Take a trip from mainland Colombia to the Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia and you’ll feel like you’re entering a whole new world. Not only do the islands have their own geography, history, culture and language, they are as distinct from one another as they are from the rest of Colombia – even though they belong to the same archipelago on a stretch of turquoise ocean nicknamed “The Sea of Seven Colors”.
Why should I go?
To experience life on San Andres and Providencia. Christopher Columbus may have been the first European to set foot on the islands, 645km (400 miles) northwest of Colombia, but that’s where their stories diverge. English pilgrims arrived next, aboard The Seaflower, which is why the Raizal islanders speak a creole language that mixes English, Spanish and several African languages. In fact, their whole culture descends from English settlers and African slaves, with the influence of the Caribbean, which is what makes a trip to San Andres and Providencia so memorable – not to mention the white sandy beaches and palm trees, crystalline waters and some of the world’s finest coral reefs.
What should I do?
Visit both islands. San Andres is the livelier, more commercial of the two, with fabulous hotels, restaurants and a thriving tourism scene. Just 5,000 people live on Providencia and it’s a natural wonder, with beaches hidden behind thick forests and some of the world’s finest scuba diving.
Sail out to idyllic Johnny Caye before enjoying a sunset stroll on the promenade. Most visitors to the archipelago’s biggest island rent golf buggies and explore the 30km stretch of road that encircles it, taking an hour out to visit Morgan’s Cave, where legendary Welsh pirate Henry Morgan is said to have hidden his treasure. San Andres has two smaller towns, La Loma (The Hill) and San Luis, both of which are filled with old English wooden architecture. If you’re on the hunt for duty-free shopping, you’ll probably find your way to the hustle and bustle of San Andres Town too.
Providencia is an island lost in time, thanks to strict building controls that ensure its spectacular beaches remain tree-lined and its restaurants are small and local, selling whatever was caught that day. The best thing to do on Providencia is relax. Visit beaches including Manzanillo, Maracaibo Bay and Freshwater Bay as well as McBean Lake and Cayo Cangrejo. Diving or snorkeling is essential and kayaking too. Nearby Santa Catalina island has fortifications to explore and it’s also possible to scale Providencia’s highest peak (360m) by following a narrow forest trail.
How do I get there?
Fly into San Andres and take a smaller plane or the catamaran to Providencia.
When should I go?
For sun, sea and snorkeling with the best weather, visit from the end of December to the end of April. To surf at Punta Sur in San Andres, visit from November to February and June to September when the waves are best. If you hope to see the famous crab migration on Providencia, the best time to visit is from April to July.
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