San Andrés and Providencia

San Andrés and Providencia are destinations most Colombians dream about visiting at least once in their lifetime. Closer to Nicaragua than to the Colombian mainland - there is a running dispute between the two countries over sovereignty - these Caribbean islands have what locals have
dubbed 'the sea of seven colours', though it often seems like more. The waters around this archipelago
play host to a variety of marine life, and the clarity of the sea makes this one of the best diving
destinations in the Caribbean. In 2000, UNESCO declared the archipelago a World Biosphere Reserve,
christened The Seaflower. At 32 km in length, the Old McBean Lagoon barrier reef off Providencia is the third largest in the world.


San Andrés and Providencia share a coastline rich in coral reefs, white sand cays and waters of extraordinary colours, but are in fact very different. San Andrés, the larger island, is a popular mass tourism destination, replete with resort hotels and discos. Providencia has quietly observed its big sister's develop- ment, decided it does not want to follow the same path, and has put in place certain restrictions to halt the encroachment of package tourism.

The original inhabitants are mostly the descendants of Jamaican slaves brought over by English pirates such as Henry Morgan, and with the arrival of English, Dutch, French and Spanish settlers over the years this has led to an extraordinary genealogical mix. Today, especially in San Andrés, much of the original culture has been diluted and about 50% of the population is now made up by immigrants from mainland Colombia. The remainder are locals and there are some Lebanese and Turkish communities. Immigration is less pronounced in Providencia.

San Andrés and Providencia are famous in Colombia for their music, styles include the local form of calypso, soca, reggae and church music, as well as schottische, quadrille, polka and mazurka, the musical legacies of the various European communities which settled here. A number of good local groups perform on the islands and in Colombia. Concerts are held at the
Old Coliseum
(every Saturday at 2100 in the high season). There is a cultural centre at Punta Hansa in San Andrés town.

After their discovery by Colombus on his fourth trip to the Caribbean, their early colonial history was dominated by the conflicts between Spain and England, though the Dutch occupied Providencia for some years. English Puritans arrived on Providencia from Bermuda and England in 1629 and later moved to San Andrés. The English left in 1641, but Creole English remained the dominant language until recent times and is still widely spoken. Surnames such as Whittaker, Hooker, Archbold, Robinson, Howard and Newell are also common. Providencia later became a pirate colony, shared between the Dutch and the English before it was taken back by the Spanish and assigned to the Vice Royalty of New Granada (modern day Colombia) in 1803. In 1818 French Corsair Louis-Michel Aury successfully invaded Providencia and declared it part of the United States of Argentina and Chile, using it to capture Spanish cargo to bolster the burgeoning Latin American independence movement. Finally, in 1822 San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina were adhered to the newly independent state of Gran Colombia.

The islands are 770 km north of continental Colombia, 849 km southwest of Jamaica, and 240 km east of Nicaragua. This proximity has led Nicaragua to claim them from Colombia in the past. Three battleships patrol San Andrés to guard against any invasion by the Nicaraguans.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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