Isla de Providencia
With just 13,000 visitors per year, Isla de Providencia is one of the few remaining Caribbean islands yet to see mass tourism. There are only a handful of small hotels and beautifully unspoiled beaches that are largely devoid of people — a fact the locals are quite happy to point out. Located closer to Nicaragua’s coast (some 140 miles) than to Colombia’s, Providencia arguably boasts clearer water than its larger and more frequently visited sister island, San Andres. And with walls and middle reefs rivaling those of Little Cayman, the sub-aquatic biological richness of this place has helped earn it the status of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. That’s why Coralina, a Colombian marine conservation agency, is working to protect the reefs and keep them pristine for many years to come. Isla de Providencia’s greatest attribute for scuba travelers, however, is the variety and accessibility of diving within a small area for both novice and seasoned divers. The barrier coral reef is just more than 20 miles long, making it the third largest in the world and the only one of the top three associated with an island of volcanic origins. Some of the wall dives have a sand shelf visible at about 200 feet, while others appear bottomless as they reach down to more than 600 feet. Popular dives include swimming along the steep walls cascading with sponges at sites such as Blue Hole and Contour, exploring the caves and fissures at NX and Tete’s Place, and cruising the sunlit shallow coral gardens at Bajo de San Felipe and Left Channel. Throw in a few shipwrecks such as Planchon, a World War II German tanker, and there’s not much else you could ask for in a dive destination. The crystalline, calm waters and an abundance of marine life also make Isla de Providencia a perfect place to take up scuba diving. Plus, swaying beneath a palm tree on a tire swing sharing tamales and ice-cold lager with your dive buddies on a nearly deserted beach is a perfect way to off-gas. — Franklin J. Viola
Need to Know
Getting There: Avianca, American, Continental and Delta provide service to Bogotá. From there you’ll need to fly Avianca or Copa/Aero Republica to San Andres Island, and then Colombian regional airline Satena to Isla de Providencia. When to Go: The warm, dry season is from December through April. October is the rainiest month, while June and July are often windy with occasional storms. Special times to visit include late June for the island's carnival, or early May when the black crabs descend en masse from the mountains to lay their eggs. Dive Conditions: Water temps hover around 80°F, with 60- to 100-foot visibility. Most reefs lack current. Operator/Accommodations: Felipe Diving Center (www.felipediving.com) coordinates accommodations with neighboring El Encanto Cabins. Sirius Hotel and Dive Center (www.siriushotel.net, www.siriusdivecenter.com) is a quaint operation on the west coast. Price Tag: Standard rooms at the Sirius Hotel start at $54 per night including breakfast, dinner and an island boat tour. Single boat dives start at $45. Inside Tip: You must spend an evening (or two) at Roland Roots Bar on Bahia Manzanilla Beach sipping ice-cold beer and eating scrumptious fried fish while listening to reggae. Depending on recent rainfall, taxis might drop you off on the main road for a walk of less than 20 minutes. Or you may rent a motorbike near your hotel and ride right up to the reggae.