Green lush nature, few villages, a laid-back vibe throughout the island, surrounded by fluorescent waters, pristine blue lagoons, beautiful beaches were time has stopped and you're as alone as Crusoé, and of course a gorgeous marine fauna. Yes, Providencia has them all.
Why am I not living here? One could simply spend an entire life in Providencia hanging a hammock on Southwest Bay, fishing for fresh delicious lobster and laze the entire afternoon, hopping from a beach to another on a scooter, bare foot and without a helmet. Feeling the ocean breeze whipping your face as you gently ride the bending road until Old Town, in search for a cold beer and some interaction with the local life.
Yes, you could stay there forever. Unfortunately you won't :). That being said, you shouldn't waste any minute of your precious time there, looking for food, drinks, accomodation, activities, and so on. Information on Providencia is scarce, and that is I believe what makes it so authentic and isolated. Oh but there's something else: prices. Yes it's expensive to go and to stay on the Island.
So, let me give you some of our top tips over this piece of Paradise to save you time once for all and up to date (September 2017). Quick info about us: we are a couple of French backpackers, mid 20's. We stayed on Providencia for one week after 11 months of travels.
MEANS OF TRANSPORT
We stayed one night in San Andres before and after Providencia (Airbnb: Aloja Candy - not far from the airport around 30€ per night, perfect). From there, two different ways to go on the island. The expensive quick and comfortable one: a 20min flight. The other one, a not so cheap bumping 3 hours of catamaran on a rough roller coaster sea. We obviously picked the second one: 160€ round trip for 2. Book it in advance in high season. We just showed up at the office in town on San Andres the day before. Everything went fine, they will give you a sickness pill, TAKE IT. Few people threw up. But overall, it's not that bad. If you are on a budget like us and prefer to spend your money on the island, just take the catamaran.
Renting a scooter is really easy, although, it will test your negociation skills after a 3h waves riding and a not so OK stomach. We dealt with a guy on the little square where the roads cross eachother, you'll see it when you arrive on the right hand of the jetty. We got the scooter for 7 days for a total of 340.000 COP. Which is around 14€ a day. It is actually a good deal compared to what we've been proposed by other guys, agencies and our hotel. The average price seems to vary between 60.000 and 70.000 if you rent it just for one day. Be advised: there is not a single helmet on the island. There is a little bit of traffic around old town on "rush hours" but totally doable without protections, local style! If your budget allows it or if you are more than 2, you can also rent the local Mulle cars. More expensive of course.
Making a complete lap of the island takes around 50min with few breaks and a cruising speed. It is a super activity in itself. We used to start our day like this.
We stayed at Mr Mac cabanas, located in the northen part of Freshwater bay. We agreed on a special price with her a few weeks before coming. 100.000 COP per night for a small room with ensuite bathroom, sea view, air conditioning and a fridge but no breakfast (which is 10.000 more per person). The rooms are tired and a bit old, but very clean, functional, and litteraly two steps away from the sea where you can have your first and last bath of the day, watching sunset. There is no beach or good spot to laze there, and lots of mosquitoes. But the location is perfect and the price is one of the cheapest you will get with this view. Totally worth it.
FOOD - DRINKS
A few stores in Old Town, and another one in Freshwater bay, much more expensive though. The cheapest is Supermercado El Punto near the port. 2.300 COP for a cold Aguila, 2.900 for a cold can of Cuba Libre. We used to buy some food as well to make one cold meal or
two as we could store the food in our little fridge. Some tuna, corn, tomatoes, sauce and bread will cost you around 25.000 COP.
One of the most famous option to eat fresh sea food is Divino Nino on Southwest Bay. They rose their prices recently, a Plato mixto for 2 (lobster, fish, squid, crab and/or shrimps, rice..) now cost 60.000 COP. Which is still a good deal regarding the huge quantity. BUT, we thought that quality was MUCH better and freshwe in other places: Miss Elma on Freshwater bay for instance. For 64.000 COP you'll get a smaller but delicious Plato mixto with lots of lobster and a super good sauce. Go get it!
Another great option to eat local, on Sundays only, is located just in front of Miss Elma, on the sidewalk. A lady sells her preparations. BBQ chicken, stewed sweet pork, Coco rice with beans, traditional soup, potato salad. DE-LI-CIOUS and it seems popular among locals! A plate of all combined will cost you around 13.000 COP. And trust me you won't be hungry for hours and hours of snorkelling after that.
Some warm snacks are available near old town and around the port. Look for the small cabinet stalls. They have empanadas, chicken wings, fish balls and stuffed potatoes between 1.000 and 6.000 COP per piece.
Rolland Reggae Roots Bar is as famous as Morgan's Head on the island. Everything you need to know is in the name. We didn't like it so much though.. We went there for the famous reggae concert they organise every Friday - it never started.. Food is overpriced and not good at all. Rolland is asking for a 10.000 COP fee per person if you want to watch the gig. We paid but asked it back when we left as there was no concert at all.. Just 2 enormous speakers spiting Dancehall really loud, not cool!
The island is famous for its dive sites. Many diving agencies are located near the beaches throughout the island. Unfortunately we didn't have the budget to do it and I prefer not to give info about what we did not experience.
Snorkelling instead was a great option! We rented 2 masks and tubas at our hotel for 20.000 COP per day. Everybody will tell you that the best spot for that is at Morgan's Head. You can go there by walking from the port, crossing the little lover's lane bridge to santa Catalina and follow the small path on your left for about 20min. It's a nice walk in the jungle. From Morgan's Head, just jump in the water and go explore!
In our experience, Almond bay (on the left hand of the beach, facing the sea) was a good spot too. Southwest Bay as well, I spotted a 4 meters long whale shark around the big rock emerging from the sea in the middle of the beach. Some smaller sharks too there.
Crab Cay was definitely the best session we had. We rentend a kayak to go there just near Deep Blue restaurant for 60.000 COP. It is a fixed price, not depending on the time you want to rent it. 1 or 6h, the same. And they are not willing to negotiate. Still, way more cheaper than a boat tour or a boat ride. Many tours will start and end their day trips on the small island of Crab Cay. We went there at 9:30 am after 15min kayaking (really easy) and had the island for ourselves until 11! Note that you will have to pay the national park entrance fee there: 17.000 COP per person, valid just for the day. Definitely the best option if you want to climb on top and sit there, wandering at one of the most beautiful lagoon you'll see in your lifetime without being oppressed by groups talking loudly around. Besides, as I was saying, the snorkelling around the Cay was gorgeous. We saw many many MANY fishes, as there was nobody there. A 1.5 meter large truly beautiful moonfish, lots of turtles, parrot fish, lion fish, trigger fish, rays and more! The people who arrived later saw nothing. Too many boats, too many people in the water. Our advice: go early and by yourself, you'll be rewarded.
We didn't do any boat trip but we wanted to do one so we got information about the prices. If your budget allows it, many different options exist. Betito (near Deep Blue) can arrange a 2h snorkelling on different spots + one hour more on Crab Cay for 90.000 COP per person if the boat is full. Generally speaking a boat trip will cost 400.000 COP (entrance fee not included, nor meals, snorkelling gears included). This price will be splited by the number of passengers. Up to 5 or 6 for the smaller boats, up to 10 for bigger ones.
We wanted to do it when we arrived on the island but we don't regret at all. We spent our money wisely, had a scooter all the time to explore and snorkelling gears. Was great!
Another famous activity is the little trek to climb the peak (360 meters high). It starts near Manzanillo Bay where a lady will register your names before you start. You'll be proposed to do it with a guide (50.000 COP). The trek is really easy though! We did it on our own in about an hour until the top. Beautiful walk through the forest, many many lizards up to 1 meter long and a rewarding 360° view over the untouched center of the island and the lagoon.
Last but not least: napping, swimming, sun bathing are free :). Our favourite spots to do so: Southwest Bay in the morning (beautiful light and colour), Almond bay in the afternoon for the chill reggae vibe.
Yes, you read correctly. Providencia is a smoking place and marijuana is definitely part of the rasta culture and community of the island. We don't really know what's the law on the island regarding weed but it seems totally normal and accepted. If you smoke, like we do, you'll be able to find it everywhere. Just ask around or follow the smell. We bought some for 10.000 COP on Almond bay beach to the guy selling coconut waters and juices, and listening to Reggae all day long. Cool vibes you said?
- Mosquitoes are legion. Bring some repellent with Deet 25% at least. A small drugstore in front of the hospital near the port is selling some as well as medicine (and rolling papers..). We travel with a mosquito net that we put at night, we were fine.
- Another kind of insect is waiting to suck your blood on beaches: vampire sand flies. Manzanillo, Southwest are the most infected. Deet works on them, put some if you want to take a nap on the sand. Almond bay seemed clear, we stayed hours there without protection, we were fine.
-There is one gas station on the island, en route from Almond bay to the port, at the begining of old town. The price of the gallon was 10.540 COP when we were there.
- 2 free WiFi hotspots: one in front of Freshwater bay's grocery store, the other at the port near the jetty in front of the municipality office.
Well, I hope that you will enjoy Providencia as much as we did. We will cherish the island in our hearts forever, being one of those special places we've been lucky to discover during our round-the-world trip. Cheers.