For those of you who are considering a trip of your own to the tropical paradise of Isla Providencia there are a few details that you should know.
How to Get There
The easiest and most straightforward method of travel to Providencia is to fly out of Bogota. From the Bogota airport you can fly to the larger island of San Andres which will take around 1.5 hours and from there you can fly on a small turboprop to Isla Providencia which is about a 30 minute flight away.
You also have the option of taking the fast catamaran, El Sensation, from San Andres to Providencia which takes around three to four hours and costs $65,000 Colombian pesos (approx. $33 US) per adult. I am told that on most days it’s a very pleasant ride, but if the water happens to be choppy you may have to endure the ride fighting nausea while stuck in a cabin with other seasick passengers. It doesn’t sound pretty.
Before going through security at the Bogota airport you’ll need to purchase a tourist card for each person flying on to San Andres. These can be bought at your airline’s counter for $25/per person. Even if you’re not staying in San Andres and simply passing through to Providencia, you’ll still need the card. Oh, and don’t toss them once you arrive as you’ll need to give them back when leaving San Andres on your return home. I suspect if you don’t have them with you, you’ll need to pay for them again.
Getting Around the Island
Isla Providencia is not very large and there aren’t a whole lot of roads. The main roadway circles the island and takes forty minutes or so to completely circumnavigate in a vehicle. Most folks own motorcycles and use these for cruising about though there are a few cars and trucks to be seen as well. You won’t find a car rental agency though so if you want your own wheels you’ll need to rent a motorcycle or a Kawasaki Mule. If you’re not familiar with Mules jut think of them as a glorified golf cart.
We decided to rent a Mule for one day so we could tour the island at our leisure. The first rental place we found charged $60 for eight hours and then declined to rent to us when David realized he left his driver’s license at home. So we continued down the road and came across another little rental lot. David told them he didn’t have his driver’s license with him and in true island style we were told “No problem!” For $50 (and looking back I think we could’ve bargained down) we were handed the keys, given quick instructions and sent on our way.
The one thing I wish we would’ve requested was a mule with a windshield. Ours had none and we ran into a 10 minute downpour which soaked all of us to the core. You can’t tell in the picture, but we were dripping wet. Luckily the sun came right back out and we were dry in no time.
If you don’t want to rent your own transportation there is a large blue van that circles the island continuously and for a few dollars you can catch a ride. The catch is that the van goes only in one direction and it could be up to an hour before it passes by the same spot twice, so you could be in for a long wait. There are also a few private taxi cars and trucks that will take you wherever you like.
The most common way to catch a ride though is to hitchhike. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe and the islanders tend to be very friendly and helpful. It’s common courtesy to offer money for the ride, but you’ll find that a lot of people will refuse. Though – you might want to ask how much they’ll charge before you accept a ride as one pickup driver charged us more than the going taxi rate!
Where to Stay
There’s a whole host of lodging options on the island though most won’t be found online. Like I mentioned in my previous posts, Providencia is not yet subject to the ultra-commercialization like many other Caribbean destinations. So you’re not going to find a Sandals resort here or a Marriot or Sheraton hotel. There is one high-end hotel, Deep Blue, and if you want some pampering while on the island this could be the place to stay.
Decameron owns a slough of hostals on one section of the island, but they come with a catch. Decameron operates on an all-inclusive business model. So if you want to stay in one of their rooms, you’ll also need to let them handle your flights. It’s probably not the most cost effective method of travel, but if you prefer to have someone else arrange all the details for you this could be an option.
There are a few privately owned hostals, but there are far more posadas available for lodging. Posadas tend to be private houses that rent rooms and sometimes the entire house to travelers. Very few advertise on the internet with most of them relying on a sign in front of their house to do the advertising. If you’re single or even just a couple who doesn’t mind winging it this could be a very affordable choice.
We considered just showing up on the island and seeing what we could find, but since there are four of us I was concerned about finding a place that could accommodate our whole family. Instead we found a house for rent online and secured that before we arrived. The house was what I would describe as a funky little island cottage, yet it was comfortable and had everything we needed. It sat up on the hillside overlooking the ocean and the views were unbelievable. If you’re interested you can see more photos here and you can contact Clemencia Sanchez who manages the house rental and speaks English. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The water is the number one attraction here. If you like to dive this is the place to go. The reef is reportedly loaded with sea life and you won’t be disappointed. Snorkeling is a lot of fun too and I recommend a boat tour around the island where you can stop at various snorkeling spots where you’re guaranteed to see some great stuff! If you don’t have the time, money, or inclination for a boat tour, then snorkeling just a few yards off shore is perfectly awesome as well. Or just go for a swim – the water is clear, warm, and oh so inviting.
The Captain Morgan Hotel in Freshwater Bay can arrange diving/snorkeling/boating tours for you, but you can also ask any local and they’ll direct you to a tour operator.
Hike the peak. Isla Providencia is a mountainous island and summiting the highest peak will give you 360° views of the island and ocean. It’s a several hour excursion so bring plenty of insect repellant, water and some snacks. Oh, and don’t forget your camera!
To get to the peak, find a ride to “Bottom House” which is at the base of the trail. There just ask one of the village kids to guide you to the top for a couple of dollars. Just be careful that you don’t have all of the village kids trying to act as your guides – that could get expensive!
Visit Roland’s Restaurant and Bar on the beach at Manzanillo Bay. The owner, Roland, is a bit of Colombian celebrity having appeared on the Survivor-style show “El Desafío.” His restaurant is located on one of the quietest yet beautiful beaches on the island. Food and drink can be found most any time of day though on weekends there’s the addition of live music which usually starts around 10:00 p.m.
Talk to the locals. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding friendly talkative islanders as they’re everywhere. If you opt to hitchhike you’ll meet some interesting people as well. Conversing with the locals will give you a better feel for what island life is all about and you’ll be surprised at what you learn as well. The island has a rich past and the locals are still making new history – if you have any interest in the cultures and habit of other parts of the world don’t miss a chance to chat with the peoples of Providencia.