Well, I swore an oath to my travel mates that I wouldn’t write about Providencia for this blog because the few of us tourists that were there enjoying it together fervently agreed that the island was best kept “our little secret”. And while part of me feels guilty breaking the oath, another more sensible part knows that other people are also going to write about it, and I’m not going to be solely responsible for exposing the secret. And as long as other people are going to be writing about it anyways, then I’d like to get to have my voice heard, too, because I have a lot to say about this little island that stole my heart and changed my travel plans. It’s hard not to write about a place like Providencia that I felt so passionately about and stands out so brightly in my travelogue. And after all, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a travel writer if I didn’t.
I also think that no matter how many people talk about it on the internet, Providencia will still remain the way it is simply for it’s inaccessibility. You only have 3 options to get to Providencia. All three are via San Andres and all 3 are an adventure in their own right:
1)Fly from San Andres to Providencia
There are only 2 flights a day into Providencia from San Andres, on a tiny little jet that only carries about 18 passengers. This is the most expensive way to get there (250,000 pesos- about $85) but really the only option unless you want to spend 4 hours puking your guts out on a rough sea. I’m really glad that I flew this way despite the fact that it was more expensive than my round trip flights from Cartagena to San Andres. It was a fun experience on the smallest commercial airline and shortest flight I have ever been on (only a half hour) and, trust me, all the money is worth it when you get there.
2) High Speed Catamaran from San Andres
Apparently on the way to Providencia from San Andres, you are going directly against the current and therefore, it’s a super rough ride and about 90% of the boat pukes. I was lucky enough to get informed about this ahead of time and happily booked myself a flight, as I get seasick easily. However, on the way back you are going with the current and it’s totally fine. I took this option on the way back and had no problems at all. It’s slightly cheaper than the flight- 170,000 pesos ($65) but, also a lot longer (3-4 hours). I’d shell out the extra 20 bucks to fly. There is only one going catamaran going a day though, so make sure you get your tickets ahead of time (this goes with all of your transportation out of Providencia, be it flight or boat. Reserve ahead of time because there are limited options to and they sell out ahead of time. Otherwise you might get stuck on the island longer than you planned too, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing…)
3)There is also a cargo boat that goes overnight between San Andres and Providencia. It is definitely the cheaper option of the 3 at only 40,000 pesos ($15) BUT you are on a cargo boat for a minimum of 7 hours overnight. I was going to take this option, until I found out that there are no actual places to sleep (whatever you find on the floor basically) and you could get stuck there for up to 10 hours. But if you are feeling really adventurous and want to save the money, go for it. There are only a couple of these a week though so make sure you plan accordingly.
When you arrive at the airport you will need to get a motor taxi or normal taxi to the destination of your choice. All the lodgings are located in different bays around the islands. I stayed in Southwest Bay and I have to say after a week on the island I personally think it is the best and most beautiful bay in the island, although Playa Manzanilla is a close runner up. The advantage of staying in Southwest bay is there are lots of restaurants right on the beach, and a dive school. Many people go to Providencia specifically to dive as it is considered one of the best diving spots in the entire world. I didn’t get to go because I’m not certified and I felt more like laying on the beach, but my friends who went saw reef sharks and dolphins every time they went and loved it.
The entire month that I have been in Colombia I have been traveling in a pack of tourists, since it turns out that Colombia is very hot for tourism right now. I fell fast and hard for Providencia for finally being an escape from all of that. You can count the number of tourists on the island at one time. They only get about 15,000 tourists per year. There were mornings when I went out to this beach and I literally had it all to myself. I still can hardly believe it was real, but I know it was or I wouldn’t be feeling this very real heaviness inside me still for having to leave.
Very few times in my years of traveling did I have a place like this all to myself.
If you’re going to be there for a few days you will probably want some way of getting around the island on your own. Motorbikes are available for rent at about 70,000 pesos a day ($25), or, you can rent on of these funny golf carts that go about 25 mph max, which lots of people are doing on both islands and are also super fun:
Things to do in Providencia:
Well, a lot of the beauty of being in Providencia is that it is a place that begs you to slow down and not to do much. If you are going to be on the island for a little while though and want to get out and do some stuff, here are a few things not to miss:
Roland’s Reggae Bar:
I don’t have to tell you about this bar because everyone else on the island is going to, but this is definitely the coolest place to hang out. Unfortunately, it is only open until 6 pm, like every other place on the island, due to some new laws established by the government since December 2016. This is something to keep in mind as you make plans to go to Providencia and probably the strangest thing about the island: you will be challenged to find something to do after 6 pm. That just means you need to make the most out of your days! So, do make sure you get in there during the day for a Coco Loco, some swing time, and a chance to hang out with the locals. You can also enjoy a walk up and down the gorgeous Manzanilla beach which is it located on and is usually quite empty.
Enjoy your Coco Loco, play on the swing, and marvel at the beauty of this wild beach…
Hike “El Pico”:
As I mentioned before, unlike San Andres, Providencia is a mountainous island. If you have time and energy, I highly recommend that you climb the highest peak in the island “El Pico” (“The Peak”). The trail-head is right across from the road that goes down to Manzanilla beach and you can’t miss it from the highway. The hike is moderate level of difficult- I did it in flip flops. It’s steep and you are definitely going to sweat a lot so bring water. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get up and another hour to get back down. When you get to the top you are rewarded with 360 views all around the island, including Santa Catalina (see photo below)
Cayo Cangrej0 (“Crab Key”):
My favorite thing we did in the island these days and not to be missed! Bring your snorkeling gear and get over to Maracaibo, where you can get a boat or rent a kayak out to Crab Key (you should be able to get either for about 30,000 pesos or $10, if you remember to bargain!) Just one kilometer off the shore of Maracaibo, Crab Key is part of the McBean Lagoon National Park and full of tropical fishes, turtles, beautiful reefs, and the most stunningly beautiful sea of blues you will ever see in your life. You can hike up to the top of the rock on the key in 10 minutes and have beautiful 360 views of all of this. Plan on staying a few hours and relaxing and marveling at the unique beauty of this amazing place. It costs 17,000 pesos ($6) to enter the national park when you get to the island.
Eat Amazing Criolle-Caribbean Cuisine:
The food I ate in Providencia was the best that I have had since I have been in Colombia. As I mentioned before, apart from the fact that it belongs to Colombia on paper, Providencia and San Andres have very little else to do with their mainland counterpart. The cuisine here is Criolle, just like the people and the language, and man is it delicious. Of course, as it is an island almost everything comes from the sea. You can eat seafood and fish that was caught that morning, cooked up in unique and delicious Criolle sauces and flavors. I got to try a stew of Conch Shell that was out of this world, not to mention the “mariscada” (seafood platter) that included lobster, shrimp, octopus.. you name it! For 3 people and less than 20 bucks. You will be in heaven with the island food here.
There are lots of restaurants on the Island but I highly recommend “El Nino Divino” on Southwest beach and also “Casa Estudio”, on the main road just behind Southwest beach. I went back to both on multiple occasions.
Obviously, Providencia has left quite an impression on me. It has stood out in my travels thus far as a place completely unexploited and true to itself, happily oblivious to the world outside, wild, virgin, unspoiled. In a world where more and more people are traveling and moving about, it’s hard to find beautiful places where there there aren’t 1000’s of other people elbowing each other to get a look at the same time. How refreshing to come across a place like this that has naturally retained it’s adorable, quirky little personality, where the people are uninterested in mass tourism or the money that it would bring. Where you can disconnect from everything and pass your days without hassle or distraction from the outside world. I never felt so deeply in the moment as I did for all of the moments of the week that I got to spend in perfect Providencia. I will certainly be back again and again.