After a 2-hour flight from Bogota we arrived on the island of San Andres. Located about 140km off the coast of Nicaragua, this oasis in the Caribbean Sea is the perfect getaway for Colombian residents and foreign backpackers alike. Providencia, a nearby island that is part of the San Andres-Providencia archipelago, is also an amazing destination and one that cannot be missed when visiting this region.
We had a late night flight and arrived in San Andres’ Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport around 10pm where we hopped in a taxi that quickly took us to our hostel. We talked to the taxi driver about our plans to visit Providencia the next day and told him that we had already booked our stay. He quickly informed us the transportation to Providencia was very tricky and we needed to find a way to get there early the next morning.
There are only two ways to get to Providencia from San Andres. Satena and Searca Airlines will get you there on a 15-minute flight but these flights are pricey, fill up quickly and must be booked way in advanced. Another option is to take a 3-hour ride on a fast speed catamaran (www.catamaransanandresyprovidencia.com) that costs 80,000 COP/$26.42 per person/one way (Sept., 2015).
The ride to Providencia is rough and I highly recommend visitors take the sea- sickness medicine they provide and have a super light breakfast. Regardless of doing all of this I still threw up! No worries, however, because the ride back from the island is much smoother. The catamaran must also be booked in advanced but since we hadn’t done so we woke up at 5 am to be at the dock by 6:30am. We waited for the catamaran company to board everyone who had already reserved and luckily got 2 of the 4 seats that were empty.
Providencia is much more remote and much quieter than San Andres. The beaches are pristine and isolated and there are no vendors coming up to you trying to sell you things. The people are warm, friendly and unbelievably laid back. The island is small and quickly you will begin to get to know the locals.
In the area of Agua Dulce/ Fresh Water Bay one can find many places to book activities including snorkeling, scuba diving, vehicle rentals and more. Also, here you will find one of the largest convenience stores on the island with a variety of products. We found this very handy since we booked a cottage with a kitchen. Because almost everything on the island is imported, items are much pricier and one should be ready to pay more for food than on the mainland. Ramen noodles never tasted so good!
If you’re in the mood to splurge there are many beachfront restaurants to choose from. We tried El Divino Niño in Southwest Bay on two occasions and it did not disappoint. For 19,000-22,000 COP we ate incredibly fresh seafood that was accompanied with coconut rice, tostones and salad. This was the most fresh fish I had ever tasted; it was definitely worth the price!
For a fun night out on the island we visited Roland’s Bar in Manzanillo Bay. On Friday night there is a 10,000 COP cover charge after 10pm this is when a live reggae band serenades the crowd. The drinks are strong and a little pricey but the vibe is super laid back. We danced barefoot under the stars along to the reggae rhythms as a fire pit kept us warm.
The next day we booked a snorkeling tour that took us all around the island for a cost of 60,000 COP pp./ $20 (Sept., 2015). Our guide showed us all of the major attractions around the island including Almond bay, Southwest Bay (where we were staying), Morgan’s Head and the impeccable McBean Lagoon National park/ Crab Cay. The reefs we snorkeled through during the tour were amazing and we were able to see all kinds of marine wildlife.
Crab Cay cannot be missed when visiting Providencia. A short up-hill hike takes you to the highest point on the key and you are able enjoy a 360-degree view of the entire island of Providencia. Here mango trees also surround you and the fruits are ripe for the picking. After eating our mangoes we enjoyed a pleasant experience snorkeling around the key.
On Saturday morning locals and visitors meet at Southwest Bay for a weekly horse race on the beach. The day before we saw one of the horses and its owner gearing up for the race. Although we got there a bit late the day of the race we were still able to mingle with the locals and enjoy a fantastic lunch. Be prepared to wait a while for lunch as the place is packed until after 3 pm.
Our last full day on the island we rented a 4X4 buggy at 150,000 COP for 24 hours (Sept., 2015). There was no public transportation on the island and the taxis were expensive. One can walk the island or get a moto-taxi that is offered by some of the locals. We made a deal and were able to leave our buggy at the catamaran dock the next day so this saved us from having to pay the expensive taxi fare to get there. Since the island is fairly small the loop around the island takes no more than 30 minutes and the scenic ride is incredibly fun. We toured all around hitting up all the beaches and bays on the way.
Our catamaran ride back to San Andres was much better and we spent two more days on this island. In this limited time we booked a tour to Johnny Cay and El Aquario for 10,000 COP pp. The beaches here are pristine but the attraction is quite touristy and you will be haggled left and right. We may have been a bit spoiled after enjoying the splendors and tranquility of Providencia.
Food is abundant and drinks can be found throughout the island. Try the Beer Station and enjoy drinks beachfront. There are also numerous vendors and shacks that sell drinks and snacks along the beach. The beach in San Andres is scenic and relaxing and one can just spend a whole day swimming and chilling in the sand.
On our last day on San Andres we rented a golf cart and toured the entire island along the 19-mile long circular road. We visited the Hoyo Soplador a geyser that shoots up to the surface through a hole in the coral reef formation. The views around the island are incredible and driving the golf cart around to visit them was definitely worth it. It was nice to get away from the busy downtown area to observe the natural wonders of the island.