Tiny PROVIDENCIA is the antithesis of its sister island: a quiet place with a population of around five thousand, where everyone knows everyone else, where most speak an English-based Creole; with a mountainous interior covered with lush vegetation, and the world’s third-largest barrier reef beckoning divers from all over the world. It’s difficult not to fall in love with Providencia; many do, and end up staying far longer than they intended.
Providencia is circled by a 16km loop of a coastal road, so it’s easy to see all the sights along it. At the north tip of the island is Santa Isabel, the main “town”, with ATMs and other services. A pedestrian bridge takes you across to the minute Santa Catalina Island – after dark, it’s possible to see manta rays swimming under the bridge. On Santa Catalina Island, a footpath leads past the labelled mangroves to Morgan’s Cannon on the right, while a slightly longer walk to the left leads you up to Fort Warwick and down to Morgan’s Cove where it’s possible to snorkel.
Back on Providencia and heading clockwise, a road loops off from the main coastal road through Maracaibo, where the pricey but good seafront restaurant, Deep Blue, is a fantastic spot for an oceanside drink. Directly across the water is Cayo Cangrejo, a tiny island with some superb snorkelling and a great view of Providencia from the top (boat trips to Cayo Cangrejo are easily arranged through your accommodation).
Heading south past the airport, you eventually pass Haley’s Point – a lookout spot with an all-encompassing view of the reef beyond. In the south of the island, a hiking trail leads from Casabaja village up El Pico (360m), the island’s only mountain, with superb 360-degree views from the top. The hike takes around ninety minutes one-way; be sure to ask for directions and bring plenty of water.
From Casabaja, another road leads south to Bahía Manzanillo (Manchineel Bay), the liveliest of the beaches, with a bar and restaurants. Further west long the coastal road, you pass the turn-off to Bahía Suroeste (Southwest Bay), with a couple of hotels and places to eat. On the west side of the island, Aguadulce is a scattering of shops and services, while between Aguadulce and Santa Isabel, there are a couple of turn-offs to beaches, particularly in the Catalina Bay area.