Secluded palm-lined beaches, gorgeous turquoise Caribbean waters, mellow locals, fresh seafood, and rum drinks make it easy to become smitten with Providencia and tough to leave.
Located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of San Andrés, these islands are the easygoing cousins of hyperactive San Andrés. Of volcanic origin, Providencia and Santa Catalina are older islands than San Andrés, and are smaller in area and population than it, having a total area of about 18 square kilometers (7 square miles) and a population of only 5,000. Only 300 people live on minuscule Santa Catalina, an island known as the “Island of Treasures,” which was once home to an English fort.
The best beaches on Providencia can be found generally on the western side of the island. From Manchineel Bay (Bahía Manzanillo) on the southern end to Allan or Almond Bay in the northwest, they are each worth exploring, if you have the time. On these beaches, the waters are calm, the sand golden, and there’s always a refreshing breeze.
Manchineel Bay, home to Roland Roots Bar, is an exotic beach where you can relax under the shade of a palm tree. Be careful of falling coconuts. In Southwest Bay (Suroeste), there are a couple of hotels and restaurants nearby, and you can sometimes see horses cooling off in the water or people riding them along the shoreline. The beaches of Freshwater Bay are very convenient to several hotels and restaurants.
The beach at Allan Bay (or Almond Bay) is more remote. It’s notable for its large octopus sculpture on the side of the road (can’t miss it) and nicely done walkway down to the beach from the ring road. The beach area is a public park, and there is a snack bar and stand where you can purchase handicrafts. You’ll have to either drive to this beach or hitch a ride on a taxi.
A couple of coves on Santa Catalina have some secluded beaches on the path to Morgan’s Head, and there is decent snorkeling nearby.
The two islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina combined are about seven kilometers long and four kilometers wide (four miles by 2.5 miles). The harbor area of Providencia is called Santa Isabel and is the center of island activity. Other settlements on the island are usually referred to by the names of their beaches or bays. The main ones are on the western side of the island: Manchineel Bay (Bahía Manzanillo), on the southern end, which has some excellent beaches; Southwest Bay (Bahía Suroeste); and Freshwater Bay (Aguadulce), home to many hotels and restaurants. A ring road encircles the entire island of Providencia.