When it comes to Caribbean Islands, or top places to see in Colombia, hardly anyone talks about San Andres and Providencia Islands (or Isla de Providencia). San Andres is a little overrun by tourism, so you can skip that one. But Providencia, now that is a Jewel in the Caribbean.
We chose to spend nearly a week on Providencia. And I can tell you now, nearly a month later, it was one of the best decisions we ever made!
Providencia is a laid-back Caribbean Island, super undeveloped and not really Colombia at all. The majority of the people are descended from slaves the British brought there centuries ago, and sometimes you wonder how much has changed since then.
There is one road around the island, with very few side roads. It is circled by pristine reef, that shines like a blue jewel when you fly over it upon arrival. In the center, are lush green mountains you can take a short hike up.
If you just want to relax, then you have found the right place. But there is also plenty to do here.
The only problem we found, was getting detailed information – which is why I wrote this insanely large guide. It was the guide we wish we had found before we went.
So, you first question might be – how do I get there? It’s not simple. So, I will start with that.
Enjoy your trip! Providencia is still untouched, so get there now.
Providencia is actually miles from Colombia, right up near Nicaragua. To get there, you have to take an internal flight (Avianca, Latam, and others go often) and then change in San Andres. This is where it gets tricky.
First, the timing. I like adequate time between flights, especially in the developing world. So, we ended up spending hours in the San Andres airport. Not the nicest place in the world, but there you have it. San Andres town itself is apparently quite dangerous and not great, so we did not bother venturing out into the heat.
Second, finding an airline and booking a ticket before you leave.
Ok, so the flight to Providencia is only 15-20 minutes, but getting yourself a ticket is another question altogether. Especially if you are not in Colombia when you book.
We had the pleasure of trying to figure this out from Switzerland and it was difficult. We read online that there are only 2 airlines (wrong) and that you could book online via Satena’s website (did not even load from Europe).
Most of the airlines seem to fly about twice a day, so be careful to coordinate that with your plane to San Andres, and leave yourself time because you have to pass through San Andres customs with your special tourist paper (more on that at the end of this section).
Note: Here is an interesting thing most people don’t tell you: All the airlines actually use the same company’s planes (Saerca), so it’s really only a matter of price and luggage allowance.
Back to the juicy stuff, here is the actual ways you can get yourself a ticket. Starting with what we used and found the simplest from outside Colombia.
Satena have a website, so you can try that, but we read rumors that it is difficult to use an international credit card (even if you can get the website to load – we could not, so good luck with that!).
After lots of Googling, I actually found a travel website (Alternative Airlines – who I had never heard of) that seemed to sell tickets to Providencia with Satena. I gave it a shot – it worked.
But, the proof is always in the pudding, so when we lined up to get our tickets in San Andres…we were happy to see we actually had some!
There are two other airlines you can get tickets with – Decameron and San German. From memory, I believe Demarco was the most expensive, and St Germain just a little more than what we paid, but it is marginal.
I have heard and read a lot about airline options, so here are a few more things I can tell you. I believe Demarco is often used by tour packages or via hotels that partner with them. I am not sure you can get to them directly. San German was used by a neighbour of ours on the island, which they had to go to the office of in San Andres. So, avoid this if possible (they said their credit card did not work on their website).
Satena was the simplest and best option from what we could see, and from our experience.
Beware: Luggage Limits
The planes flying from San Andres to Providencia Island are small, and only take about 20 passengers. You can see that from the image above. As a result, the luggage allowance is way less than what you might have with you if you came with a big international airline (ie. 20kg / 40lb or more).
They allow 10kg (22lb approx) and have been known to weigh hand luggage (although they did not on both our flights – they just weighed us with our luggage to see what the total weight of the passengers was – yes the plane is that small).
So, if you have more than 10kg with you, here are your options:
Tourist Permit / Visa
I can’t remember the exact name of this piece of paper. However, when you enter San Andres, you get a document, which is half a standard size piece of paper and has multiple sheets (white, yellow etc). This is kind of your visa for the islands.
It will be checked alot. So, make sure you have it at all times (boarding, landing etc). And don’t give it up accidentally until you leave. You will need it. It’s their way of restricting people on the islands and keeping track of tourists.
It’s not expensive (sorry I can’t remember how much), and you should get it in Bogota or Medellin after check in. Be sure to ask your check-in agent how to get it. Before you head to San Andres.
If you can’t get on a plane this is another option, but not one I would recommend.
First, it is not much cheaper (our accommodation owner said it is about $190 one way, which is about $50 less than the plane). But, it does take hours to get there. Two-three hours in good weather, and up to six in bad weather. Keep in mind the plane ride is 15 minutes! And you get stunning views of the island upon approach. No comparison.
Second, if the weather is bad, which again the guy at our accommodation said is often the case, especially in November and December, then the trip is horrendous. His son did it once and said everyone buy him as sick, for the whole trip (6 hours). No Thanks!
Third, if the weather is really really bad, it does not go at all. Something that is very rare with the plane.
If you do manage to get on the catamaran, the only real minor benefit I saw is that you dock in the main town. Which, given the island is tiny, is not much of a bonus!
Once you have landed and are settled in your accommodation, the first thing you are probably going to ask yourself is: how do we get around this stunning island?
Well, here is the lowdown on that as well. Yes, I have collected all the info for you (after constantly bugging our lovely accommodation owner while there).
The strange thing you will notice after a while on Providencia is – there aren’t many cars. But, when a plane lands, they all magically appear at the airport to whisk you to your accommodation for a fixed price, no matter where you are staying. Ironically, we were at one of the closest places to the airport, but it still cost us 25000 COP (which is about $8.50 at the time of writing).
On the way back our guy (thanks Lindon) got us a deal for 20000 COP, but he knows everyone on the island. In general, it will cost you 25000 COP.
I could be wrong, I forgot to check, but there did not seem to be any buses on the island. So, most locals either own or hail a mototaxi.
This is basically just some dude riding around on his own scooter or motorcycle making some extra money. I am not sure how you figure out which ones are offering, but many will ask you if you are walking around. It is a few thousand for short distances from what I could figure out, but maybe you can tell me in the comments how much it cost you, if you do it.
We hired a scooter for all of our stay, except for the day we arrived and left. This is the ideal way to get around the island, as it’s way too far to walk to most places.
It costs anywhere between 60-80000 a day (which is $20-27 a day). The lovely Lindon got us a deal. So, don’t be afraid to haggle if you are staying for more than a few days.
Keep in mind you do need a little bit of courage to do this though (if you don’t think you are up for it, go to the next option in this post).
First, if you are like me, you won’t have much or any scooter or motorbike experience.
Second, the locals are a bit nuts. They ride around at full speed (even the ladies) overtaking you at every opportunity. And, at night, if you head out for dinner like we did, they often have no lights on. Just to add to the excitement I think! Also, there are pedestrians all over the place (including along the road) and dogs randomly wondering around.
I only managed one minor snafu when I went to fill up with gas on the last day. I went in the entrance the wrong way, which was way too steep, and I panicked and drove over the rocks on the side, nearly flipping the bike. Anna managed to scramble off with a minor scrap and the locals helpfully rescued me from the rocks where the bike was wedged.
Having said that, it was otherwise an awesome way to get around the island – wind in your hair, zooming around a Caribbean island without a care in the world!
So, where do you get them? Ask your accommodation. They usually know everyone and everything on the island.
Let’s call these Golf Buggies, but I am not sure what they were actually. They come in two sizes, with one or two long seats and a little tray on the back for your luggage.
The upside of these babies is that they are more like cars. The downside is that they use way more gas and are far slower. So, be prepared to see even the slower tourists overtake you on scooters – all – the – time!
I would go for the two seater if you have a family or are more than 2. You might be able to squeeze 3 in the front, but for comfort’s sake I would not.
The cost according to Lindo was 200,000 for a day (so about $70) which is obviously way more than a scooter.
Honestly, I would not bother with a bike, unless you are up for some exercise while you are here. I saw some around, but it was rare.
First, it is quite hilly. And hot. Second, you will be zooming around all over the island once you get the hang of your scooter, so a bicycle would only slow you down.
How much they cost a day? No idea. I never asked. But I am sure it is quite cheap.
Welcome to Paradise, they will all say to you once you arrive on Providencia. Now, the big question is – what are you going to do with yourself on this tiny island for a week.
At least, that was what we were asking ourselves. We get bored sitting on a beach for long, so it did not take much time for us to figure out all the options.
And here they are – presented for your perusal…
Ok, so I just told you I don’t love spending time on beaches. But, with views like the one you see above, how could you not spend a lot of your time on some of them!
There are probably about 6-8 official beaches on the island. Some of them are big and beautiful, while others are just a small nook or bay that you will likely miss while flying past on your scooter.
Here is the list in order of our favorites, and the ones we spent the most time on. Later, are the rest listed with a few details.
You can see all the locations on the Google map below.
Southwest Bay Beach
Probably the biggest and most popular beach on the island, Southwest Bay is stunning. You can get to it from either end. Parking on the road if you are coming from Freshwater, or head through town to the end – to reach the southern end.
There are lots of open-fronted bars along the sand, as well as hammocks and chairs to sit in.
There is some shade under the trees – but pick your trees with care
Note: never sit under a palm tree, coconuts can kill you, seriously. They don’t remove them here, like the do on more touristy islands/resorts. Imagine one of those babies falling 5 meters and then hitting you on the head (or elsewhere).
This beach faces west, so you might catch some nice sunsets here, but you will struggle to get out of the sun in the afternoon.
Also, there is less wind here, so if you don’t like the heat (like we don’t) this is not the best beach to stay cool
Manchineel Bay Beach (aka Playa Manzanillo)
This is probably the least developed of the bigger beaches, and the most windy.
There is a decent amount of shade, and given the beach faces south, you can find some almost any time of day.
There are a few bars on the beach, but most of them were closed when we were there – except the legendary Rolands on the far east end.
This bar is very grungy and I am not sure why it became “famous”. The seats out front are great, giving you a palm tree covered view over the ocean. Tick!
But the service is slow, the cleanliness looks non-existent, but, I did have an awesome Pina Colada in a coconut here, so make of that what you will. And, importantly, I did not get sick.
Finding the beach: This beach is a little harder to find, as it is down a small side road on the south end of the island. There are two roads in this area, take the one closest to South West Bay. If you accidentally take the other one, you will quickly come to a dead end, so no big deal.
Freshwater Bay Beach
Freshwater Bay is one of the main towns on the island, so this is a popular beach. And might be close/walkable from where you are staying. Having said that, it was never crowded when we were there (February), although high season might be. Especially given it is not very long.
It is a great place to grab a drink from Miss Elmas (they make great cocktails and juices) and have on the beach. Don’t forget to bring the glass back :>
I did not find it the most stunning beach, but it had some, but not too much, wind. Helping to keep us a little cool. And a resident dog who loved burying everything he/she found, including a soccer ball.
Almond Bay Beach
Almond Bay was the first of the smaller beaches we went to. We never went back. It is very small, and a big rough.
There is a small bar there, run by two guys who did not seem to care they had no customers. Music blaring and making a fire!
If you want to stop here just be prepared for a sudden stop. You can park on the road, and then walk down to the beach. It’s worth visiting once, if you have a longer time on the island.
Fort Bay Beach
This is a popular beach because a lot of people head out to Santa Catalina island for a walk, or snorkel at Morgan’s Head (more on that below) and this is on the way.
You can’t drive here. You have to park at the wonky bridge and walk across. Then hang a left, and follow the shore/mangroves, then go up and over the head.
It’s a small beach, so get here early, or at lunch. Most people don’t stay all day.
You can also snorkel here, but we did not see much. Some more adventurous (aka better swimmers than us) went all the way to Morgan’s Head from here. A common thing to do according to Lindon, as it’s easy to get in the water here and there are some nice snorkelling spots along the way.
Pash Bay Beach
I noticed this beach and its sign on the side of the road every time I rode past on the scooter. We never stopped, so I can’t tell you much about it except it’s small and between Freshwater and Southwest Bays.
If you stop by, tell me how it was!
One of the biggest reasons to visit this island is to go snorkelling or diving. As a very bad swimmer, I was restricted to snorkelling.
First, you can try to snorkel at any of the beaches. We didn’t try it, but I remember reading about a French couple who had some success around the rocks on the edges of some beaches. Always worth a shot if you have time.
The biggest “must do” snorkel is on Crab Cay. This is the little island in the North East of Providencia, and you can see it if you head to Deep Blue. Their pier is one of the main access points.
Honestly, when we got there (admittedly at about 10.30-11 am) there was almost nothing to see (bar tourists) in the water. After a while some turtles turned up, which I recommend trying to spot from the deck and then go in to see them.
Some people say it is best to go first thing in the morning before the masses scare everyone off.
Getting There: You can rent a kayak from beside Deep Blue, or catch a ride on a boat. It’s not very expensive, compared to a kayak for a day (which if I recall correctly was about 60,000COP a day or more).
The other absolutely stunning place to snorkel, and often deserted, is Morgan’s Head on the west side of Santa Catalina island.
It takes about 30 minutes to walk at a leisurely pace, from where you cross the bridge from town.
Getting in can be a bit tricky. Some people scramble down the rocks and/or jump in. I recommend bringing water shoes, or getting your sandals wet. One person should throw the gear into to the other too. Either way, it’s not a simple beach entry.
You can also swim from part way along the trail, where we spotted a tiny beach you can access. If you are a decent swimmer, this is maybe a better option.
Apparently there is a cave in the rocks there too, which you can dive under and into.
There are a few people offering day trips to various spots on the island. We went with a guy Lindon recommended. I must say it was a very “basic” trip which freaked us (weak swimmers) out a bit.
It started in the outer rim of the reef, in the south, at a place the locals call Margarita (maybe because of the color of the water – stunning, you see it on the flight in). The current is strong there, so in the end he just dragged us around holding on to a life saver ring. But if you are decent swimmer, or confident, it is stunning here.
They also stopped on the way to Crab Cay at another spot in the middle of the water – Anna went in and saw quite a lot of things including a Manta Ray.
Some trips also head to Morgan’s Head if you ask.
Costs: from what Lindon told us it it about 400-500,000COP for a boat for the 3-4 hours. It’s best if you share to split the cost. We got ours for about 250-300,000COP if I remember correctly. So, not cheap by island standards, but worth it.
It’s popular due to the nearby reefs, or to head out a bit further and see lots of sharks and other sea life that is abundant here.
As I mentioned, I am no Olympic swimmer, so I don’t dive. But there are quite a few shops willing to take you here.
I spotted one next to Miss Elma on Freshwater Bay (Felipe Diving), but I am sure if you ask around you will find more on the island.
It’s all about the beaches on Providencia, but when you ride around the island, you will notice the stunning green interior that is more or less deserted.
So, if you are like me, you might start to ask yourself…can I go hiking here?
The answer is only a little bit, and here are the options:
The Peak (Approximately 1 hour, one way)
This is the main hike on the island, and the one most people will do. It is accessed from the south, near to Manicheel beach. There are signs, so you will easily find the start.
The views from the top are stunning, and almost 360. You can see all the way to Santa Catalina in the north, and even San Andres if you get a clear day.
There is a small office there, that was not open when we started at 6.45 (to beat the heat). But they don’t charge entrance, they just want to document visitors.
Guides are also available there, but you don’t honestly need one. The path is pretty straight forward.
It take approximately an hour, if you are reasonably fit. There is a 350m height gain, so it’s a decent ascent. Take your time if you are less fit, and stop more often.
We recommend going early to beat the heat and crowds (we saw about 10 people when we were coming down, none on the way up). It would be a great place for sunrise/sunset too, if you are keen. Just remember to bring a flashlight.
This is another walk on the island which is on the west side. We did not manage to get there, and Lindon told us it was only worth doing the day after a lot of rain. He said you can get behind it and get some stunning photos. But with no recent rain, to forget it.
I did not see any signs to it, so recommend asking someone the way. It should be near Freshwater Bay from what I could figure out.
Morgan’s Head on Santa Catalina (20-30min, one way)
I mentioned this in the snorkelling section, but it’s worth the walk even if you don’t jump in.
You can easily get here from the north end of the island. Cross over the rickety bridge (safe, but fun). Then take a left, following the path then stairs, until you reach the view to Morgan’s Head.
Note: The path ends here, and DO NOT try to walk further. Our host there had to rescue a guest with broken ribs and get him to San Andres, because he went further and fell. There is no clear path.
I have not covered everything here because I did not do it all, but there are more things you can do on the island for sure. I have marked most of them on the map above.
Here is a quick summary:
You can rent Kayaks at either Deep Blue, or a small place on Santa Catalina (left from the bridge once you cross). S
Destinations/options: Kayak to Crab Cay or McBeans Lagoon from Deep Blue. Or just around Santa Catalina or the bay between.
Colombians love horses, so if you have dreamed of riding on a beach with a horse since you were 5 years old, this is the place to do it.
There is also a horse race on South West Beach (which we unfortunately missed) every Saturday. So, if you are on the island on a weekend, ask for dates/exact location.
Obviously, there are a tonne of fish in the waters around the island, with so much protected reef around. So, deep water fishing is absolutely killer, literally, here.
The locals are more than happy to accommodate, I would only question how good the boat and gear is before you go. Most things on Providencia have seen better days!
Spa & Wellness
There is one nice looking outdoor spa and wellness place on the road into South West Bay. We popped in on a Monday I think it was, and no one was around. But it seemed to be open later in the week.
It has some nice spa baths (see image) and outdoor massage beds in serene surroundings just behind the beach itself. If you are coming directly from the beach, it is at the North end, there is a gate on the beach too.
Food on the island is somewhat limited due to their distance from the mainland and only having a small airport. Vegetables are almost unheard of, as they go as quick as the supply comes during the week. So, most meals consist of protein (fish and seafood mainly, with some other red meats available) and a few sides like ride or coconut rice, fried plantains, fries in some places (although they are rarely any good), a small salad (usually lettuce, tomato, sometimes cucumber or carrot) and pasta is also quite often available.
If you want to bother shopping and cooking for yourself (it’s cheap to eat out, even though more expensive than the mainland) there are a few supermarkets to choose from.
There are at least 3 supermarkets in Town on the north of the island. They vary in terms of what they actually sell, and what is in stock. Fresh food is few and far between. Mostly fruit, with some veggies coming during the week but selling out almost as soon as they are in stock (according to our host Lindon).
There are also some smaller stores around the island if you just want water or a drink or some snacks. They are often a little more expensive, but rarely much different, in my experience.
I found one larger supermarket in Freshwater that also seems to sell all sorts of things like swimming and snorkelling gear, mosquito spray, kids backpacks, caps and more. So, if you are missing any gear or clothing, this is the place to come. You can’t miss it.
There are dozens of restaurants, and would-be restaurants on the island. I think many locals are trying to cash in on the tourism, because they have little else to make money from.
Having said all that, there are some better restaurants on the island, still serving typical Colombian food (plantain, rice, protein), but better prepared and with more interesting sauces and recipes.
Some of the best were recommended by our hotel owner and I have listed them below, including the kinds of things we enjoyed there. They are all also on the map above, where I have pinned their approximate location.
Ok, so after a few weeks in Colombia I was a little spoiled for my daily Cafe Latte or three. And I was prepared to have almost none on Providencia, as I knew it was remote and undeveloped. However, mid-way through out time on the island I discovered a place just next to the docks.
In my opinion, unless you drink “American style” black, soupy (horrible – sorry Americans) coffee, called “Tinto” in Colombia, this is the best and only place to get a decent Espresso coffee. Apparently trained by a barrista from Bogota, the ladies here know how to make a mean coffee! They also make breakfast, which was average in our experience, and some of the better bread on the island. They have other pastries and loose tea, which Anna was ecstatic about as there is little of this in Colombia full stop.
I can’t remember the name of this place, but just head to the water in the Town on the north of the island, look for where the ships dock and it’s right on the corner. Can’t miss it.
Ice cream is hard to come by in Providencia. Most supermarkets and smaller shops have a freezer that advertises ice cream, but they are usually empty. Trust me – I looked. A lot.
There is one place selling a variety of actual ice cream in Town on the road heading east, the flavors vary as the supply dwindles and increases on island supply days. It’s called Marvins, and is easy to miss. They only open later in the afternoon, so somehow I never managed to have one.
If you are like me, and brought up on sandwiches for lunch, you might be wondering where you can get one. It’s called Manto, and it’s behind the supermarkets in the Town on the north of the island. It’s actually kinda opposite the coffee place down an alley you can see from their window. It took us three asks of local school kids to finally figure out where it was.
However, it’s worth it. They make massive, tasty, sandwiches, including one filled with… yes, you guessed it, lobster. I even asked for a coke, which they did not have. And the guy went and bought one from the supermarket for me. So, they notably have great service, which is not the case in every place on Providencia (Caribean restaurant was the other notable awesome service spot for me).
Providence is split up into a few main areas where you will find the main tourist offerings like restaurants, hotels and activities. There are also Posadas/Guest houses all over the island, but beware when booking them that you might not be close to anything. So check the maps.
However, having said that, nothing is far on a scooter and we usually drove to dinner most nights halfway around the island. Our place was close(ish) to Town in the north, but not super-close to much either.
I am not at this stage going to recommend any places to stay because we only saw our place. But I will suggest locations, so you know what is where, and why you should stay there.
We stayed with Lindon at Posada LKJay, which is just north of the airport not far from Deep Blue and Town in the north. He is a fantastic host who will help you with anything, including discounts on most services. His place is super clean, comfortable and affordable.
The easiest and most convenient place is Freshwater Bay on the west side of the island. Some of the best restaurants are right there, as well as a supermarket, a great beach and activities can be organised there easily.
Another smaller but still great place to stay is Southwest Bay, surprisingly in the southwest of the island. There are less options here, but still a few good restaurants and hotels and it is only a short ride to Freshwater too. So you get the best of both worlds. Just keep in mind that it tends to be hotter here as the wind (at least in our experience) almost never touches the beach here compared to most places on the island.
As I mentioned earlier, there are places all over the island and most things are not far on a scooter (15-20 minutes at most). So, if you prefer to pick your accommodation and not worry about location as much then it’s not a big problem.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!