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

 

 

 

 

Aloha Hawaii! Day 1 in O’ahu

We arrived into Honolulu at 5:45am after a rather lovely flight from Brisbane. The plane was only about half full so as soon as the seatbelt sign switched off, K, L and myself dispersed and claimed a row to ourselves. For an el cheapo Jetstar flight that we’d been dreading, it was actually one of the easiest flights I’d been on!

The three of us made it through baggage and customs quickly and hailed a taxi to take us to our hostel in downtown Waikiki. We were staying at the Waikiki Hostel International, which was about a 25-minute drive from the airport. Even though it was nearing 6:30am, the sky was still covered in a blanket of darkness and we could only see the outline of the palm tress and skyscrapers. By the time we reached our hostel, the sun had made an appearance and the city started to come to light. We were way too early for reception to be open, let alone checking in time so we did what every self-respecting human would do. We went to find food.

Walking towards the water and the main strip, the city began to come alive with a mix of street cleaners, shop owners and early birds who came out to watch the sunrise. We walked right out to the edge of the sand and looked out at the blue water, relishing the fact that we’d arrived. Waikiki was exactly how I expected. Palm trees swayed in the slight breeze, surfers and paddle-boarders floating on the azure coloured water and high rises lining the beach from one end to the other. It had a similar atmosphere to the Gold Coast, but a little more island-y.

Instead of forking out a bunch of dollars on a restaurant breakfast, we had too much fun in an ABC store (like a 7/11 on roids) and picked out heaps of random things to sample for breakfast. Making a little picnic in a grassy area by the beach we devoured our food and watched Waikiki wake up. There was a slight chill in the air, which stopped us from jumping into the water then and there so we settled for watching the surfers catch the tiny waves until our hostel opened.

Around 7:30am we meandered back to our hostel and dropped our gear off that we wouldn’t need for the day. Going with the theory that if we stayed up all day we would miss the whole jetlag situation, we got changed into swimmers and headed for the beach.

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Streets of Waikiki

By the time we were down at the beach, Waikiki had truly come to life. There were people everywhere. We found a patch of sand to call ours and made a beeline for the water. The water seemed saltier than back home so we floated like buoys under the increasingly hot sun. We laid out on the beach, enjoying the sun until the itch for coffee got too much. Wandering down the strip to the nearest Starbucks we got our caffeine fix, we wondered why people were starting to line the streets with sun chairs and eskies. As it turns out, it was Martin Luther King Jnr day (ignorant Aussie right here) and the city of Honolulu was here to celebrate him!

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The beginning of the Martin Luther King Jnr Day parade

We watched the parade for awhile, impressed with the passion and vigour of these locals. They knew what they wanted and weren’t afraid to say it. Group after group of people chanted and marched down the busy main street, adamant in their beliefs. We watched the parade for awhile before heading back to the water to cool down again and deciding to do something productive for the day.

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L taking in the views of downtown Waikiki
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Ah the things you find in the ABC store – A Jagermeister lei!

Walking through the streets with the intention of finding stand up paddle-boards but this quickly changed to bicycles after finding a good deal. We took off in the direction of Diamond Head and hoped for the best. After working out which side of the road to ride on and a brief lowdown of the road rules from a local, we pedalled off on an adventure. What we found was a very steep hill, which just seemed to keep going. The bikes weren’t exactly Tour de France worthy, making getting up that hill a workout and a half! However we were rewarded with constant view of sapphire coloured water and swaying palm trees so it’s hard to complain. At the top of the hill, we found a path down to the water, which we gladly walked down and leapt straight into the waiting ocean.

This little beach was much quieter than the busy shores of Waikiki. Full of surfers and body boarders this seemed like a local jaunt as the gnarliest looking guys kept coming in and out of the water. We swam, sun-baked and checked out the surfers until our stomachs started to grumble.

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Our little secluded beach
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Much quieter and peaceful than Waikiki Beach!

Riding the bikes down the hill much easier and quicker and we reached downtown Waikiki in no time. Taking a different route to last time (not planned) we ended up finding an ocean blue food truck offering some local Hawaiian fare. Not one to pass up on freshly cooked food, we ordered coconut shrimp and salmon and shrimp poy bo and sat at the makeshift tables in the shade.

The food was delicious to say the least. The shrimp and salmon were fresh, crunchy and full of flavour. We devoured the food in minutes, totally satisfied with our choices. If this was an indication of the food we would be eating, I was absolutely okay with it.

Deciding to ditch the bikes for awhile, we got back on the foot falcon and walked around the streets a bit more. Ending up in the more upmarket part of town, we quickly discovered our sandy feet and wet hair wasn’t really welcome in the likes of Jimmy Choo and Tiffanys! Luckily it was time to properly check in to our hostel so we hoofed it back and had some down time in our room to recuperate a bit.

Wanting to catch the sunset, we showered and dressed up ready to watch the sun fall below the horizon. It seems like everyone else in Honolulu had the same idea as us, making finding a spot on the beach near impossible! We found a spot just as the sun dropped below the water line. It disappeared so quickly, but we managed to catch the final rays. The crowd erupted into applause and exclamations of the sunsets beauty. It was nice to see that in this crazy concrete jungle of Waikiki, that Mother Nature was still appreciated.

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Sunset at Waikiki Beach
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Looking out to Diamond Head
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Such a glorious end to our first day!

Just as quickly as the sun went down, the city lit up in blinding lights. Nighttime in Waikiki had begun! We searched the strip for somewhere to eat and ended up at a Mexican restaurant one street back from the strip. Cheers-ing to our first day in Hawaii we discussed plans for the next few days. Despite the fun and hustle and bustle of Waikiki, we decided it was too touristy for us. Making plans to head north a day early, we rearranged our plans a touch so we could escape the busy strip and discover some of the real Hawaii..

It sounded like a solid plan. I couldn’t wait!

Until tomorrow..

J. x