Experience life in Providencia and Santa Catalina, paradise islands in the Colombian Caribbean that have preserved their earliest peoples’ traditions
The palm-fringed beaches of the Colombian Caribbean are known for their white sands and warm waters and two islands stand out in this haven of rest and relaxation.
Providencia and Santa Catalina cover just eighteen square kilometers between them but whether you want to relax, disconnect, soak up the sun or explore the wilderness, they are the perfect destination.
One of their biggest attractions is the absence of large hotel chains, a deliberate decision designed to conserve the islands’ eco-systems and preserve their uninterrupted way of life.
Colorful cabins with simple but comfortable amenities are some of the best places to stay and, of course, they offer an unbeatable view of the ocean. Locals call it the Sea of Seven Colours, for its multiple shades of blue, and run ‘bed and breakfasts’ in cosy spaces they have created in their homes. Visitors are welcomed with the islands’ customary warmth and friendliness and offered inside advice on enjoying their trip.
Nature is the star of the show here
Providencia and Santa Catalina are sanctuaries for rare plants and animals and exploring them is a must. Thanks to the islanders’ insistence on protecting local wildlife, and extensive conservation efforts, the islands are ideal for those who enjoy nature walks, bird watching and lazy afternoons spent diving the coral reefs.
Providencia is home to McBean Lagoon national park, a nature reserve that mostly comprises marine life and includes the world’s second largest barrier reef, inhabited by thousands of vibrant tropical fish, as well as interesting algae and mollusks. Snorkelling is common in the park, which is cared for by park rangers.
The park’s land-based areas are also a haven for endemic and migratory birds, as well as a wide variety of plants and flowers, making it a great place for walks and activities.
Visitors keen to enjoy the best view on the island should hike to the top of El Pico nature reserve, which is Providencia’s highest point. This three-hour stroll offers a panoramic view of both the Sea of Seven Colors and McBean’s reefs and beaches and is best enjoyed in the morning, when nature is at its most active.
Getting to know the islanders’ history
The Raizal people have lived in the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina since colonial times and are determined to protect their culture and traditions. The best way to learn more about them is to spend time on the islands.
Most islanders speak San Andrés Creole and many are Baptists, which is why their brightly-painted wooden churches dot this archipelago. The Raizal culture has strong links with the peoples of the Antilles islands, a relationship reflected in their distinctive music, cuisine and architecture.
Visitors find it easy to be charmed by Providencia and Santa Catalina and soon fall in love with the islands’ warm and vibrant culture, as well as their spectacular scenery. Get to know the islanders and their islands and you’ll soon see why they are so proud of this paradise and committed to protecting it.