Hiking Providencia and Santa Catalina, Colombia

Providencia and Santa Catalina, two of the islands in the archipelago of San Andrés, are simple and simply enjoyable. Providencia’s The Peak is a much more strenuous hike than exploring Fort Warwick and Morgan’s Cave on Santa Catalina but holds the most stunning views, while Santa Catalina presents a wonderfully historical hike with plenty of decent views of its own. Both are easily undertaken by casual visitors.

View from Santa Catalina.
View from Santa Catalina. Photo © Mitch Barrie, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The Peak

The Peak (El Pico) is the highest point (360 meters/1,181 feet) on Providencia, and from this mountaintop the 360-degree views are stunning. This hike takes about 1.5 hours to the top and under an hour down. The path to The Peak begins in the middle of the island and meanders along relatively well-marked trails through tropical rainforest and tropical dry forest. You’ll likely come across lizards, cotton trees, and maybe a friendly dog who will follow you up to the top and back.

From the top you’ll be able to see the barrier reef that extends for 32 kilometers off of the east coast of the island. This reef is the second longest in the Caribbean and is part of the Parque Nacional Natural Old Providence McBean Lagoon.

To get to the starting point, go to the Bottom House (Casa Baja) neighborhood in the southeastern corner of the island just to the east of Manchineel Bay. Although you may come across a sign pointing towards The Peak, roads are not marked very well, so you will probably have to ask for directions to get to the starting point.

At the beginning of the walk, follow a path straight ahead, veering towards the right, and five minutes later go towards the right before a two-story house. You’ll then go left (not to the right of the concrete well). From here on, you will pass a small garden, then follow a rocky creek straight on, fording it back and forth several times. You’ll go through a gate and eventually veer to the left as you begin climbing up the hill. After you cross over a wooden bridge the path becomes steep; hold on to the wooden handrails. Occasional signs identify some of the trees or fauna you might see along the way.

During rainy seasons, the path can become muddy and slippery. Make sure to bring a bottle of water with you. Guides are not necessary for this walk, but it’s not impossible to get lost. All hotels can contract a guide for you, and this usually costs around COP$50,000.

Santa Catalina

From atop Santa Catalina island, English colonists and privateers once ruled, keeping their eyes peeled for potential enemies—usually the Spanish Armada or competing Dutch pirates. Today you can see some remains from 17th-century English rule at Fort Warwick. It is adjacent to a big rock called Morgan’s Head. If you look hard enough, it resembles the head of Henry Morgan, the notorious Welsh pirate and admiral of the English Royal Navy who marauded the Spanish New World colonies during the mid-17th century Morgan captured Santa Catalina from the Spaniards in 1670.

Morgan’s Head is next to Morgan’s Cave, where the pirate supposedly hid his loot. You can go snorkeling inside the cave along with the occasional shark. Crossing the bridge, particularly at night, you may be able to spot manta rays gracefully swimming about. Start this hike at the colorful pedestrian bridge that connects Providencia with Santa Catalina in the Santa Isabel area. Once on Santa Catalina, take a left and follow the path.

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