to the other islands in the archipelago, namely Providencia - my favourite- and from there Santa Catalina, a little island connected to Providencia by Love Bridge. San Andrés is actually the most densely populated place in Colombia, with 74,000 estimated inhabitants – it doesn’t quite feel like that, but it's not the quiet Caribbean island I had hoped it would be.
Providencia is more relaxed and more my style. Less populated due to the extra leg (a 15 min flight or 3 hour catamaran) needed to get there, Isla Providencia provided the peace and quiet we hadn’t found on San Andrés.
In this article I focus more on the activities and fun of Providencia. I spent more time there and it's the island I would recommend over and above San Andrés. For the blog I wrote on my time on the islands in September 2016, read: And boy did we reggae.
PLACES TO VISIT ON ISLA PROVIDENCIA
Southwest Bay (Bahía Suroeste)
Freshwater Bay (Bahía Agua Dulce)
Almond Bay (Bahía Almendra)
- Scuba diving/ courses in Freshwater Bay. I went on several dives with Sonny's Dives and thought they were great. Another recommended dive centre is Felipe’s Dive School next door.
- Boat trip to Cangrejo Cay. We got our seafaring bearings doing a day tour around the island, from Freshwater Bay, via Morgan’s Head, the town, Cangrejo Cay (COP40k + 10k for Cangrejo Cay entry + 10k for snorkel and flipper rental). Cangrejo Cay is a tiny island off the North East of Providencia. A nice view point down into stunning water, and you can snorkel around the island, with turtle spottings likely. Your hotel will be able to organize this for you
- Circumnavigate the 17km Providencia coastline by bicycle. You can rent bicycles from Hotel Encanto in Freshwater Bay, or “e-“bicycles with (lawnmower) motors on them from Hotel Miss Mary in Southwest Bay. Motorbikes can be rented from loads of places.
- Visit Santa Catalina, the little island connected to Providencia by the Love Bridge. You can walk along to Morgan’s Head and some historic cannons. There are a few houses and restaurants by the bridge, but the island is largely uninhabited and inaccessible. Morgan’s Head is a rock outcrop, which from a boat looks like a human head. We snorkelled off the rocks there but be careful.
- Hike to The Peak (El Pico) – the highest point on the island and a nice 3hr walk/ trail run.
- Swim and snorkel at the beaches.
EATING AND DRINKING
Local dishes to try: Pargo (red snappler), Crab, caracol (the muscle from the inside of a conch shell)
Niño Divino (Bahia Suroeste) – a beach restaurant that everyone recommends. It has a great selection of seafood (try the mixto plate to sample lobster, crab, fish and prawns with coconut rice). Of the four times I ate there, it was great but did have a funny day with slow service then the wrong things arriving. Has hammocks, chairs, huge natural juices (jugos) and good cocktails.
Ronaldo’s Bar & Restaurant (Playa Manzanillo) – reggae around a bonfire every evening, with live reggae on Fridays. Pescado a la brasa was delicious. It’s a cool place but only take the necessary just to avoid any sticky situations.
Don Olivo (Santa Catalina) – a great little find with delicious well-presented food.
Blue Coral (Freshwater Bay) – pizza place. Slow service but worth the wait.
Lighthouse Café (Between Southwest Bay and Freshwater Bay) – watch the sunset from the terrace. Most evenings they show a really interesting 25 minute documentary called Crabs in the Road telling the story about the Black Land Crabs on the island. From April to July certain stretches of the road are shut to vehicles to allow the hundreds of big forest dwelling crabs to make their way down to the shore to lay their eggs.
WHERE TO STAY IN PROVIDENCIA?
Best to stay near to Southwest and Freshwater Bay as that’s where you’ll spend your days.
My friend and I had a very happy stay at Brisas del Sur Posada, a little b&b run by Mariela, a teacher at one of the primary schools on the island.
There are lots of options in Freshwater Bay,as well as a few near Southwest Bay.
Getting to San Andres:
Lots of flights from mainland Colombia. VivaColombia flies between Cartagena, Medellín and Bogotá.
Getting to Providencia: You have to go via San Andres. From San Andres you have two choices. Either a 15 minute flight with Satena or a 3 hour motorized catamaran. There isn’t much price difference between them (roughly COP 300k return for both).
I took the 20-seater Satena plane and loved it for the views – it was a very easy and quite exciting flight. Karo took the 50 person catamaran, and although she didn’t suffer, the waves got the better of several other passengers.
If the prices are alright, and there is space, I would recommend going for the flight, though note the weight constraints when you book so that you can leave anything unnecessary in San Andres.
Travelling around Isla Providenca:
Taxis from the airport cost COP 25k. Mototaxis cost COP7k. Shorter journeys are usually COP 3k.
[Please note: All information dates from September 2016].
TRAVELLING TO OTHER AREAS OF COLOMBIA TOO?
For the full collection of notes I collected while exploring Colombia, head to Over to you: Tips for Travel in Colombia
(Includes Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park, Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Trek, Cartagena, Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Isla Providencia, The Coffee Region, La Guajira and great Colombian music, books and festivals to aim for)
Hope you enjoy!! Please do share with anyone you think might find them useful.
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