Sitting just 418 km east of Nicaragua is the small Caribbean island of Old Providence or Providencia, as referred to by locals. While the island is closer to Nicaragua, it is currently owned by Colombia and considered part of the country’s San Andres Archipelago—although that fact can be controversial depending on who you ask. Most of Providencia’s Afro-natives will tell you they are anything but Colombian; they consider themselves to be Caribbean Creole, and it certainly shows through the island’s rich culture.
Getting to this often-overlooked paradise can be tricky. One would think you could just hop on a plane or ship and get there from mainland Nicaragua or Colombia, but that’s not the case. To reach Providencia, you’ll have to fly into Colombia’s San Andres island and then take a short 20-minute flight from there. Or, you can hop aboard Hurtigruten Expedition’s MS Roald Amundsen and arrive on the island via a luxury ship.
You can sail on the brand’s 10-day Caribbean Vibes itinerary, which also includes other hard-to-reach Caribbean islands and destinations, including San Andres island in Colombia and Bocas del Toro in Panama.
The island is indeed special. It's surrounded by lush green mountains and lined with towering palm trees.
The locals are very friendly. Their welcoming bright smiles compliment their beautiful melanin complexions. They are especially happy to see Black American visitors coming to their homeland.
On the opposite side of the island is Southwest Bay, a stunning beach that sits down below the mountains. Providencia was hit hard by Hurricane Iota in 2020—just days after the island had reopened after the pandemic. The locale is still very unspoiled thanks to the break in tourism, so it will feel like you're on your own private island.
Southwest Bay has a few colorful bars and eateries lining its shore, and it’s far from your average touristy beach hangout. While local vendors may occasionally set up shop along the sand when large groups are visiting, the beach is pretty quiet—other than the reggae or dancehall music coming from nearby bars.
There aren’t many beach chairs, so if you do visit, plan to bring your own beach mat or blanket to sit on. As for the beach’s water, it is warm and very clear. You may also find a few fishing boats docked, but they make for amazing backdrops to your island photoshoots.
A highlight for those who visit is the traditional horse races that happen almost daily. Young local jockeys will line their horses up on one end of the beach just before they take off as fast as they can to the other side. While there’s no prize, it’s certainly bragging rights for the winner and a fun sight for non-locals.
Beyond Southwest Bay are a few other public beaches across the 8-square-mile tropical destination. As for hotels, you won’t find any major chains like Marriott or Hilton, but there are locally-owned guesthouses and bed & breakfasts, which takes the local charm up a notch.
But, the real winner of Providencia is its locals. Mostly of Creole descent, they are some of the nicest people you will ever encounter, and they are all very proud of their island.