It’s no wonder that this diminutive island is called Providencia. It’s a little slice of heaven.
The harbor welcomes boats with a span of earth open like a pair of arms. On the left lies Santa Catalina, an islet offering beaches and snorkeling. On the right is the main island, heightened by a ridge featuring Split Hill, a summit with a cleft. A charming pedestrian bridge called Lovers Lane crosses Aury Canal and connects the two parts.
The small settlement of Santa Isabel bustles with families and single drivers zooming around on scooters. The commercial ferry brings cars and merchandise to the dock where cruisers tie up their dinghies. A few shops dot the main street, but there are no signs screaming “T-Shirts 3 for $10” or “Happy Hour Specials 4-6 O’clock.” This just isn’t that kind of place. The islanders have worked hard to develop zoning laws that discourage high-rise hotels and gated communities. For a touristy sun-and-sand atmosphere, head to Providencia’s sister island, San Andres.
Many of Providencia’s 5000 inhabitants are united also in efforts to stop oil drilling, discovered on one of the local cays. Signs read, “Old Providence, Not Oil Providence” and “They Didn’t Ask What We Want.”
They refers to the decades-old dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua over Providencia and San Andres. A treaty dating back to 1928 confirms Colombia’s sovereignty, yet Nicaragua continues to pursue its claims in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Oil drilling has already made Colombia quite wealthy, and Nicas would like some of the action. However, just as the country lost the opportunity to host an interoceanic canal, it likely will lose this fight also.
The best way to explore Providencia’s 17 square miles is by motorcycle or a four-wheel mule, sometimes called a Gator. We choose the latter and Mikayla has her first driving lesson in a four-wheel vehicle. A couple of missed turns require Mikayla to turn around in the middle of the paved road and an oncoming vehicle rattles her.
“Daddy, please take over.”
“No, you can do this.”
“You can do this, Mikayla.”
She heads off in the right direction and the ivory and brown cows grazing along the road nod their approval.
Our drive takes us on a clockwise tour of the island, and we stop at several places to view the amazing blues of the sea on the windward side. At the beach outside the bar formerly known as Roland’s, we stroll through fine sand under tall palm trees.
Our next stop takes us to a small settlement at Southwest Bay and Divino Nino, a restaurant on the beach that offers a delicious seafood platter. It arrives with all our favorite things—lobster, shrimp, two fish and the best conch we’ve ever had.
As we continue our tour, we find an amazing piece of art on the roadside. It’s a bus stop in the shape of a manta ray and the supporting pillar is covered with figures from the sea. Public art like this is rare and nearly nonexistent in the Caribbean islands. Few governments can afford basic health services for citizens, yet Providencia offers several examples of sculpture. The island also has well-constructed boardwalks along the sea and playgrounds.
Our final stop is Arts and Crafts Cafe which offers neither arts nor crafts. Instead Maria Delplace has popsicles made with natural juices for sale. Her shop is located in Aguadulce, a settlement of 20 houses or so and a handful of hotels that use a low-key approach to attracting tourists.
As we return the mule to the rental agency, Mikayla declares, “I don’t want to learn how to drive. There are way too many things to hit.”