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PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at the time of writing was US$1 = C$2,900 (Colombian Peso / COP).
I made a mistake. The hostel was too far from the beach and the area had no nice restaurants nor bars.
… It was time to move on to Providencia Island to see if it had anything better to offer …
The Conocemos Navegando Catamaran leaves from San Andres to Providencia at 8am on 5 days each week: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
The trip out is against the swell, so it is scheduled for 3.5 hours. It returns the same day at 2pm. The trip back is with the swell, so it is scheduled for 2.5 hours. I bought my ticket online at their website. The normal Return Ticket price of C$390k / US$144 was discounted down to C$341k / US$126. I successfully paid online with my NZ Visa Credit Card.
It was 800 metres from my hostal to Tonino’s Marina. I arrived 1 hour before departure: at 7am.
I added my luggage to the queue and went to the desk to sign in. You are required to show your (in my case electronic) ticket, passport, and tourist card.
We set off on time at 8am. It wasn’t long before we hit open seas. The seas were ‘average’ … waves were about 1 metre high. It wasn’t long after that before people started throwing up into their provided plastic sick bags. A steward regularly took away the used ones and replaced them with fresh ones during the voyage. Approximately 1/3rd of the people on board were sick. I have a strong sea stomach but I must admit that I too felt a bit ‘queezy’ at times. They played a movie on the TV to distract us.
We arrived in Providencia on time at 11:30 only to find yet another queue. You need to show your passport, tourist card, and (preferably) where you plan to stay. The details were processed on the internet. The internet here is slow. The process was slow. It took over 30 minutes for me to clear the boat dock.
My host (Kildren) was waiting with his car to take me to my accommodation which was 5 kms away (about half way down the east coast at Rocky Point).
The island was the site of an English Puritan colony established in 1629 and was briefly taken by Spain in 1641.
The pirate Henry Morgan used Providencia as a base for raiding the Spanish empire, and rumours suggest that much of his treasure remains hidden on the island. Many parts of the island are named after Morgan. Forts and cannons dating back hundreds of years can be found scattered all over Santa Catalina Island.
Although the island is part of Colombia, the 5,000 to 6,000 inhabitants are reported to feel more Caribbean than Colombian, with many Rastafari. The inhabitants mostly speak English, San Andrés–Providencia Creole (an English-based creole similar to Belize Kriol), and Jamaican Patwa (rather than the Spanish of Colombia). If you are like me, you won’t understand them when they speak Creole.
Providencia Island is the centre point of the UNESCO Marine Protected Area (the ‘Seaflower Biosphere Reserve’) which forms 10% of the entire Caribbean Sea. This ecologically important reserve contains some of the world’s greatest marine biodiversity, and incorporates the San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina Archipelago in addition to several more remote and uninhabited cays and reefs.
In 2018, Providencia was in the process of upgrading the ring road around the island.
There is a little bay here. But, it is not a place that you would want to be the focus of your holiday.
So, that is what we find down south.
SANTA CATALINA ISLAND:
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what we find online … this is for 1 night at the end of June 2018 … due to the May-June rains (see ‘When To Go’, below) this is, theoretically, ‘Shoulder Season’:
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Colombia, only Colombian Nationals pay the 15-19% tax … Tourists (surprisingly) are exempt from that tax.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s and display the average price per night …
Tripadvisor had nothing within GRANDPAcking price range.
PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Cleaning Fees’ and the host site’s ‘Service Fee’. The Service Fee can add as 16%. Watch out for the Cleaning Fee – some can be more than 1 day’s rental!
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
GRANDPAckers may not be able to find anything within their price range.
Have a look yourself:
You can catch motos to get around … you don’t see many taxis outside of town and the airport. A moto from town to one of the beaches on the south coast should cost about C$10k per person.
Bicycle rental is C$40k / US$15 per 24 hours. Scooter rental is C$70k / US$26 per 24 hours.
WHERE TO STAY:
Get yourself into one of the Green Zones.
The Cabañas Ismasoris – SMILEY- posada- Hostal would seem to be one of the few affordable places in a Green Zone (Freshwater Bay). I suggest that you start looking weeks (if not months) in advance and book early.
I found them on Google Maps first but later found them on AirBnB. On AirBnB they were advertising a small 2 bedroom apartment at C$70k / night for single occupancy. They also offered a 5% discount for stays of 1 week. But, this discount (more or less) got cancelled out by the ‘Cleaning Fee’. The problem (for me) was that AirBnB wanted a whopping 12.5% / C$125k ‘Service Fee’ for booking through them.
I contacted the Ashanty directly through the email address that they had on Google. They asked for their published rate of C$70k / night. We finally agreed a price of C$900k for 2 weeks. This ended up being C$64,290 / US$23.75 per night.
The kitchen is equipped with the basics. One frying pan, a rice cooker, a sandwich toaster, and a coffee machine. There are no pots. It had a 2 element electric stove. You have plates, etc and cutlery put few other utensils. For a casual meal it was sufficient. A gourmet would struggle.
The property is advertised to have WiFi. It does not. It (very occasionally) seemed to have the free access to Facebook and Whatsapp that is left over from a burnt out plan. Even then, you lost the signal completely if the atmospherics weren’t ideal. To get internet access, I had to walk 1km up the road to the Airport (who provided a free but ‘variable’ internet signal).
Next to the Ashanty was a small shop that sold the basics – which suited the capabilities of the kitchen perfectly. You can buy 5 gallon bottles of water for C$8k.
15 metres up the path was Aydana’s restaurant. This was the closest restaurant within 1.5 kms.
INTERNET / WIFI:
I bought a Claro SIMcard in a Minimart in Cartagena. Claro is said to offer the best overall coverage and service in Colombia. The SIMcard was C$3,100 and I purchased a 2GB Data Package for C$42,900. This data package came with a few minutes of call time and a few free SMSs.
Providencia is a Movistar Island. My Claro Simcard only managed a weak H / H+ signal at the airport and in Southwest Bay and Freshwater Bay. It was slightly better in town.
Food is expensive.
Typical costs at my local store were:
- 1x Bread roll = C$400-C$800 (depending on who serves you)
- 1x Egg = C$600
- 1x Large Plantain = C$1,500
- 5 Gallon Bottle of Water = C$8,000
- 125g Pasta = C$1,500
- 330ml Local Beer = C$2,500
- 500ml Cooking Oil = C$4,800
I was there for 2 weeks, so we came to an arrangement … I paid a flat rate of C$30k for a meal each night (and she just cooked me up whatever she had available). The meals were not large but they were adequate.
Expect to pay an average of C$15,000 / US$5+ for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea.
Expect to pay an average of C$15,000 / US$5+ a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of C$33,500 / US$11+ for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.
They don’t really have pubs on the island. People tend to have a drink with their restaurant meal or drink at home with friends.
Expect to pay C$3,500 for a local beer in a cafe / restaurant. Expect to pay C$2,500 for a small bottle in a store.
A small cup of black coffee at the airport is C$3,000. A Cappuccino in town was C$4,000.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
But, Providencia is a duty free island, so alcohol (and some other goods) are cheaper here than on the mainland.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
There is an ATM in the main town. There are no Money Exchanges.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
In stark contrast to San Andres (which has areas that are just plain dangerous), I felt perfectly safe.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in these countries. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.
There were mosquitoes around which could get annoying at dawn and dusk. I was unable to eliminate mosquitoes from my bathroom and kitchen … I was constantly being bitten in the kitchen whilst I cooked. Even though I tried my best to keep my bedroom protected, at night I had a constant battle with mosquitoes that had found their way into my room … killing as many as I could before and whilst getting to sleep … there always seemed to be at least 1 well fed mosquito left in the morning.
I didn’t experience any Sandfly problems.
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHEN TO GO:
Don’t believe what you read in some blogs … you cannot enjoy a visit to Providencia ‘all year round’.
The island experiences a tropical wet and dry climate that borders on a tropical monsoon climate. Average temperatures range from 24 °C (75 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) in two periods dominated by dry and rainy spells.
The rainy season is from September to December and also from May to June, when humidity is also high here. The trade winds from the north begin to blow in late October and during November and December until mid-January, the wind usually blows from the east, when there are storms in the northeastern Caribbean.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
You can spend a couple of pleasant hours visiting Santa Catalina Island.
Your main activities involve the water.
A 2-tank SCUBA day dive with all equipment provided costs C$180-200k / US$60-70.
A boat to drop you off on Crab Cay island for the day (and to pick you up later) is C$50k / US$17.
For a fee, you can get on a boat with the locals and do some fishing and snorkeling.
From Providencia Island, I head back to San Andres Island. I stay 1 more week in San Andres before heading to Medellin back on the Colombian mainland.
I will tell you more about that it my next post.
GRANDPAckers cannot afford to HOLIDAY in Providencia to GRANDPAcking standard.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I DID NOT live to GRANDPAcking standard.
I spent 14 nights at an average price of C$64,285 / US$24 per night in a small 2 bedroom Apartment.
I walked everywhere and took no trips out of town.
I cost me C$341k / US$126 for the return Catamaran ticket from San Andres.
I spent C$46k on a new Claro SIMcard and a 1-Month 2GB Data Plan when I was in Cartagena; I did not need to top it up whilst on Providencia.
I spent C$109k / US$40 on my Tourist Card. C$61k / US$23 of that was allocated to Providencia at a pro rata rate.
My Breakfasts averaged just under C$6k / US$2 per day – I bought groceries and ate at home.
I spent hardly anything on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore. What I did spend tended to be drinks at the Airport whilst I was working which average about C$4,500 / US$1.50 per day.
I averaged about C$30k / US$10 per day on Dinners.
I bought water in 5 Gallon bottles and averaged about C$1k / US$35c per day.
My COE worked out to be about C$130k / US$48 per day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: You can only get to Providencia from San Andres, so those costs are (above) in my COE. It is worth noting that I also had to spend about US$160 for return flights from the Colombian mainland to get to San Andres.
Medical: I bought a course of antibiotics for a minor tooth infection.
Living Costs: I averaged just under C$7k / US$2.35 per day on LIVING expenses. This amount was so low because I had no nightlife … I drank duty free rum with my evening meal.
My total COL was about C$135 / US$50 per day.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE:
Accommodation: Book yourself something for 2 nights at about C$80k night in or near a Green Zone. Once here, look around and find somewhere for about C$70k per night.
Transport: I have included a weekly scooter rental at C$80 / US$30 each. I have included two Catamaran return tickets from San Andres at the discounted online price of C$341k / US$126 each.
Communications & Fees: I have included a Movistar SIMcard and 1 month 2GB data plan. I have included two Tourist Cards at C$109k / US$40 each.
Food & Beverages: Your budget is C$129k / US$48 per day including water. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.
Your COE is C$234k / US$86 per day (54% over budget).
COST OF LIVING:
This leaves you nothing to LIVE on.
In fact, you will have to find an extra US$30 per day just to be there.
THE GRANDPAcking ACID TEST: Can a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? NO.
To LIVE on Providencia Island, a single person will need to spend over US$75 per day. A couple will need to spend over US$100 per day. This is no good for ‘budget travellers’ like GRANDPAckers.
Without such funds, Providencia becomes all about the people … and getting into the simple life and the local community. This, in itself, can be great … and many GRANDPAckers will love it.
You can keep your costs to a minimum by getting yourself into one of the Green Zones and focusing on a beach life. If you don’t do that, you (ideally) need to rent a scooter at C$80 / US$30 per day (including petrol) … GRANDPAckers don’t have that sort of money.
If you are a ‘Digital Nomad” like myself (or need regular internet access for any reason), you are almost forced to base yourself in town … 10kms away from the nearest decent beach. Why would you want to do that?
If you are looking for sun and beaches, go elsewhere. If you need to stay within GRANDPAcking budget, go elsewhere.