I had MANY questions when planning our vacation and although the forums are helpful I still struggled to get a good understanding of the islands - specifically Providencia. So now I am returning to try and offer insight to help others. Please feel free to ask me additional questions!
We spent 3 weeks in Colombia - a couple nights in Bogota, 3 nights in the Coffee Triangle, 1 night San Andres, 11 nights Providencia, and then 3 nights San Andres. I have reviewed every place we stayed, and many places we ate, feel free to check them out as TripAdvisor approves and releases the reviews.
When we went the exchange rate was about 2800 pesos per dollar. Using a credit card gave us the best exchange rate, higher than 2800.
Getting to Providencia ... we flew from Pereira to San Andres, spent the night and then took a Satena flight to Providencia the next afternoon. There was also a flight in the morning. The flight was about 18 seats on a prop plane. Super quick flight maybe 20 minutes. We brought our own scuba gear and had to pay about 100,000 Pesos (cash, no card!) for extra weight - each way. Flight left on time. San Andres is a good size airport. As a side note, arrive ahead of schedule, like hours before your flight. There were long waits and I have never had so many security searches. 2 hours was good going to Providencia and 3 hours was good headed back to the mainland.
Also when leaving for San Andres make sure to get the VISA (entry tax form) for the islands. We did not ask the airline, nor did they ask us upon check-in in Pereira to buy it. I had forgotten that we needed it, and it is more expensive once landed in San Andres than buying from the airlines ahead of time. 50 pesos each from the airline and 75 Pesos at the airport, if I remember correctly. It was checked many times over the course of our island travels - don't lose it!
Arrival in Providencia ... Darling little airport! Quick process to check documents and collect luggage. A few taxis are waiting outside - 26,000 Pesos gets you pretty much anywhere. There is a driver (Santiago) in a white, very large car with a red grill, he is a nice man who drives carefully. There is another driver in a gray pickup, he scared the crap out of me! So there you go - there are like 30 cars on the island, not hard to figure out who I am referring to, lol!
Lodging ... We originally booked Sirius, then moved to Sol Caribe after two nights at Sirius. Here are my reviews ...
We visited many lodging places and looked at rooms, plus got a good feel for where everything was and what each little area had to offer. We liked Freshwater Bay best. I know it is considered the tourist spot, but really, there is no such thing in Providencia. Yes, there are many lodging options here - none over 2 stories and pretty much each hotel all around a dozen rooms or less. Sol Caribe and Morgan Hotel have pools, but I do not recall seeing any others. Many are across the street and not on the water. Also when we tooted around the island one day I saw lots of the rental villas listed on booking.com and many looked really run down - however the inside could be perfectly fine. Perhaps ask for recent pictures, contact reviewers, etc before booking. The issues with not being on the water is it gets seriously stagnant and hot. That little breeze off the water really does make a difference.
I have read on these forums it is fine to show up and look for lodging - um no way! It is fine if you really do not care what you get, but I do care. Deep Blue was booked four months out, Morgan hotel had one room left, Sol Caribe opened up a room for us that was almost finished being renovated - they were full actually. Miss Mary's was full, and all the other places were busy too. Maybe if we only needed a night or two it would have been easier. We were even there when it was suppose to be a slow time (May 2016.) Get a reservation!
Santa Catalina ... We visited both sides of this little island - hot as H.E. double hockey sticks. Stagnant is how I would describe it. The trees that line the lovely path are blocking any breeze. I almost booked a private home rental here - we both were so grateful I had not. We were literally dripping after our walk on the path. The bridge to Santa Catalina is beautiful, and has a great breeze! Snorkeling off the bridge is fantastic! Also the little beach at the base of Morgan's head is cute, there was a naked guy down there so we didn't actually walk down to it, lol! There are places on the southern path to eat, rent kayaks, and book tours.
Dining ... When we started out in Southwest Bay it was a Friday night. There are literally just a couple restaurants - Miss Mary's and the beach place next door to Miss Mary's (I forgot name!) for food - neither was open for dinner. Studio Blue Cafe is about a mile away and walk-able, they were open. This is one of the big reasons why I liked Freshwater Bay - lots of dining options throughout the day. For a 12 day stay two options would have gotten old, but Freshwater offered us lots of choices. I really loved the Pizza restaurant next to the scooter rental place. Unfortunately they are not listed on TA for a review. The Mexican pizza was fantastic! We had tons of wonderful meals in Freshwater - Miss Elma's was our favorite - someone in that kitchen knows what they are doing! Sol Caribe's restaurant was our least favorite (sad as I love the location and hotel.) Other notable dining spots - Caribbean Place, Miss Mary's, and Deep Blue. I wrote several restaurant reviews on TA - check them out ... https:/…CITY_TILES
Beaches ... Manzanillo Bay has a pretty white beach with no lodging. Southwest Bay has lovely tan sand with blue water - when the sun is out and the wind is dead this place is breathtaking! Freshwater Bay has a beach too. It starts in front of Miss Elma's and goes south for about 500 meters. It too has lovely tan sand and pretty blue water. I think Southwest is considered nicer because it is longer (spread out) lined with palm forest as opposed to lodging like Freshwater is, but pretty equal overall IMO. Almond bay is small, I only saw it from the water. If there is lodging here or restaurants I did not see them. Pash Bay is tiny, just a foot path basically - but looked like a good swimming/picnic spot. I did not visit any other beaches - lots of coast line is rocky. The east side has a outer reef and was very windy. There might be some good spots over here but beside driving the road on the east side twice we were not over there much.
Getting around the island ... I am fearful of scooters, but they were less than half the price of the Mules and this island had hardly any cars, so we opted for both mule and scooter rentals throughout our stay. Average price ... 150,000 pesos for Mule, 70,000 Pesos for a scooter for a 24 hour period. You can rent for less time, but financially it hardly makes sense to as it is only a little less money. It is super easy to rent them whenever you want, so don't feel the need to rent for your entire stay. Unless you are off the beaten path, but even then a quick phone call has one delivered right to you within a half hour. Gas was ridiculously cheap - Over our entire stay I think we spent a total of 40,000 Pesos in gas refills, if that.
Also there are people on scooters, or who drive by and you can grab a ride with them for a few Pesos. Or hitchhike with someone on a mule. Honestly everything is walk-able, we even considered running the 26 Kms around the entire island, but the heat deterred us. I don't recall a bus system, but maybe!
Weather ... We are cold weather mountain folks, so we may be a bit sensitive to the heat, lol! However it was hot as heck, maybe I already mentioned that, haha! We always tried to stay on the water to feel the cool breeze. I used 85 sunscreen and still fried. I am white but not porcelain - that sun is strong! It rained a few times but only a couple times during the day - and they were so quick and light hardly worth mentioning. The weather changes quick. It can be cloudy and then in an hour the sun is out full on. The temps were 90s+ and humid. Riding the scooter and mule felt great with the breeze! It was slightly cooler on the east side. The evenings were comfortable. Deep Blue has a lovely breeze - a great spot to unconsciously fry over a delicious lunch!
Supermarkets ... There are two downtown both take credit cards and have everything you could want. Reasonable prices lots of locals. There is one in Freshwater, takes credit cards for over a certain amount (I think it was 50,000 pesos.) They have a good liquor selection too. Club Colombia was our beer of choice - sometimes difficult to get. Bring the bottles back to get a small glass refund.
Diving ... This was the sole reason we came to Providencia! I am always in search of lost in time islands with amazing diving - Providencia did not disappoint! This is the best Caribbean diving we've done. (the Grenadines being a close second) They have sharks - lots of them! All the sharks we saw were Grey Reef Sharks. The reefs are super healthy! UNESCO has been successful in protecting these waters. Sadly the same is not so true for San Andres (we dove there too,) but still beautiful reefs in San Andres.
We dove with both Felipe and Sirius. I stopped by Sonny's looked perfectly fine, there is no reason we did not dive with them. With our own equipment it was 130,000 Pesos for a morning 2-tank with Felipe, 150,000 Pesos with Sonny's or Sirius. No one seemed to have multi day packages. But honestly when was the last time as a diver you paid about $50 for a 2-tank dive? Still a good deal! All three places had dive boats of equal quality. All three wade out in the water to get in the boat. None (and this sucked!) had a cover on their boat. All the snorkeler boats had awnings over them - why not the dive boats?! I really feel bad for the captains sitting on those boats waiting for the divers to return.
The guys at Felipe had great personalities, jovial and freindly laid back divemasters. Felipe had the most English speaking divemasters. They were really into lionfish hunting and this drew the sharks in. There was so much more on the reef that was overlooked. I think they were more interested in the thrill of the lionfish hunt and feeding. They checked our C-cards, had a nice shop, equipment looked just fine - had a shower and rinse tank. They stored our BCDs and regs overnight - great place. Several divers on one boat, about max 9 if I remember correctly, popular place! The thing is, I believe any of the dive shops will have the same max on their boats, but Felipe's being popular maxed out. You carry your gear back and forth to the boat from the shop.
The guys at Sirius are friendly too. They had a divemaster who liked to babysit a bit, but the other two were laid back. This might be a good mix for new and experienced divers. I am past giving the OK sign every few minutes, plus fairy sticks and tank bangers tick me off. The boat captain and one divemaster spoke english. The average boat size was 4, maybe 6 - just perfect! We dove most of our days with them, great shop. Here was the kicker and why we returned to them. Both my husband and I were trying to give our backs and shoulders a break from our everyday life - the carry of gear down to the boat and back again was not helping us with our vacation recovery process. These guys hauled our gear and for that we paid the little extra per dive rate and gave a nice tip to everyone on top of it. (Charlie I hope you picked up the tip we left you at Sol Caribe!)
We did not dive with Sonny's but I sure as heck knew when they were diving in the vacinity - that dang non-stop fairy stick!
Dive-Sites ... All were great! The southern sites are shallow - only go if they agree to let you dive your air. I had an 80 minute dive and still came up with air. There is current here, make a dive plan to drift with a boat pickup. The rest of the spots we hit were on the western side of the island. Most sharks encountered at Conolly, however I think of our 20 dives, we did not see any sharks on 2 - no sharks on the southern dives. One wreck dive The Barge - they did it as a second and this was too deep for a second dive. The Barge has a free swimming Giant Green Moray Eel that lives here. Best dives for Photography Parrot Place in the south and Nick's Place in the west. Most beautiful Reef dive Turtle Rock. There is a Jesus Statue at Felipe's Place. Really not a single dive did we come up and go 'eh.' I was really curious to dive on the east side but no one would take us. We saw tons of fish, lots of drumfish, lots of coral banded shrimp and arrow crabs, bubble tip and spiral anemones, lobster, several kinds of fish doing a courtship dance which was super cool, eagle, sting, and pan rays, only one turtle (there just are no turtles sadly,) tons of various types of eels, lots of pretty angelfish, various puffers, grey reef sharks, plus so much more not coming to mind right now.
Oooh yes, as a photographer I was especailly happy the fish here seemed more friendly, almost tame, they did not seem bothered by divers and I got lots of beautiful full on fish shots - great little subjects!
Saturday Southwest Bay horse races ... The first Saturday we were there one of the first racers fell off his horse and was seriously injured. I asked for the next 10 days about him and no one was able to give me info. I would love to hear if he is ok or not, thank you! The second Saturday the horse race did not happen.
I was concerned about 12 days here thinking it would be too much and I might even get bored. No way. It was perfect, wonderful in fact! We had breakfast, did two morning dives, cleaned up, had lunch and drinks, then napped, woke up for happy hour and sunset, had dinner, went to sleep. The first two days we did do some island exploring, but basically this was our vacation recovery routine. It was truly fantastic and needed! I actually think not having a ton of activities available to us helped get those daily naps in! One of our better vacays, it made us realize staying in one place for longer is perfect for us.
I have never been to a place in all my worldly travels that was so trusting, honest, laid-back. I am pretty sure if I dropped a 50,000 peso bill in the road a local would have chased after me to return it! Kind, gentle people. All in all I can definitely recommend Providencia, I preferred it over San Andres, it was exactly what we needed!Edited: 04 June 2016, 00:12