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Providencia Island, Colombia: A Travel Guide

Providencia Island, Colombia
Providencia

The crystal clear waters surrounding Providencia Island, Colombia are as gorgeous as any you'll find on our beautiful blue planet.

Looking at the photo above, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was taken in the South Pacific or the Gulf of Thailand.

Alas, pretty Providencia Island is found in the Caribbean, closer to Nicaragua's coast than Colombia.

Providencia is the smaller, less developed sister island to nearby San Andres.

For readers who've been to Mexico's Maya Riviera, San Andres is to Cancun as Providencia is to Tulum.

Most travelers, whether Colombian or foreign, stop when they get to San Andres. This has some advantages, especially if you're on a tight budget.

It saves you time and money on transportation. You're more likely to meet other travelers, whether Colombian or foreign.

The beaches of San Andres are larger, and there are more bars and restaurants. If partying is your preference, this is the better island for it.

Dave in Providencia
Paradise

But, San Andres doesn't feel all that unique. It's been a popular Colombian vacation destination for decades. And it shows.

Meanwhile, low-key and laidback Providencia has remained relatively undeveloped. The island has a population of just 5,000 residents.

Expect this to change, though, as the Colombian government works to expand Providencia's El Embrujo Airport so it can get international flights.

Despite the hiccups to travel in 2020-21, developers see plenty of opportunities; it's only a matter of time before there's new construction.

My advice is to prioritize travel to this incredible little island over San Andres and get there as soon as you can so it still feels special.

I've put together this Providencia Island travel guide based on my experience spending two days and two nights on the island.

Providencia Island Travel Guide

Isla de Providencia
Isla de Providencia

FAQ: Planning Your Trip

Where is Providencia, Colombia?

Providencia is located in the western Caribbean Sea, near Nicaragua. It's about a 20-minute flight north of San Andres or several hours by ferry.

Providencia is a part of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Marine Protected Area.

The Seaflower Biosphere Reserve is an oceanic archipelago with coral banks, small islands and islets forming part of atolls, which are rare systems in the Caribbean Sea.

UNESCO

Is it safe to visit?

Yes! Providencia is safe for travelers of all ages. The economy relies on tourism, and it has a much smaller population than San Andres.

Sunrise in Providencia
Sunrise in Providencia

When's the best time of year to go?

As with San Andres, the best time to visit Providencia is February, March, and April during the dry season.

The average temperature is fairly steady throughout the year, ranging from 78 F to 85 F.

The year I went, I visited San Andres and Providencia in mid-February, and the weather was wonderful.

Providencia island airport
Providencia airport

How do you get to Providencia Island?

As there are currently no international flights to Providencia, you'll first need to fly from mainland Colombia to San Andres. Search a site like CheapOAir for low rates.

If you'd like to fly from San Andres to Providencia, expect to pay $50-$100 each way. The prop-planes hold about 20 people; flight time is 20 minutes.

Two airlines operate between the islands.

I flew Satena, a Colombian government-owned airline that uses Searca charter flights, for $108 round trip.

The other airline is San Germán Express.

The catamaran-style ferry is operated by Conocemos Navegando and takes about three and a half hours one-way.

Both options are subject to local weather conditions.

The plane is marginally more expensive than the ferry, saves significant time, and avoids any potential seasickness.

For the small price difference, I was happy to pay for flights, thereby maximizing my time in Providencia.

Rooftop pool at Deep Blue Hotel
Rooftop pool at Deep Blue Hotel

Where should you stay?

Providencia is much smaller than San Andres, which will hopefully make your choice of where to stay easier.

After going ultra-cheap for five nights on San Andres by only spending $92 on a hostel dorm, I chose to make my stay on Providencia one I'd never forget.

I booked two nights at Deep Blue Hotel, Providencia's only boutique luxury hotel. It was expensive at $221 per night for a Junior Suite, but so worth it.

I had a spacious room with a sea view and deck, a rooftop pool, and easy access to the restaurant, dock, and snorkeling around Crab Caye.

If you're trying to keep your cost of travel in Colombia down, then your best bet is to stay at a posada or cabaña (check Booking.com) or Airbnb.

My golf cart rental
My golf cart rental

How do you get around?

Providencia has one paved road that circles the island, and very few go inward to the island's lush green interior.

A taxi from the airport to my hotel nearby was about $4.

For my first full day, I rented an electric golf cart (pictured above) from Deep Blue Hotel and spent the day driving around the island.

I also used it in the evening to revisit Roland's Roots Bar. The cost was $50 for an 8-hour rental.

It was in great condition and extremely easy to drive. I realized, by comparison, the golf cart I'd rented on San Andres was a piece of junk.

Renting a bicycle is another option if you prefer to get some exercise along the way.

Crab Caye
Crab Caye

How much does a trip to Providencia cost?

The cost of visiting Providencia can vary greatly depending on your accommodation, length of stay, and activities.

I blew my typical backpacker budget out of the water by splurging on luxury accommodation.

Eating several meals at the hotel restaurant was also more costly than if I'd been eating at mom ‘n pop spots.

The total cost for my two-day, two-night luxury stay in Providencia was about $800.

This includes roundtrip airfare from San Andres, luxury hotel, golf cart rental, three-hour snorkeling tour of Crab Caye, and all meals and drinks.

If I'd rented a room at a posada (local inn) for $37 per night, my cost would've been half that at around $400 (if you factor in cheaper meals, too).

Suggested Budget

  • $100 roundtrip airfare from San Andres
  • $40 per night for accommodation
  • $50 for an 8-hour golf cart rental
  • $37 per person for a 3-hour snorkel tour to reef and Crab Caye (I went with two others, so the total cost was about $110)
  • $6 entrance fee for Crab Caye
  • $6 to $8 per taxi ride within a few miles of the airport
  • $6 to $8 per meal
  • $2 for fresh coconut water or a beer at Roland's Bar

As you can see, it's fairly affordable, even for backpackers on a budget.

You can reduce accommodation costs if traveling with another person, and the longer you stay, the lower the average daily cost.

I'd actually wanted to stay three or four nights instead of two but waited too long to book flights.

The result was five nights on San Andres and two on Providencia, instead of the other way around.

One upside of my lack of planning was that I felt comfortable booking Deep Blue because I knew I was limited to two nights.

Things to Do in Providencia

Deep Blue Hotel dock
Deep Blue Hotel dock

Crab Caye (snorkel)

The highlight of my stay on Providencia Island was a three-hour snorkeling tour of Crab Caye and the surrounding reef on my second day.

Both are a part of the Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park and easily accessible from the dock at Deep Blue Hotel.

You don't need to be a guest of the hotel to arrange boat transportation.

Also worth noting, my three-hour tour was not in the speed boat pictured above. It was a decidedly less sexy boat.

I split the $110 cost with a couple, bringing the cost down to $37 per person. Plus, there's a $6 park fee when you visit Crab Caye.

Coral reef near Crab Caye
Coral reef near Crab Caye
Crab Cay dock
Crab Cay dock

The short ride out to Crab Caye was spectacular. The waters were incredibly clear, and the coral was so tall that it brushed the water's surface in places.

It was clear our boat driver was highly skilled at navigating these waters not to damage the coral.

Crab Caye is super small. There's a bar on the dock, which is hard to resist while you're hanging out there.

View of Providencia
View of Providencia from Crab Caye
View of Providencia from Crab Caye
Atop Crab Caye

The first thing I did was walk up the stairs to reach the top of this little island.

The views toward Providencia Island reminded me of idyllic places in Thailand like Koh Tao.

And unlike the popular snorkeling spots on San Andres, which can be overwhelmed by Colombian vacationers, I felt like I had the space to relax.

Fresh coconut on Crab Caye
Fresh coconut

After taking photos, I snorkeled around Crab Caye, enjoying the sparkling waters and colorful little fishies.

I wrapped up the trip with fresh coconut water on the dock.

Boardwalk connecting Providencia and Santa Catalina islands
Footbridge to Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina Island

My first day on Providencia, which began the morning I arrived by air, involved a golf cart rental and a self-driving tour of the island.

I drove counter-clockwise, starting at Deep Blue Hotel on the northeast coast to Santa Catalina Island off the northwest.

A colorful, 100-meter floating footbridge known as Lover's Lane (Puente de Los Enamorados) connects Providencia to Santa Catalina.

Couples who cross the bridge together are destined for eternal love, or so the legend says.

Fort Warwick on Santa Catalina
Fort Warwick

Once I'd walked across the bridge, I turned left (west) and followed the contours of Santa Catalina until I reached Fort Warwick in the southwest corner.

The fort takes its name from the Second Earl of Warwick, a British aristocrat who established a colony on Providencia in 1639.

A staircase makes it easy to climb up and get scenic views looking back at Providencia.

If you walk another ten minutes up the coast, you'll reach Morgan's Head, a rocky outcropping supposedly in the shape of the pirate Henry Morgan.

Morgan took control of Providencia and Santa Catalina in December 1670 and used them as a base to launch raids on the Spanish in Panama.

Beach bar on Santa Catalina
Beach bar on Santa Catalina

Just before the fort, I came across an industrious local with a makeshift beach bar who was renting snorkeling gear.

The waters around Santa Catalina are supposed to be terrific; however, I wanted to keep working my way around the island.

I did, however, stop long enough to buy a coconut drink for a few bucks.

Beach at Almond Bay
Beach at Almond Bay

Almond Bay

Back in my golf cart, I continued driving down the west coast of Providencia until I saw a big octopus sculpture in front of a sign pointing to Almond Bay.

I parked my cart and walked down a steep access road. A small Rastafarian restaurant and bar were at the bottom.

I bought another fresh coconut (gotta stay hydrated!) and surveyed the scene.

There were a few beachgoers. Seaweed lined the sand. Santa Catalina was visible to the north. It didn't do much for me, so I moved on.

Fresh Water Bay

Ten minutes south of Almond Bay is Fresh Water Bay, a nicer looking beach with a small village.

Here you'll find various accommodations, including Blue Almond Hostel, a bunch of posadas, and some hotels. There are a few dive shops, too.

Arturo Newball Restaurant
Arturo Newball Restaurant

Southwest Bay

About a five-minute drive south of Fresh Water Bay is Southwest Bay, where I stopped for lunch at Arturo Newball's open-air restaurant.

It was situated perfectly on the beach, amongst the palm trees.

Fried snapper
Fried snapper

I ordered my favorite, fried snapper (known as “pargo” locally) for about $5. It was served with rice, plantains, and salad.

There are some accommodation near this beach, too, as well as a dive shop.

Here, the main road cuts across Providencia's southern tip from Southwest Bay to Bottom House on the southeast coast.

Once you reach Bottom House, there's an access road for Manchaneel Beach.

Roland Roots Bar in Providencia
Roland Roots Bar

Manchaneel Beach (Playa Manzanillo)

Manchaneel Beach is one of the island's longer, prettier stretches of beach. It's mostly on its own, but you're not far from anywhere on Providencia!

There's a hotel and dive shop, and the island's popular reggae bar, Roland Roots Reggae Bar.

Eventually, it's hard not to see a beach like this becoming more developed.

Roland Roots Bar
Roland Roots Bar

Roland Roots Reggae Bar and Restaurant

If you can't already tell, Providencia is a super relaxed place to hang out.

Therefore, it's no wonder the island's reggae bar is a popular gathering spot in the evenings.

After dinner at my hotel, I took the golf cart back to Roland's for a beer.

I didn't really talk to anyone or stay all that long, but I'm glad I went to see it at night. It would've been more fun had I gone with someone.

My self-guided tour of the island came to a close driving north up the eastern side of the island, past the airport and back to my hotel.

Hike to the Peak

Due to the limited amount of time I had on Providencia, I didn't get a chance to hike up to the peak (El Pico) at the center of the island.

Judging from the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Google Maps, it's a relatively easy and beautiful hike that takes three to four hours roundtrip.

Scuba Diving

Last, but not least, Providencia's 20-mile long barrier reef is the third-largest in the world. As I mentioned earlier, it's a UNESCO Marine Reserve.

Popular dives include swimming along the steep walls cascading with sponges at sites such as Blue Hole and Contour, exploring the caves and fissures at NX and Tete’s Place, and cruising the sunlit shallow coral gardens at Bajo de San Felipe and Left Channel. Throw in a few shipwrecks such as Planchon, a World War II German tanker, and there’s not much else you could ask for in a dive destination.

Scuba Diving

For details on what to expect diving in Providencia, check out this review by Joe's Scuba Shack.

Final Thoughts

It's my hope that if you're planning a trip to Providencia Island, Colombia that you found this information helpful.

Providencia is on the shortlist of places I daydream about regularly, regardless of how much time passes.

The “Sea of Seven Colors” that surrounds this little Caribbean island is worth the effort to get there.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking uses and recommends: