What's So Unusual About Isla Providencia?
You literally stumble over so many unusual interesting things when cruising the world and that's what exactly what happened with our discovery of Isla Providencia, Columbia.
Few know it exists. First of all, it's so small and remote that we would never had known it existed had it not been for our passage planning from Honduras to Panama. In planning, we research the safest, most comfortable and safest route and place waypoints on our chart plotter which form an electronic path to our destination. It is essential that we avoid reefs or shallow banks along our route and to do that, one has to really enlarge the chart plotter image otherwise you'll risk hitting something and that's when we discovered Isla Providencia.
It's part of Colombia, but is far from its mainland and closer offshore the coast of Nicaragua. Some refer to it and neighboring island St. Andres as "Hawaiis" of Colombia because of their vacation popularity; however, Isla Providencia is much less popular because of added travel time and expense as well as very limited accommodation choices. It's tourist industry is almost nonexistent because of lack of western influence and it's harder to get there. First, one has to fly to neighboring Isla St. Andreas and then catch another 20 minute flight. This keeps lodging, grocery and restaurant prices cheap for both locals and tourists.
Foreigners can buy a home but not land in order to build a home or business which keeps real estate affordable for the locals. This limits western influences by keeping real estate more down to earth in keeping with the natural feel of the island.
Locals are super friendly and love their island and visitors. Of all the places we've ever visited, Isla Providencia residents are the most friendly.
It's "a bit past midway" location and protected anchorage makes it an ideal place to rest and weather refuge on passage from Honduras and Panama.
Tragedy Strikes- Category 5 Hurricane Iota - 2020
On November 16, 2020, late season Hurricane Iota struck Providencia and Santa Catalina with winds of up to 240 kilometers or 149 mph per hour. Home to fewer than 7,000 residents, the Category 5 hurricane damaged 98 percent of Providencia Island’s energy and road infrastructure, property, and motor vehicles, causing its whole electricity grid to collapse overnight. The Colombian government took immediate action to address this catastrophe, and within 100 days, almost all electricity was restored and lumber was supplied for restoration of housing and utilities for its residents.
Anchorage and Island Life
Providencia is a beautiful island with a dramatic landscape and protected anchorage. It's low key, laid back and relatively underdeveloped and the people are friendly and helpful. We have just scratched the surface of exploring this tropical paradise. The main town is very small, maybe only 1/3 mile long with a few shops. Debris lines the streets and damaged houses are the norm; they have yet to fully recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Iota which hit them two years ago. The reefs in the Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park are also destroyed, but slowly recovering which we discovered after a quick snorkel. We did manage to see a squad of squid, an eagle ray and Brown speared a lobster!
Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park
(left) Old Province Lagoon Park (center) top of Crab Cay, (right) Brown snorkeling off Crab Cay
As a result of Hurricane Iota, there is significant underwater reef damage; however, they are slowly recovering.
Time to Explore!
(left) dinghy ride into town, (center) police driver safely checkpoint, (right) on our way!
We rented scooters for $15 usd per day and covered the island perimeter not once, but twice and it was cheap and easy! There is very little traffic outside the main town and almost no tourists. Below are some of the many things we saw.
Nature Themed Bus Stops
(top left) public bus, (top center) sea bird, (top right) octopus, (bottom left) crab, (lower center) manta ray, (bottom right) conch shell.
Reflecting the island's love for the ocean, the main perimeter road has many beautiful hand-made, nature-themed bus stops. There is nothing on the internet that mentions this.
Lover's Lane / Puente De Los Enamorados
(left) Providencia and Santa Catalina Map, (center) Lovers Lane Bridge, (right) underside of bridge view from dinghy.
This bridge separating the land masses of Providencia and Santa Catalina was paid for by the Colombian government and took the place of one long overdue for replacement. Had it not been for the hurricane the old one would still be there.
Crab Cay & Captain Morgan Pirate Fort Cannon
Playa Manzanillo - Roland Roots Reggae Bar & Restaurant
left, center, right) Roland's Bar and Restaurant
Beers ($1 usd) and a plate of lobster ($16 usd) on Providencia's most beautiful beach Playa Manzanillo are delicious and cheap!
For many reasons, we are so glad we stopped in Isla Providencia on passage from Honduras to Panama. Not only was it a great rest with protected anchorage on what's traditionally a seven day passage, but it was also a worthwhile destination on its own merits; had it not been on the way, it's so small we would never know it existed. In my opinion, it resembles a more petite version of French Polynesia's Moorea, but in the Caribbean. Lastly, it was cheap and super laid back because of its lack of tourism and real estate limitations for westerners. It's relatively undeveloped and the locals are super friendly and welcoming, more than anywhere we've ever traveled. Whether you're a cruiser or destination traveler, make sure you visit this island and experience it for yourself while it's still relatively unspoilt.