We left Grand Cayman with a great forecast for our 3 day sail to the small island of Providencia, although 120 miles off the coast of Nicaragua it actually belongs to Colombia. As the forecast was good for the following 5 days we decided to add a few miles to the passage and passed to the east of the ‘Nicaraguan Rise’ a group of shoals stretching 200 miles off the Nicaraguan coast. Lots of commercial vessels use the same passage and so we had company most of the way, although mainly out of sight our AIS system can detect and identify them from 25+ miles away. As darkness fell on day three we knew we were going to arrive in the early hours, but had read that there is a buoyed channel in to the bay which should be lit. The navionics charts are reported to be 200 metres out in this area so we were apprehensive approaching the reef strewn island in the dark. The Colombian government have issued a very good guide for cruisers which includes some charts, so after studying their chart we decided to attempt it. The channel was indeed lit, although the light sequences were different to the chart, but we made it in and wearily anchored just inside the last channel marker and went to bed at 4.30am after a refreshing beer.
The island is quite mountainous in the centre, with most of the 5,000 residents living around the coast at the base of the hills. To the north of the island is another small island called Santa Catalina, joined to Providencia by just a foot-bridge. Santa Catalina has no roads or cars, just a paved walkway dotted with a few houses along its southern coast and a trail around the remainder.
The small but busy town of Santa Isabel is the main hub of Providencia with several small supermarkets and an equal amount of hardware stores and the cost of living is low in comparison to many other Caribbean islands. We get about 4,400 Colombian pesos to the British pound, making a case of beer just £11 in comparison to £38 in Grand Cayman!
The main mode of transport on the island is two-wheels, motorbikes and mopeds zoom around often with the whole family aboard. It seems strange to see small babies and toddlers perched on the fuel tank or sandwiched between two pillion passengers along with shopping. We chose to hire a Kawasaki mule, a four-wheeled vehicle with no doors or windscreen, mainly because we had dive tanks and fuel to refill for the outboard and neither are within walking distance. It takes only about half an hour to circumnavigate the island so we had plenty of time to explore in just one day.
The beach at South West Bay is beautiful and quiet with a few horses grazing in the undergrowth and three or four restaurants where you can dine with your toes in the sand. We chose Divino Nino as this place had been recommended by Mr Bush the maritime agent on the island. After refilling tanks and fuel we had got low on cash, and asked the owner of the restaurant if they accept cards. Unfortunately they don’t, but he said we could eat and come back another time to pay! What amazing trust and generosity from these wonderful Providencian people. We stayed and had the seafood platter for two, a huge dish presented with two whole fish, half a lobster, conch, squid and shrimp with rice and fried plantain. It was all absolutely delicious and far more than we could eat between us, all for 54,000 pesos which is just over £12! Needless to say we went straight to Santa Isabel to get some more cash and returned within the hour to pay our bill.