Divers and snorkelers will delight at the underwater viewing opportunities off both San Andrés and Providencia, and the rich life on the reef keeps many travelers busy during their stay on the islands. Providencia also boasts a wonderful and easily accessible hike to to its highest point.
While courses or individual dives may be cheaper on the mainland, the richness of the corals and the variety of marine life here rivals almost any place in the Caribbean.
Both San Andrés and Providencia have extensive coral reefs – 15km and 35km respectively – and they're notable for their sponges, which appear in an amazing range of forms, sizes and colors. Other aquatic inhabitants include barracudas, sharks, turtles, lobsters, rays and red snappers. Wreck divers will want to check out the two sunken ships, Blue Diamond and Nicaraguense, both off the coast of San Andrés.
The top five dive spots:
Palacio de la Cherna A wall dive southeast of San Andrés that begins at 12m and drops off some 300m more. Midnight parrot fish, tiger fish, king crabs, lobsters and even nurse and reef sharks are common sightings.
Cantil de Villa Erika Southwest of San Andrés. Depths range from 12m to 45m along this colorful reef full of sponges, soft and hard corals, sea turtles, manta and eagle rays, and sea horses.
La Piramide A shallow dive inside the reef on San Andrés' north side, this is a haven for stingrays. The quantity of fishes, octopuses and moray eels make it one of the most active spots on the island.
Tete's Place Large schools of mid-sized goatfish, grunt fish, schoolmasters and squirrel fish frequent this aquarium-like site 1km offshore at Bahía Suroeste in Providencia.
Manta's Place Despite its name, there are no manta rays at this Providencia site, but rather southern stingrays with wingspans up to 1.5m. As you survey the sands between coral mounds, you'll pass fields of ghost feather dusters, where brown garden eels withdraw into the sand for protection.
As you'd expect on two remote islands surrounded by big healthy reefs, seafood and fish are the chief ingredients here. San Andrés is cosmopolitan enough to have far more available, particularly in San Andrés Town, but Providencia has very little on offer beyond the gifts of the sea.
Despite tourism being the main industry on both islands, neither San Andrés nor Providencia has a particularly notable pedigree of hotels. On San Andrés decent hotels are expensive and often booked up, while on Providencia standards are rather low compared to elsewhere in Colombia. That said, there are some decent options on both, all best booked in advance.