Around 90km north of San Andrés, the much smaller and quainter island of Providencia feels not only like a world away, but like a different country entirely. Tourism has not been spliced into the gene pool here, so the quiet, laid-back hamlets that nestle against white-sand beaches feel much more authentic than San Andrés'. And without a direct connection to the Colombian mainland, the island hasn't seen nearly the same levels of cultural invasion, leaving the original traditions and customs more or less intact. All this combined with gorgeous topography standing sentinel over swaths of turquoise-blue sea gives Providencia no small claim to being paradise.
Traditionally known as Old Providence, the island covers an area of 17 sq km. It is the second-largest island of the archipelago. A mountainous island of volcanic origin, it is much older than San Andrés and is home to the second-largest barrier reef in the Americas.
Santa Isabel, a village at the island's northern tip, is the local administrative headquarters. Santa Catalina, a small island facing Santa Isabel, is separated from Providencia by the shallow Canal Aury, spanned by a pedestrian bridge.
Strict zoning laws have held large-scale development at bay, and, unlike in San Andrés, English is still widely spoken. There's much English-Caribbean–style architecture, with each homeowner trying to outdo their neighbor by the stroke of a paintbrush.
What tourist industry does exist can be found in the tiny hamlets of Aguadulce and Bahía Suroeste on the west coast, a 15-minute ride by colectivo from the airport. Here you'll find small cottages, hotels and cabañas strung along the road, and a handful of restaurants. While you can see virtually the whole island in a day, travelers end up staying longer than they expected, scuba diving, hiking or just lying in a hammock with a Club Colombia in hand.
Friendly locals, warm seas and impressive mountainous topography all help make Providencia Colombia's Eden.
Planes to and from Providencia are sometimes cancelled due to high winds; this happened to our author, who was forced to do remote research from San Andrés.