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The tropical Colombian archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia boasts some of the most pristine and unspoiled beaches and reefs in South America. With a historical connection to Great Britain and a geographic proximity to Nicaragua, these islands have their own unique local culture, the English-Creole speaking Raizal people. San Andrés and Providencia are truly off the beaten track, and are an unspoiled paradise waiting for intrepid travellers.
San Andrés is the largest island in the archipelago, and serves as the administrative capital. Every weekend Colombian tourists flood onto the island to take advantage of the duty-free shopping and stunning scenery, but it is still easy to get away from the crowds and claim your own piece of beachfront real estate.
Providencia is far less built up than San Andrés (which isn’t very built up at all), and offers visitors access to thriving coral reefs, clear blue waters, and white sand beaches. The island is dotted with small fishing villages full of colourful wooden houses, and is a wonderful place to experience the local cuisine.
In order to take advantage of the best weather in San Andres and Providencia, visit the archipelago from the end of December to the end of April. If you are interested in the crab migration on Providencia, you should visit from April to July.
San Andres Town is the bustling main town on the island, and is often referred to as El Centro. Home to 60,000 residents, this is a busy and thriving tourist town complete with a cruise ship harbour and plenty of shops, restaurants, and hotels. El Centro is a brilliant place to get acquainted with the local Raizal people.
Johnny Cay is a pristine coral islet covering approximately 4 hectares, and is located approximately 1 mile north of El Centro. Blanketed with coconut groves and ringed by white sand beaches, this is one of the loveliest places to relax on San Andrés.
San Luis can be found on the island's east coast, and is home to soft, fine beaches and lovely little houses. Snorkelers will love the clear waters and active coral beds, and anyone seeking calm and peace will enjoy this alternative to San Andrés Town.
Hoyo Soplador is a small geyser located at the southern end of the island. The sea water here will spurt up through a hole in the coral into the sky (up to 20 metres!) at certain times. The winds and tides need to be aligned just right, but it is worth the wait – ask the locals about their opinions on the timings.
Santa Isabel may be the largest village in Providencia, but it isn’t on the typical tourist track. This could change, as it is set in a lovely bay and peppered with picturesque houses and churches. The small island of Santa Catalina is accessible to
Santa Isabel by a pontoon bridge, and exploring the two areas is worth an afternoon of your time.
Anyone visiting Providencia needs to make the journey to El Pico Natural Regional Park. A popular trail starts in Casabaja, and many different routes wind their way up to the pinnacle of from El Pico mountain (360m), where you will be treated to stunning views of the Caribbean. While you can traverse these trails on your own, many local guides are available in Casabaja. Remember to bring your own water, as there is nowhere to buy supplies along the way.
Bahia Suroste is a stunning bay lined with palm trees, steep hills, and powdery white sand. There are only a few hotels here, but the lack of amenities is certainly counterbalanced by the sheer beauty of the scenery. Make sure you check out the weekly bareback horse race on the beach – it’s a show of skill and strength that starts every Saturday around 2pm.
No trip to Santa Isabel is complete without a stroll over to Santa Catalina. It’s only a short journey from the main village (over a pontoon bridge), and is worth a few hours of your time. Take the path to the left immediately after the bridge in order to explore the coastline, and make sure that you visit Morgan's Head. This is a craggy cliff famous for its resemblance to a human face, and is beloved by locals.
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