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

 

 

 

 

Back in Lima (and getting sentimental)

Even though staying so long in Chile wasn’t originally on the cards, I was so glad I got to see some of this amazing country. That’s one of the best things about travelling; your plans can change in an instant! I made it to Santiago Airport after a disaster of a morning when nothing went my way. It was funny because as I sat in the airport complaining to my Mum over Whatsapp about my crazy morning where the taxi was an hour late and my bag broke, I just had to laugh because I once I gave myself a reality check and realized I’d been travelling South America for three months I had no need to complain about such petty issues.

The flight to Lima was quick and before I knew it I was back in familiar territory. I was heading back to Dragonfly Hostel where I had volunteered two months early and the sense of home that I felt as the taxi sped past the pebbled beaches made me forgot all about my horror of a morning. Arriving back to Dragonfly I was welcomed not only by my friends but a banner with my face on it advertising the hostel! It was hilarious! I caught up with my friends and filled them in on my travels over a couple of beers before conking out for the night.

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What a welcome back! Pretty much A list celebrity now!

In all honesty, the next few days were laidback and relaxed. As I had done a lot of sightseeing in Lima the last time I was here, I had no reason to rush around playing tourist. I met new friends, ate some of the best ceviche, went to some cool nightclubs and generally just had a fantastic time. We went into central Lima and I actually played tour guide, it was crazy to think I knew my way well enough around this massive city! We also went to a festival one night, which had some of Peru’s best music and got sunburnt by the harsh sun at the beach.

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Chowing down on ceviche at Mercado Uno – so delicious!
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Ceviche = love
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Selvamonos Festival – crazy night!

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Coming back to Lima was just what I needed after leaving my previous group of friends. I had no time to be sad because I left one travel family and stepped right back into another. It made me realize that my previous fear of solo travel was unnecessary and that you will never be alone for long. I wasted a lot of time waiting for friends back to decide to travel with me because I was too scared to travel by myself, when really new friends were just waiting to be made. I was also a little proud of myself, for not listening to those back home that said that travelling alone through South America was dangerous and stupid. I hadn’t felt in danger once during my travels (minus the time I was 1 kilometre deep in a silver mine – but that was self inflicted!) and wanted to show everyone back home how easy it is to travel solo. It may have only been three months since I left Australian soil but I feel like I have learnt and grown up so much. Travelling alone (and with friends for that matter) teaches you things that no school or university can. While I’m not out there doing my Masters or making millions, I’m learning important life lessons that you can only get from travel… Plus it’s way more fun! I know I’m not quite setting up my life like my friends are but I wouldn’t change the experiences I’ve had for a second – no job or house deposit can replace what I’ve done! It might be the extra strong coffee I had this morning talking, but I can happily say that the path that I’ve chosen to take in my early 20’s might not be the conventional way, but it’s the way made for me. But that’s enough cheesiness for now…

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Some of the gorgeous people I met while at Dragonfly! 

After several fun-filled days I sadly had to leave Lima and continue my travels, however I wasn’t alone. My next plan was to do some hiking in the mountains of Huaraz and had made friends with a French girl who wanted to do the same so we caught the night bus to Huaraz ready to shock our bodies by heading back into the high altitude and cold weather.

Stay tuned to see how we went after five days hiking!

J. x