More Caribbean than Colombian, Providencia is an anomaly. A tiny, unspoilt, English-speaking island, located closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. True to its name, Providencia has slipped under the radar of public awareness and to visit it today is to experience what it must have been like to visit the more famous Caribbean islands to the north fifty years ago: no WiFi, no mobile reception, hardly any cars and a laid-back approach to life which many of us can only dream of today.
Although they form part of the Colombian department of Providencia, San Andrés and Santa Catalina, the islands of San Andrés and Providencia lie around 500 miles north of Cartagena have a very different feel to the rest of Colombia.
Whilst San Andrés is quite cosmopolitan and has become a popular destination for wealthy Colombians, Providencia has escaped the unwelcome development of its neighbour, preserving a very special charm. There are very few cars on the island, and the population of around 5,000 people speak a heavily accented creole English and take life at a relaxed pace.
The locals live in colourful one storey clapboard houses with names like ‘Windy View’, where the owners while away the day sitting in their porches in quiet contemplation. Most of the residents are descendants of slaves brought here by the English and have surnames such as Williams, Bush or Brown. Indeed, they often refer to the island by its old name, Old Providence.
The logistical problem of bringing supplies from the mainland means that food is locally sourced, drawing on the seas around the island and fruits such as yucca, breadfruit and guava. Beach bars offer up a combination of cold Colombian beer and a predictable playlist of reggae music. This is a place to kick off the shoes and walk barefoot through the sand.
Excursions are simple – snorkelling, swimming with turtles climbing up to the Peak at 360m and visiting nearby beaches or cayes by boat. Or for a bit of history, you can explore the ruins of Fort Warwick which was once the Caribbean hideout of the pirate Henry Morgan. One thing is for sure – rounding off a trip to Colombia with a visit to ‘Old Providence’ gives a relaxing and dramatic contrast to the rest of the country.
There are two main hotels on the island, offering slightly different experiences. Monasterio del Viento, with just four bedrooms very much echoes the feel of the island – informal, close to the sea and with local cuisine and delightful, ‘Caribbean themed’ rooms with few mod cons. The other hotel is Deep Blue, a boutique hotel re-opened in 2012 and offering a bit more in the way of conventional luxury. The hotel has 12 rooms, but the main feature is the decked pool and seating area which juts out into the perfect blue sea.