San Andrés, Providencia & Santa Catalina is a small tropical archipelago located in the Caribbean Sea over 700 km north of Colombia’s mainland. The territory has long been disputed by Nicaragua even though legal custody of the islands was granted to Colombia in 1928 and has been reiterated on multiple occasions, the last time being in 2007 when the International Court of Justice again denied Nicaragua’s claim of sovereignty.
The islands were destroyed by hurricane Iota in November of 2020 and months later are still struggling to recover because Colombia’s central government has continued their legacy of abandonment and disregard for the remote department, offering little aid and resources at a time during which the COVID-19 pandemic has gravely diminished the islands’ capabilities of economic independence as they rely heavily on tourism.
These photographs were taken in March 2018.
Providencia & Santa Catalina
Providencia, Old Providence, Mystic Island. A place I have longed for my entire life but have only had the chance to visit three times. Though it is only 17 km², it is home to postcard-perfect beaches, mountains, mangroves, cays, and the unmatched McBean Lagoon.
Like many Caribbean islands, it was invaded by European colonisers in the 1500s and used as a base by British settlers (and even a few notorious pirates like Captain Morgan), which is why the islanders speak Creole English. The Spanish Empire eventually took over in the late 1700s and made the archipelago part of New Granada, the territory that eventually became modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.
Santa Catalina is the smallest of the three islands with an area of just 1 km². It’s separated from Providencia by a small channel and connected by the colourful Lovers’ Bridge.
Cayo Cangrejo, or Crab Cay, is arguably the most iconic of Providencia’s natural wonders. Located in McBean Lagoon on the island’s northeast, this rocky outcrop is perfect for snorkelling, swimming, and spending a day in the sun enjoying the brilliant turquoise waters. For the best view, climb up to the top of the rock in the centre of the cay to watch the reefs from above and get an incomparable view of Old Providence’s mountainous coastline.
Though San Andrés is beautiful in its own right (and has great shopping), it was merely a stop-over on this trip so I only spent two short nights on the main island before travelling the 90 km north to Providencia and Santa Catalina. I sailed up on a catamaran (which I will never do again—check out the video to get an idea of the four-hour-long washing machine ride I was on) and back down before flying back to the mainland.