MORNING ON ISLA SAN ANDRÉS
We'd been wanting to see the islands of San Andrés & Providencia since we moved to Colombia. Recently we booked a flight, took a few days, and zipped off to see what all the excitement was about. The islands have an interesting history: They're about 100 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, yet they belong to Colombia. A flight there from Medellin is considered domestic travel. It's complicated.
San Andrés and Providencia Islands belong to Colombia
Not much text this time. Photos tell the story. Also, we spent very little time on San Andrés, and not enough to do it justice, so this post is mostly about Providencia.
Latam Air Flight #4280 Medellin to San Andrés: 1 hour 30 minutes
One night only on San Andrés, and then off to Providencia, a 20 minute flight.
Every seat's a window seat
SEARCA/Satena Beech 1900 to Providencia.
The short flight reached an altitude of perhaps 4,000 feet, and every seat's a window seat. As a retired commercial pilot myself, I was hoping our poor pilots had at least two or three other routes available. Back and forth between the two islands would qualify as perhaps the world's most boring flying job. Beautiful, easy, and consistent, still...
Aeropuerto El Embrujo Providencia
Aeropuerto El Embrujo, bustling, frantic, chaotic airport of Providencia, especially when two planes arrive! Luggage is delivered by tractor drawn cart. Very efficient, and never a lost bag!
Hotel Deep Blue. The only place to stay on Providencia, in our opinion.
Deep Blue is located a mile from the airport. Fronting the aquamarine water of the Caribbean, the hotel has much to offer, including very friendly staff, a decent restaurant, a great dock/public patio, access to several tours, and a (relatively) easy walk into town. With just 12 rooms, early booking is recommended. BTW forget using the internet in your room. If you must have your daily FaceBook fix, you'll need to go to the lobby.
Nineteen happy years married! The staff at Deep Blue made it wonderful.
There's nothing quite so romantic, or conducive to great memories as an evening dinner on the pier: Gentle tropical wind; waves sussing close by; a gazillion stars overhead; a bright fingernail moon, amazing! The Deep Blue staff went out of their way to help us celebrate 19 years. How they craft those towel swans for the bed I don't know.
Our transportation around Providencia. Two hours start to finish, with several stops on the way.
We rented a 'Mule' to go around the island. The trip was fun, interesting, revealing, and a bit depressing. Providencia is a beautiful little island that's been used and abused. It's a place of deep contrasts: The sea is gorgeous, but the land is a trash pile. The people are friendly, but imprisoned on their island. Wealth is abundant, as tourists flock to the place, while the local people scrape and scour to survive. The sign at the airport says it all: El Embrujo in Spanish means both 'Charm,' and 'Curse, ' the perfect metaphor to describe Providencia. No one can live in paradise for long without wanting out.
Littered with beauty?
Despite the sign (far right) urging no litter, trash and debris is scattered everywhere. The bright side is that folks seem to revere the ocean, and are careful to keep it clean and protected. They know the sea is not only their environment, it's their livelihood as well.
Ocean experts Luis & Cap'n Kevin
We chartered a glass bottom boat through Betitas Acuatic Services, (spelling is theirs), and spent the day snorkeling and cruising around Providencia. Our guides, Luis and Captain Kevin showed us every part of the island on our three hour + excursion. Providencia is home to the third largest protected coral reef in the world, and those reefs are extensive, accessible, pristine, and healthy as far as we could tell. The glass bottom boat was a real plus.
Coral formation at Margarita Garden, Providencia
The water around Providencia is reasonably shallow, and that may account for the presence of mostly smaller fish. We saw lots of Starfish, manta rays, colorful reef denizens too numerous to count.
Snorkeling At Crab Cay off Providencia
The fish are not shy
Manta Ray, about 4 feet across
Crystal clear, and the perfect temperature
Healthy reef? As far as we could tell
Photos courtesy of John & Susan's borrowed Nikon, thanks amigos! You can find more of John & Susan's amazing pix & travel writing at Latitude Adjustment-A Tale of Two Travelers.
Boat trip around Providencia
At its longest, Providencia is 7 km top to tip, that's about 3.5 miles. By road, all the way around it's maybe 15 miles, so a very easy, relaxing drive by either car, motorcycle, mule, or even on foot if you'd like.
'Hospital' with 'Ambulance' on Providencia
Cemetery. The water table is pretty high here
Me guain teach you Creole expressions!
The language is (mostly) English mixed with Creole, & a touch of Spanish. If you have only English, dat's arrait! There is also a sign language called Provisle, unique to Providencia. One assumes that Provisle is used by local folks to chat about the tourists.
All important Turismo Tarjeta
Before we could even leave Medellin for the islands, we had to purchase a Tarjeta de Turismo. The cards were about $40.00 USD apiece, roughly $240,000 COP for the two of us. Warning: These cards seem to be very important on both San Andrés and Providencia. Don't leave home without them! Ours were checked several times, both coming and going.
Sunset on Santa Catalina (Photo Cam Herzog)
Santa Catalina is a tiny island attached to Providencia, connected by a 100 meter footbridge. Together, the islands are about 22 square kilometers. Population is about 6,000, and the highest point of the island is about 350 meters, (1,000 feet.) Providencia's history includes occupation by the English and Spanish explorers, including the notorious pirate Henry Morgan who set out from there to raid Spanish settlements. Local lore has it that Morgan's treasure is still buried somewhere on Providencia.
Okay, how did it get up there? And why?
Sunrise over Crab Cay
Will we return to San Andrés & Providencia? Probably not. Too many other places to see. We had a good time, but quite frankly, especially compared to Medellin, the islands are both dirty and seedy, with lots of problems. Folks are very friendly & helpful, transportation is easy (though not necessarily cheap!), food is quite good, and unlike such spots as Cartagena & Panama City, daytime temps are hot but not oven-like. Anyone who travels there should know the following:
1— It's a domestic flight from Colombia, but the tourist card is required.
2— Don't stay on the north shore of San Andrés, around the airport. The town is too busy & loud.
3— Forget about an internet connection, especially on Providencia.
4— Take lots of cash, because credit cards may not work or be accepted. (See #3)
5— On Providencia, we recommend only Deep Blue, or Maracaibo View. (Which has no website & accepts cash only!)
6— Don't drink the water. Tap water isn't filtered well, use bottled water for consumption.
7— Depending on travel/activity plans, one or two days is sufficient. Maybe skip Providencia altogether.
8— Lower your expectations, block up, and have fun!