The island of Providencia, off Colombia's northern coast, is a tropical paradise which feels distinctly more Caribbean than Colombian. Home to white sand beaches, turquoise blue water, world-class dive spots and friendly locals who's Caribbean accent you can't help but fall in love with.
There is no wi-fi, no hot water and no worries on this island! Nothing happens very quickly on Providencia, and soon you will find yourself falling into the laid back routine of island life.
Due to the isolated location of the island; it ensures no travellers can simply stumble up on it. Simply put, to get to Providencia you need to really want to get to Providencia. This has resulted in the island being almost completely untouched by tourism. This in itself is incredibly rare, and unbelievably refreshing. Providencia is a true slice of paradise in the middle of the Caribbean ocean.
how to get to providencia
Getting to Providencia is no mean feat; it is expensive and takes a long time, including spending at least one night on a neighbouring island called San Andres.
Firstly, you need to fly to San Andres, flights operate to here from most major airports in Colombia including Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota. To enter San Andres you need to pay a tourist fee at the airport which is 110,000 pesos (£28) per person.
Once you have arrived in San Andres, you then have two options on how to get to Providencia but I believe in most cases due to the flight and boat times, you will need to spend a night in San Andres and leave early the next morning.
Getting to San Andres by Boat
This is the option we chose as the flights were full, and it is also slightly cheaper but a lot less fun. Rather than being able to enjoy the stunning views from a flight, you will most likely spend the majority of the catamaran ride with your head in a sick bag.
The catamaran operates 5 days per week - Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday and leaves San Andreas at 7am on each of these days. The cost of a ticket is 300,000 COP return or 170,000 COP one way. When it comes to getting the boat to Providencia, be prepared for the most horrific journey of your life. We had heard it was a very rough sailing but we were still shocked by just how bad it was (and that we made it to Providencia in one piece!) When checking in for the boat you are given a small water and a sickness tablet, we would highly recommend you take this. Yet, it didn't stop us or the countless other travellers from throwing up. We were sick in the region of 6 or 7 times during the 4 hour sailing. There is actually a man whose job it is to collect the used sick bags and give out fresh ones. Travelling by boat was definitely an experience, and thankfully the way back is much better as you are sailing with the tide instead of against it. And although we would recommend you fly to Providencia, if you do get the catamaran then we can ensure you the island is more than worth the treacherous journey there.
Getting to San Andres by Flight
The picturesque flight from San Andres to Providencia only takes around 20 minutes and there are two scheduled flights daily. The only flight you can book online is with Satenta (the website is only in Spanish), alternatively, you can book the flights when in San Andres with a local travel agent. However, these flights tend to book up a week in advance so booking ahead of time with Satenta is probably the better option. Tickets cost 330,000 COP return. The aeroplane is very small and therefore only hand luggage is permitted, this means any larger backpacks will need to remain in San Andres.
best things to do in providencia
The main thing travellers do on Providencia is scuba dive. David and I done our open water PADI here with The Sirius Dive School which is located on South West Bay beach. Getting your PADI in Providencia is a pretty incredible place to do it, we even saw sharks on our first dive! We paid 830,000 COP (£210) for our open water certificate which was slightly discounted as there were 6 of us diving. There are two other dive schools on the island, and one where you can dive with nitrox but both of these are located near the main town whereas we opted to stay at South West Bay as its the most beautiful beach on the island. You can also do your advanced open water here, as well a night time dive and a ship wreck dive. There is an abundance of marine life in the waters surrounding Providencia and incredible coral reefs.
There is a highpoint on Providencia called El Pico which offers breathtaking views over the island, and the surrounding ocean, known as "The Sea of Seven Colours" due to its various shades of turquoise and blue. There are sign posts from the main town to the starting point of the hike, and at the time of writing then we done it without a guide (although a few locals recommended we done it with one), however we heard that guides were going to become compulsory. We didn't need a guide for the walk as there is a fairly well laid out trail and getting lost would be difficult. The hike takes about 1.5 hours each way (just as long coming down as it is going up) but we wouldn't recommend doing it after it has been raining the the trail is very slippy and muddy. The view from the top is simply amazing! Be sure to bring plenty of water and a camera!
Visit Santa Catalina
Santa Catalina is a tiny little island connected to Providencia by a bridge known as lovers bridge. There are countless deserted beaches here which are nice to walk along, and take a dip in to cool off. The water surrounding Santa Catalina is simply stunning, and lots of the buildings are painted a wonderful array of different colours. If you turn left after crossing the bridge then from here you can explore the islands craggy coastline.
Kayak to Cayo Cangrejo
In English, this translates to Crab Island which has where the most specular water can be enjoyed. At Cayo Cangrejo, you can snorkel with turtles and an abundance of fish in the crystal clear waters. This is an absolute must-do when visiting Providencia. The access point to Cayo Cangrejo is near the Deep Blue Hotel, you can rent kayaks from near here or there will be locals with boats who can take you across for around 45,000 COP. There is also an entrance fee of 17,000COP as this little island is part of a national park. There is no beach here but there are little bar huts which sell drinks!
Rent a Motorbike
Renting a motorbike on the island is quite expensive, everywhere offers a price of 70,000 COP for 24 hours. But it is a fun and efficient way to explore the island! We rented a motorbike and done a tour of the island, stopping off at the Deep Blue Hotel to take in some views and then drove to the base of El Pico. We also visited the coolest bar called Roland's Bar which is at Manzinillo Beach; another must visit if spending a few days on Providencia. There is an open fire on the beach, tree swings, cheap beer and the distinct smell of marijuana in the air. This is a really cool place to chill out, but if your planning on drinking then leave the bike at the beach and get a Moto taxi home. As an alternative to a motorbike, you can also rent a golf buggy for exploring the island. These are more expensive but could be a good option if there are 4 of you, but for us, then motorbikes are much more fun!
Eat Seafood on South West Bay Beach
All along South West Bay you will smell mouth watering fresh fish being cooked over hot coals. You will see the fishermen returning to the island with the days catch which will be ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. We had the most delicious seafood platters with an array of lobster, crab and local fish. Its the perfect feed after a days scuba diving!
how long to spend on providencia
We spent 5 nights on Providencia which we felt was a good time, 3 of those days were spent diving and another 2 spent exploring the island. If your going to go all the way there then its definitely worth spending at least a few days to make the most of being there. The island is expensive though, probably the most expensive place in Colombia (or atleast the most expensive we have visited), so the longer you are there, the more money you will spend but if budget allows then we would recommend 5 or 6 days on the island.
where to stay on providencia
One of the things we loved most about Providencia was the lack of tourist driven facilities and that the island has remained unchanged throughout the past few decades. A place that refuses to become another popular tourist destination; due to this there is only one hotel on the island. The hotel is called Deep Blue and although it looks stunning, it comes with a price tag to match. The hotel isn't listed on booking.com so you need to go directly to the hotels website to make a reservation where rooms start from 610,000 COP per night.
Instead, we opted to stay in a posada, which is effectively a house owned and rented out by a local. We found our posada on AirBnB and absolutely loved it. It was a large home as there were 6 of us staying and was located a 5 minute walk up a rickety path but came with incredible ocean views and porch with a few hammocks to relax in to watch the sunset. (If you haven't already signed unto AirBnB then use this link to get £15 off your first booking!)
If you are in Colombia then we would urge you to make the trip to Providencia; its the kind of destination that you won't come across very often, and whether you plan to dive or simply lay in a hammock watching the world go by; Providencia is the ultimate place to switch off. Forget about your mobile phone, social media or whats happening anywhere else in the world, you are completely cut off from anything other than the here and now, and you will be surprised by just how easy it live without the things that you "need".
Most of all, it was incredible being able to experience travelling without the element of tourism. When the boat docks in Providencia, there might as well be tumbleweed rolling past. There are no people trying to offer you a taxi or a hotel when you walk off the boat, there are no "tourist scams" where locals try to charge as much as possible because you are a foreigner. The island hasn't quite caught on these tricks yet; nor does it really want to. The people of Providencia seem happy for their island to remain exactly as it is; and you will often hear people say they do not want what happened to San Andreas, to happen to Providencia.
San Andreas too has beautiful beaches; but has become a very popular destination for Colombian tourists, as well as some Westerners. Mass tourism on this small island has come with its problems; there are hotels and restaurants everywhere, the beach is littered with trash, thefts are relatively common and there is constant construction on the island to cope with the influx of tourists. The people of San Andreas do not like what there once peaceful island has become, and the people of Providencia want to learn from their mistakes.
It is normally in these posts I would say to go before it is too late, before Providencia becomes another Koh Rong. But, I really don't think Providencia will change much in the decades to come. There is legislation in place on the island that ensures only the people of Providencia can build there or own a business there; which means no big developments are coming and there won't be any shopping malls or fancy restaurants popping up in the near future.
Instead, Providencia will remain a beautifully untouched little island that travellers, who are willing to go the journey, will have the privilege of being able to glimpse.