Providencia  is a Caribbean island, and a part of the San Andres and Providencia Archipelago. It is politically a part of Colombia, but is geographically closer to Nicaragua. It is attached by footbridge to a smaller island, Santa Catalina.
It is a very scenic island, with lovely empty beaches, a typical Caribbean climate, laid back atmosphere and friendly people. While the island depends quite heavily on tourism, it is not at all 'touristy' and only small hotels are present. The hotels on the island resemble more "guest lodges" than 5 star hotels, and everything is very low key. The restaurants and bars are relatively basic, and Providencia does not have any clubs or discos.
The island is remote and, from the Colombian mainland, requires two flights to get to. Most supplies have to be shipped or flown to the island, so costs - of food, drink and accommodation - are relatively expensive.
Providencia is heavily protected by Colombian legislation - no non-native of the island is allowed to own property there, or operate a business. Thus, while many developers may want to "build up" Providencia, it seems unlikely that this will happen in the near future. It is quite unique in its status as an undeveloped and unexploited Caribbean island.
Satena  and the charter airline Searca are the only current air operators, both run a couple of daily flights to Providencia from San Andrés. The flight costs 211,000 pesos (approx USD $75) each way and lasts approximately 20 minutes (April 2016 prices). The flights may be booked out weeks in advance online, but it might still be possible to get on last minute of you show up at the airport. You can book Searca flights through Decameron in advance via phone using overseas credit cards.
There is also a catamaran named El Sensation ) that makes a return trip from San Andres to Providencia on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. The cost is now an astronomical 140,000 COP (April 2016). The journey takes between two and a half and six hours, depending on the sea and the time of year. It leaves San Andrés from the Muelle Casa de la Cultura at 8am - get there at least 1hr before to check-in and even earlier if you need to purchase a ticket last-minute. The return trip departs Providencia at 2:30pm in the afternoon.
The ride to Providencia is often very rough and extremely uncomfortable. Be sure to take anti-nausea medication at least one hour before getting on the catamaran - in fact you may even be given a tablet when you purchase your ticket/check-in. The ride back to San Andrés is usually much smoother.
The island has one principle coastal road (which goes around the circumference of the island), and a few other smaller roads. There is no public transport to speak of, although there are taxis. A taxi from one side of the island to the opposite side, costs no more than 20,000 pesos. Moto-taxis are the most popular option used by locals, costing around 6.000 pesos to the go halfway round the island, or 4,000 COP from Freshwater Bay to Santa Isabel. They will generally take two people but will charge double. Moto-taxis will usually be wearing a small satchel, but if in doubt ask a local to help you find one. Hitch-hiking is also quite easy.
If you arrive by plane, keep in mind that taxi from the airport to anywhere in the island costs 20,000 COP, which can be quite a lot if you don't have to go far. If you walk a bit from the airport you can get on a Moto taxi for the regular price, otherwise hire a motorbike directly from the airport (contact your accommodation for this in advance).
Another option for tourists is to rent a bicycle, motorbike or golf buggy. Mopeds can be hired for 50,000 pesos (USD $17) for 24 hours, to hire a golf buggy costs 100,000 - 120,000 pesos (USD $40) for 24 hours. Both Santa Isabel and Freshwater Bay have places to hire vehicles, alternatively any hotel can have one delivered for you. Providencia is a small island - it takes just 30-40 minutes to drive in a loop around the whole island in a golf buggy, and no drive takes longer than 15-20 minutes. It's great fun to explore the island - allow various days to be able to enjoy all the sites and beaches.
Santa Catalina does not have any roads, there is only one footpath, and it is not possible to take vehicles on the bridge
The island suffers from seasonal, regular droughts and water can be scarce. Tourists are encouraged to minimize their water consumption for the benefit of the local community and island as a whole. During the dry season (January - July/August), some local people frequently endure weeks without water in their homes.
In Freshwater Bay many houses/posada's have their own wells, and there is a reservoir above the village. A water treatment facility is under construction.
The island tap water is not fit for consumption - all drinking water has to be shipped in.
The local ecosystem is fragile, tourists are encouraged to respect it.
See & Do
Providencia's appeal lies in it's beautiful unspoilt volcanic scenery, white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, scuba diving, snorkelling and fishing. The majority of beaches are unspoilt and undeveloped.
Bahia Aguadulce (Freshwater Bay) is the main tourist area of Providencia, there are 5-6 small hotels, a few restaurants and a supermarket - all of which are walking distance to the beach.
Santa Isabel is the main town in Providencia and where the boat docks. It has as a couple of Internet cafes, a cafe, bakeries, two banks with ATM machines, a few supermarkets, a variety of miscellaneous shops, a tourist souvenir shop and a couple of billiard halls/local bars. Santa Isabel also various local restaurants. There is a footbridge to Santa Catalina called the Lover's Bridge.
Santa Catalina (population approx 100 people) is a smaller island connected to Providencia, and is considerably less developed. It has one shop, a few beautiful beaches and a couple of restaurants. On Santa Catalina one finds Morgan's Head, a large rock formation that resembles a head and is named after the pirate Henry Morgan, who used Providencia and Santa Catalina as a base for raiding the Spanish colonial empire many centuries ago. There are also the remains of an unexcavated fort that dates from the days of piracy on the island. There are a few beautiful, calm beaches on Santa Catalina island - none of which have any development at all.
Bahia Suroeste (Southwest Bay) has a long calm beach with a handful of simple restaurants and bars.
Bahia Manzanillo is a beautiful beach with the "Roland Roots Reggae Bar", featuring beach-parties and live acoustic music on the weekends.
Almond Beach is a beautiful small beach that has good snorkelling and where there are often no people other than the owner of the simple restaurant there. It is located about halfway between Santa Isabel and Freshwater Bay - look out for the brown sign.
Cayo Cangrejo (Crab Caye) is a beautiful islet off the coast from Maracaibo. The snorkelling here is excellent, and the sea an amazing shade of turquoise. Along with the other small, beautiful islands named the Tres Hermanos (Three Brothers Cayes), Crab Caye forms part of the McBean Lagoon National Park. In Maracaibo you can hire kayaks (25,000 COP/hour for twin kayaks/40,000, negotiable to 35 for unlimited time at posada de coco next to deep blue hotel) or hire a boatman to take you to visit Crab Caye (40,000, bargain down to 30,000 COP return!). Since the caye is located just 1km from shore it is also possible to swim to it, although the locals won't like it and may tell you it is "prohibited". You will need to be a strong swimmer, however, and should take fins and a snorkel. Definitely climb to the top of the rock on the caye, the view is stunning. To enter the cay, you have to pay the national park admission fee of 16,000 COP per person, 4,500 for students, bring your ID.
The Peak is the highest point on the island - and offers beautiful panoramic views towards the distant barrier reef, which runs along the east coast of the island. Excursions can be arranged by most hotels, or you can do it independently. The best trail starts in Bottom End and is about 3km each way. There is an alternative trail from Freshwater Bay that is much more difficult to follow and extremely steep to the top, requiring lots of scrambling and using ropes which have been tied to trees and rocks. If you want to hire a guide you won't have any trouble finding one in Bottom End.
Scuba diving around Providencia is excellent - here one finds the 2rd largest barrier reef in the world. There are two dive shops in Freshwater Bay - Sonny's and Felipe's and one in Southwest Bay (Sirius). Prices start at 200,000 COP for two tanks (certified divers), although you should be able to negotiate this down slightly, especially if in a group or diving multiple days.
15km to the north of Providencia, at the top of the barrier reef, lies the remote little island of Low Caye (El Faro), which can be visited on fishing trips. Even further north and east lie other even more remote islands such as Roncador, and idyllic atolls such as Serrana and Serranilla. Such remote islands aren't marked on most maps and are almost never visited by tourists.
One gets a better grasp of the island by seeing it from the sea. As such, boat tours are highly recommended. Fishing is also great fun.
The black mountain crab migration occurs annually, usually culminating in late April/early May, when masses of black crabs descend from the mountains into the sea to lay their eggs. Military personnel are brought in to protect this environmental phenomenon, forbidding driving during late night/early morning along certain parts of the island, which become teeming with mountain crab and their newborn young.
Providencia's carnival occurs in June, normally over the penultimate weekend of that month.
Bush Rum is the local type of firewater. Imported alcohol is also surprisingly cheap here, and is one of the original reasons that attracted Colombian tourists to San Andrés.
The vast majority of the food on offer is sea-food - lobsters, squid, fish, crab, prawns and caracol (conch). Try their corn flavour ice cream, made locally.
For a massive bowl of seafood soup visit El Nino (open for lunch every day until about 5pm) on SouthWest beach, where all the seafood is fresh and delicious. Also try Caribbean place in Agudulce, which serves more seafood as well as meat and pasta dishes. On Santa Catalina Island, you find Restaurant Eneida and Don Olivo, a french-colombian place that offers excellent self-caught seafood in a quiet atmosphere. Santa Isabel, the capital of the island, has a variety of cheap places to eat, including a pizza restaurant. The most upmarket restaurant on the island is found at Deep Blue in Maracaibo, located with beautiful sea views in front of Crab Caye.
The best value lunch can be found at a restaurant opposite the dock in Santa Isabel, where 15.000 buys you a meat or seafood main with a soup starter and a drink.
Drink & Nightlife
Nightlife is limited on the island. Over the weekends there are often beach parties, during the week everything is very low key. There are bars and disco on the island
The main nightlife destination is Rolands Bar, on Manzanillo Beach, where there is a bonfire and beach party for most of the weekend (10.000 cover on Fridays).
San Andres Island has more nightlife - tourists normally come to Providencia to chill.
Like San Andrés, prices in Providencia are considerably higher than mainland Colombia. Accommodation starts at 50.000 pesos per person, but it is possible to haggle down to around 35.000. Most of the island tourism is aimed at luxury travellers, so there are very few cheap options for backpackers.
Many of the hotels have their bookings arranged by the all inclusive hotel chain Decameron. In addition, it is possible to stay at the luxury hotel Deep Blue , Pirata Morgan Hotel, Hotel Sirius, and Sol Caribe hotel, all of whom take independent bookings. There are also a handful of other small hotels or locally run guesthouses, such as Posada Enilda.
Freshwater Bay (Bahia Aguadulce) is the main tourist area on Providencia and where most of the hotels are based, although there are also several posadas in Santa Isabela (where the boat docks), a couple in Maracaibo near where the boats leave to Cayo Cangrejo, some along the road between Santa Isabela and Freshwater Bay, and some hotels in Southwest Bay.
Blue Almond Hostel (Freshwater Bay) - supposedly a sister hostel of the hostel of the same name on San Andrés, but really it is just a family cabana part of the Cabanas Agua Dulce converted into a dorm, they are just using the name. No kitchen to use, no lockers, 1 key between everyone, very rude staff and they try to charge walk-up guests without reservations more - 50,000 COP for a dorm! There are posadas closer to the supermarket and the beach where you can have your own ensuite room for less.
Posada Isleña Miss Orfe (Freshwater Bay) - basic posada located a 1-minute walk from the supermarket across the road and 2 minutes from the beach. Run by a friendly elderly couple. Several ensuite A/C rooms with double and single beds and a minifridge, fully-equipped kitchen downstairs. 45,000 COP (single occupancy, April 2016). Ph. 514-8293 Cel. 317-417-0038
Posada Refugio de la Luna (Aguamansa, between Manzanillo Bay and the airport) - family-run place with a private apartment on the lower floor, complete with private kitchen and your own terrace with hammocks. Beautiful sea views through the trees and a lovely garden and very kind hosts. 220,000 COP for the apartment (double occupancy including breakfast, August 2016). PH. +57 317 5275362
There are a couple of internet cafés in Santa Isabela, but don't expect lightning connection speeds. There is very little mobile data service on the island, but with Claro you should have just enough connectivity to check instant messaging apps and email. The more expensive hotels will also have wi-fi, but most cheap posadas won't.
Take the boat or a flight back to San Andrés. Try to book the boat at least a day in advance, it can sell out. Flights often sell out a week in advance.