Providencia – the unspoiled Colombian Caribbean island where they speak English…
Providencia is the small island paradise that is officially part of Colombia but geographically is much closer to Nicaragua. This undiscovered gem of the Caribbean lies about 500 miles from the Colombian coast. Here you will find long white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and very friendly locals.
This is how the Caribbean used to be – the days before the large resorts arrived. There are only still a handful of hotels and it remains largely undeveloped. It is as you can imagine – very tranquil, beautiful and unspoiled.
Tourism is yet to really take off and only about 15,000 visitors make the trip per year. It’s not easy to get to – you need to take 2 flights from Bogota and allow at least half a days travelling time. English Puritans first settled here in 1630 and things haven’t changed much in the intervening years. For some it still represents the most authentic Caribbean island way of life. Although it belongs to Colombia – English is spoken and the culture is far more Caribbean than Latin American.
Over time Providencia has been colonised by the British, the Dutch and the Spanish – each having left their mark. Creole English is the language spoken although the Colombian authorities have tried to impose Spanish but to no avail. Most of the locals are of African descent. Their unique culture is also seen in the style of their buildings which haven’t changed much since colonial times. Local wood has been colourfully painted and resulted in these shabby style dwellings.
The island has an interesting pirate history - it was from here that Henry Morgan (with the blessing of the English court) – terrorised Spanish ships and ports in the late 17th century. People say that much of his looted gold was buried deep in Providencia's interior. There are still forts and battlements standing today that are testament to its fascinating history.
In 2000 it was declared a Sea Flower Biosphere by UNESCO. It has the world’s third largest barrier reef and also one of the best conserved, hence making it a magnet for scuba divers. Apparently the visibility is so good that sometimes you hardly even need a snorkel let alone a tank of compressed air! But the locals have had to fight hard to conserve it as the government wanted to search for oil in their waters.
The 6000 residents have also had to fight hard to protect their mangrove swamps from being cleared to make room for large resorts and artificial beaches. Unfortunately as tourism develops the pressure to develop the island is likely to increase especially now as Colombia in general is seeing more visitors. The islanders don’t want outsiders buying their land and building big hotels, they want to remain in control and let things develop at a pace they are comfortable with.
The first luxury boutique hotel, Deep Blue, has opened although at the moment it only has 14 rooms. The owner, an Englishman, believes that the whole community will benefit from more tourists coming here and sees no reason why more visitors would have a detrimental effect on the island.
It is often considered to be Colombia's most idyllic island – you may well have the stunning beaches all to yourself, have the opportunity to snorkel with turtles, trek through the rainforest or dive at some of the worlds best sites. And of course enjoy fresh, simple, delicious food and plenty of rum at one of the beach bars.
It’s the place to switch off - there is no mobile reception, very few internet cafes, no shops and no televisions in the bedrooms either. This tiny island is completely devoid of stress and makes a wonderful place to escape the often frenetic pace of the real world. It could well be a trip of a lifetime that you will never forget - a haven unlike anywhere else that exudes magical charm.
Colombia is such an interesting country to visit that if you make to Providencia then you need to complement the tranquility there with a stay on the mainland. See www.historichaciendas.com for inspiration on beautiful places to stay.
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