Providencia: The Hidden Treasure of Colombia

Somewhere along the Caribbean coast, near by the borders of Nicaragua is a small Colombian island that truly is the definition of untouched paradise. A place where tourists are the minority and the ‘island lifestyle’ is infectious. It’s home to the second largest reef in the world and was once the landing base for the infamous pirate Captain Morgan. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce Colombia’s best-kept secret – Providencia.

During my travels through Colombia I’d heard the name Providencia tossed around only a few times. It’s more popular neighbour; the San Andres Island was supposedly the place to go. However the thought of sharing the Caribbean coast with thousands of other tourists on an island that was essentially a floating duty-free shopping plaza didn’t sound so appealing so my two travel buddies and I caught the catamaran to Providencia to find paradise.

Before we begin there is the disclaimer to finding the aforementioned paradise. It takes a very rough 3 to 8 hour boat ride to get there. Depending on the weather you could either have a lovely sail or a ride in something similar to a dishwasher. We stepped on the catamaran at the dock in Providencia after a turbulent 3.5-hour journey a little shaky and seeing green. It wasn’t quite the idyllic start we’d been hoping for however once we had a good look around, the queasiness faded quickly.

“Where you goin’ mon?’

A tall girl with skin the colour of coffee with long braids down her back approached us with a wide smile. Her throaty voice was lilted with the Creole accent that most locals on the island spoke. She pointed to a faded blue station wagon with a young man leaning against it.

“25,000, he take you.”

In the limited information we read about Providencia we knew this – about AUD$11 – was the standard taxi fare for the island, so we climbed into the prehistoric vehicle and set off.

Our accommodation was in Freshwater Bay at the Blue Almond Hostel, which is the only backpacker hostel on the island. There were several other small hotels and haciendas around the island, all owned by local people. One unique quality about Providencia is that only people from the island can have businesses, which means no giant hotelier can come in and take over this little slice of heaven. We spent our first afternoon exploring the area of Freshwater Bay and lolling around in the clear blue water. At sunset we watched the sky transform from blue to yellow to black as we devoured a fresh seafood dinner.

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Cocktails by the beach!
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Our seafood dinner
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Spectacular sunsets

Our second day was spent at Crab Cay, a tiny speck of an island just a few hundred metres off the shores of Providencia. We rented kayaks and paddled from the mainland across the azure coloured waters, jumping out halfway through for a quick snorkel of the world below. We reached the island and were greeted by two park rangers, Christian and Roger – the only inhabitants on the small cay.

“I feel like we’re on Survivor” my pal Lucy said, as we drank from the coconuts Roger cut open for us, whilst dodging the many crabs that scuttled around.

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Kayaking to Crab Key

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Only ones on the island!

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Freshly cut coconuts on an isolated island, don’t mind if i do!

Christian explained to us that the Black Land crabs come here around this time every year from the mainland to lay their eggs. The crabs were famous for descending from the mountains en masse towards the water creating roadblocks and traffic jams but the locals celebrated their journey, making the small crustaceans almost sacred.

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One of the many black crabs we saw during our time on Providencia
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Local signs warning of the crab migration

We jumped off the small dock and snorkelled amongst schools of fish that flitted around the healthy coral. Several turtles swam by, as well as a lone stingray. I couldn’t help dropping a ‘Finding Nemo’ reference into every sentence I uttered. As a long time fan of the movie, this underwater world was absolute quoting heaven. I left the water to walk up to the highest point of the island, where a large rock served as a lookout point. The reef below me shimmered in different shades of blue and the view went for miles. I was jealous of the birds that circled around the cay; they got to witness this view everyday.

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Blue on blue on blue

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The sun started to set and we had to head back to the mainland. Tired, sunburnt and snorkelled out we were reluctant to paddle back on the kayaks. It seemed however there was a light at the end of the tunnel, in the shade of deep blue. As the islands only resort, Deep Blue Hotel was the luxury way to stay on Providencia. While we couldn’t afford the pricey accommodation, their fancy restaurant would just scrape into our budget. We dropped off our kayaks and made a beeline to the ocean side tables to watch the rest of the sunset. As the black crabs darted around our feet, we devoured the fresh catch of the day and washed it down with coconut lemonade – quite possibly the best drink I’ve ever tasted.

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Another day, another freshly caught seafood dinner

The following two days we rented a ‘mule’ – a golf cart on steroids – that was the main form on transport on the island and spent our time buzzing around the island. Our attention was drawn to the under-the-sea themed bus stops and amazing viewpoints. We pulled in at Almond Bay where a large octopus shaped bus stop stood and walked down the hilly path to the beach. Here some Rastafarian locals greeted us warmly with freshly cut coconuts and showed us how to make rondon, the islands famous dish. We explored every bay and swimming hole and made plans to hike to the highest point of the island – however the heat of the Caribbean sun lured us to the beach instead of the mountains and we promised to hike it when we return one day.

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Watch out! Gringos on the road

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One of the cool bus stops

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Found Peach!

Our last day on the island, the girls and I separated for the morning. I was off to scuba dive in the second largest reef in the world and the girls were going to Santa Catalina – the small island close enough to Providencia that it can be accessed by foot over a long, brightly painted bridge. They were planning to find Morgan’s Head, the rocky formation named after the infamous pirate Henry Morgan who used the island as a base for raiding the Spanish colonies in the 1600s. There are rumours that there are still undiscovered treasures in Providencia, which the locals will proudly drop into every conversation you have.

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heading to Santa Catalina

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Free mangoes for all
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Old cannons from Captain Morgans time

I, on the other hand was about to witness what treasures Providencia had below the water. As one of the best (and cheapest) places to dive in the world, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. What I didn’t realise was that the ‘treasures’ Providencia had to offer were in the form of very large fish – sharks to be exact! I will admit, these were only Caribbean reef sharks, but as an ocean dwelling Australian, the word ‘shark’ still sends a chill down my spine. Fortunately once we descended into the deep blue waters, my fear faded away as the school of almost doglike sharks swam around us. My dreadlocked dive master pointed out different fish and coral but my attention was drawn to the sharks, the way they glided through the water was mesmerising.

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Not as scary as I imgained

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After two dives we headed back to the mainland, where I met up with my two friends and we floated in the shallow waters, exchanging stories of our morning adventures and basking in the last moments of the Providencia sun.

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One last swim

We caught a ride in the back of a truck to the main dock and chowed down on freshly cook fruit bread while we waited for the catamaran. It had been such a brilliant week in the little piece of paradise and I knew I wanted to return. Providencia is definitely the hidden treasure of Colombia and I hope it has the same fate as the treasures that Captain Morgan once hid on the island and will never be discovered by the rest of the public.

J. xx

 

*Originally posted on the new Covermore Travel Blog

https://www.covermore.com.au/blog/theamericas/providencia-hidden-treasure-colombia

 

 

 

 

Diving in Tagana

To be honest, I hadn’t really considered scuba diving in South America. But then again, I hadn’t really planned much past Cusco and here I was in Colombia by the Caribbean coast so I guess anything could happen. Like the majority of the things that I’d done so far, I’d heard from other travellers that scuba diving was cheap and beautiful in Colombia so I dug out my old PADI license from the depths of my bag and signed up for refresher course.

My pal L and I booked our dives with Tayrona Dive Centre in the small town of Taganga. This little town was known for diving and crazy parties but it was so dirty and unfinished I was much happier staying 15 minutes away in Santa Marta. Our dive instructor Juan made us watch a video on the basics of scuba diving and then suited us up and ushered us out to the boat. L hadn’t dived before so I was expecting the first dive to be all about learning techniques and skills but once we were in the water, Juan made sure L was calm and confident and we set off to discover the world below the water. It sure was a big change from when I got my PADI license a few years ago, where it was all about safety techniques and practising skills. It was nice that they were so relaxed about it all because we got to spend more time under the water!

The first dive I was still a bit nervous because it had been four years since my last dive but once I got my ears to equalise I was on fire.We swam amongst schools of fish and past healthy looking coral life. Massive puffer fish floated past us and we found lion fish hidden away in in the hard coral. We took a break on a lone beach, where small geckos flitted around our feet before diving into the clear waters once more. I’d forgotten how amazing diving was and was so glad I decided to do it again.

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Cheese!

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All the gear … No idea

The following day we woke up early again and headed back out to Tanganga for our second day of diving. I was feeling a lot more confident today and loved every single under the water. Completing my Advanced Dive certification was now much higher on my bucket list!

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After our dives we said goodbye to Juan and headed back to Santa Marta. The following day we spent at Playa Bahia Concha, a local beach on the outskirts of Tayrona National Park. It was the perfect way to decompress after our two days diving.

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Hanging out at Playa Bahia Concha

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Tomorrow we head out Tayrona National Park to discover one Colombia’s must-see attractions. And to get in some more tan time!

J. x

 

A Holiday From a Holiday in Palomino

It was time. I’d been gallivanting around South America for about four and a bit months now and was surprised at how worn out I was getting at playing tourist. Whoever said travelling was a walk in the park obviously has only been on all-inclusive holidays. This travelling business is just as hard as a job, the only thing is that its full time. So after reaching Colombia, I was a little tired of always being the tourist, I just wanted to relax and chill out. I guess you could say I wanted a holiday from my travels – ah its a tough life!

Luckily Colombia is full to the brim of places to get stuck in and really just live like the Colombians. After a week and a bit in Cartagena, I was ready for some serious beach time and Palomino Beach seemed like the perfect idea.

I caught the bus to Santa Marta and spent one night in this hot, busy city. Santa Marta didn’t leave much of an impression on me in the short time I was there. It seemed too chaotic, dirty and busy so I caught the bus to Palomino the following morning to meet two of the English girls I had stayed with in Cartagena. The drive to Palomino was long but beautiful. We passed Tayrona National Park, the starting point of the Lost City trek and many different little roadside villages. I arrived at the Tiki Hut Hostel where the girls were staying at instantly felt at ease. This tropical resort looking hostel was exactly what I was chasing. I spent the afternoon lazing around the pool with the girls, catching up on what we’d been doing in the past week.

The following day I did more of the same – devouring the amazing breakfast on offer at the Tiki Hut, sun baking, swimming and sampling one of the best brownies I’ve had ever. Not even kidding, these brownies were LIFE-CHANGING! Life is good! I went tubing down the river with some Danish girls that were also staying at the hostel and a big group of us solo female travellers found a delicious vegetarian restaurant that we may have visited twice in one day!

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The Tiki Hut – amazing!

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For the first time of the trip I was surrounded solely by girls and it was absolutely wonderful. We were all either travelling solo or in pairs and it was great to see how we could all come together from different parts of the world. I felt like girl power was definitely at its finest in Palomino, no boys needed here! I also found it hilarious that despite your address, every group of girls will have the same conversations. We talked about boys, our bodies and futures. As cheesy as it sounds but talking with these girls was empowering and it made me realise that my decision to travel instead of settle down was the right decision.

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Girl Power!

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Falafel and quinoa 
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Raw beetroot salad

We stayed in Palomino for the week, extending our stay every morning much to the hostels staffs humour. Each time we’d go to reception they’d said ‘Another night girls?’. That was another great thing about the Tiki Hut, the staff were so friendly and welcoming. I definitely recommend this hostel to anyone in Palomino – it’s the perfect place to enjoy the Caribbean coast. Plus the pancakes at breakfast are absolutely bomb!

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Palomino Beach

One of the English girls L and I wanted to go diving so we reluctantly left our little oasis in Palomino and headed back to Santa Marta to find a dive school. We booked into Masaya Hostel which was a grand old building, that must of have been a fancy hotel back in it’s day. The best dive shops were 15 minutes away in the small town of Taganga, so we put it on tomorrow’s do-to list and enjoyed dinner at a small little cafe called Carambolo, which had the most delicious wraps and drinks. It was here that I was introduced to coconut lemonade and let me just say that my life has never been the same! Carambolo was situated in a colourful little street that opened up into a big square, which was much nicer than the area of Santa Marta than I had seen briefly. My opinions on this city were starting to change.

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Inside Masaya Hostel

We headed to bed early that night, still running on our Palomino schedule where the bed time was early and the sleep was solid. Tomorrow, lets go diving!

 

J. x