MundoAndino Home : Colombia Guide at Mundo Andino

Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina

Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina or colloquially San Andres y Providencia is one of the departments of Colombia. It consists of two island groups about 775 km (480 miles) northwest of Colombia and 220 km (140 miles) from the coast of Nicaragua, and eight outlying banks and reefs. Its capital is San Andres.


In 1630, Providence Island was settled by English Puritans, under the aegis of the Providence Island Company. These Puritans decided to settle this promising tropical island rather than cold, rocky New England, but they did not succeed in building a colony similar to New England. They established slave-worked plantations and engaged in privateering, which led to the capture of the colony by the Spanish in 1641. Providence Island, 16301641, The Other Puritan Colony - by Karen Ordahl Kupperman, University of Connecticut In the 1640s, the Puritan-controlled Commonwealth government of England tried to regain the island, but without success. In 1670, English buccaneers led by Henry Morgan took over the islands. The buccaneers controlled the islands until 1689.

In 1803, Spain assigned the islands and the province of Veraguas (western Panama and the east coast of Nicaragua) to the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The territory was administered from the province of Cartagena.

On July 4, 1818, French Corsair Louis-Michel Aury, flying the Argentine flag, captured Old Providence and St. Catherine islands with the help of 400 men and 14 ships. He found the island populated by English-speaking Protestant white persons and their slaves. Aury and his team used the islands as his new base from which to pursue Central American independence. His efforts to also support Bolivar in his fight for Venezuelan and Colombian independence were repeatedly turned down.

After the Spanish colonies became independent, the inhabitants of San Andres, Providence and St. Catherine voluntarily adhered to the Republic of Gran Colombia in 1822, who placed them under the administration of the Magdalena Department. The United Provinces of Central America (UPCA) also claimed the islands. Gran Colombia in turn protested the UPCA's occupation of the eastern coast of Nicaragua. The UPCA broke up in 1838–1840, but Nicaragua carried on the dispute, as did Gran Colombia's successors, New Granada and Colombia. Colombia established a local administration (intendencia) in the islands in 1912.

In 1928, Colombia and Nicaragua signed the Esguerra-Barcenas treaty, which gave control of the islands to Colombia. However, when the Sandinista government assumed power in the 1980s, Nicaragua repudiated the treaty. Nicaragua claims that the treaty was signed under United States pressure and military occupation and thus does not constitute a sovereign decision. Colombia argues that the treaty's final ratification in 1930 (when U.S. forces were already on their way out) confirms its validity. Colombia and Honduras signed a maritime boundary treaty in 1999 which implicitly accepts Colombian sovereignty over the islands.

In 2001 Nicaragua filed claims with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the disputed maritime boundary, claiming 50,000 km in the Caribbean, including the San Andres and Providencia archipelagoes. Colombia responded that the ICJ has no jurisdiction over the matter, and increased its naval and police presence in the islands. Colombia also defended its claim in the ICJ. On December 13, 2007 the ICJ ruled that the islands were Colombian territory, but left the maritime border dispute unresolved. Colombia and Nicaragua will go through another trial to resolve these claims.

The island of Providencia was hit by Hurricane Beta on October 29, 2005, inflicting minor to moderate damage.

U.S. claims

In the 1800s, the U.S. claimed several uninhabited locations in the area under the Guano Island Act, including several now claimed by Colombia. In 1981, the U.S. ceded its claims to Quita Sueno Bank, Serrana Bank, and Roncador Bank to Colombia. The United States still maintains claims over Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo Bank and considers them both to be unincorporated territories of the United States.


In 1903 the local Raizal population rejected an offer from the USA to separate from Colombia, in the wake of Panama. However, the policy followed by successive Colombian governments, trying to modify the ethnic composition through extensive migration of Spanish-speaking mainland Colombians, resulted in heightening discontent, even more when the assimilation policy was led by Catholic missions in 1947 .

Local government and representation

2007 elections

A member of the departmental assembly for 15 years, Pedro Gallardo Forbes, of the Regional Integration Movement (MIR), won the governor election at the October 28, 2007 election, with support from the Colombian Conservative Party and the Radical Change party. He succeeds a governor from the Colombian Liberal Party. He got 8,187 votes (38.93 %), Aury Guerrero Bowie 8,160 votes (38.8 %) and Jack Housni Jaller (Social National Unity Party) 4,063 votes (19.3%). Only 21,991 out of 41,197 potential electors voted in the gubernatorial election .

At the departmental assembly, elected the same day, the 9 seats were distributed among 6 parties: 3 Liberals , 2 MIR (Jorge Mendez and Freddy Herazo) 2 Democratic Colombia Party (former MP Maria Teresa Uribe Bent and former Interior Secretary Rafael Gomez Redondo), 2 SNUP (Fernando Canon Florez and Maria Said Darwich), 1 Radical Change (Heber Esquivel Benitez) and 1 Conservative (Julio Cesar Gallardo Martinez) .

The new mayor of Providence, Janeth Archbold (Team Colombia party), a political ally of the new governor, was elected with 1,013 votes against Liberal Mark Taylor (515 votes), SNUP Arturo Robinson (514 votes) and Conservative Peter Bent .


Besides the San Andres and Providencia island groups, there are eight atolls that belong to the Department, including submerged Alicia Shoal.

Island of San Andres, Colombia

San Andres Island

This is the main island of the San Andres group, and the largest of the Departament. It is located at . It measures 12 km in length with a width of 3 km and covers an area of 26 km. There is a tiny lagoon in the center of the island called Big Pond. The principal town is San Andres in the north of the island. Another town is San Luis on the east coast. Cayo Johnny (Cayo Sucre) lies 1.5 km ENE of German Point (Punta Norte), the island's northern tip, and Haynes Cay about the same distance east of the island. Cotton Cay is less than 1 km south of San Andres town, on the northeastern coast.

Cayos de Albuquerque

This atoll is southwest of San Andres at . It is the westernmost point of Colombia. The fringing reef is about 7 km across. In the southern part are Cayo del Norte and Cayo del Sur. Cayo del Norte, the larger of the two, is up to 2 m high and overgrown with palm trees and bushes. Cayo del Sur, a few hundred metres further South, reaches a height of a little more than 1 m and is vegetated with a few bushes, and in the South with mangroves. There is a lighthouse on Cayo del Norte, at , operating since 1980. It is maintained by the Colombian Navy.

Cayos del Este Sudeste

This atoll is 22 km east-south-east of San Andres Island and 35 km northeast of Cayos de Alburquerque, at . It is 14 km long and 4 km wide. There are a few sand cays in the southeast. The largest ones are Cayo del Este, Cayo Bolivar, West Cay, and Cayo Arena, none of which are higher than 2 metres. All cays are overgrown with palm trees and bushes, and surrounded by mangroves. There is a Colombian Navy lighthouse on Cayo Bolivar. The cays are regularly visited by fishermen from the Colombian mainland and San Andres. There are two concrete buildings on Cayo Bolivar, and a few wooden huts on the other cays.

Municipality of Providencia y Santa Catalina (Providencia Archipelago)

Providencia Island (with Santa Catalina Island)

This is the main island of the Providencia group, and the second largest of the department. It is located at . Providencia and Santa Catalina Island (a small satellite island close off its northern end) extend 7.2 km in a north-south direction. The land area of Providencia Island measures 17 km. The mountainous center of Providencia Island rises to three peaks of about the same elevation: roughly 363 meters. The island consists of sedimentary rocks laid down on a former volcano. The chief settlement is '''Santa Isabel Village aka 'Town'in the north, near Santa Catalina Island. Other villages are Lazy Hill on the west coast, and Bottom House in the southeast.

Low Cay''', a very small islet, lies more than 10 km further north, at .

Banks and Shoals

Colombia claims sovereignty over six additional outlying banks and shoals: Alice Shoal, Bajo Nuevo Bank, Serranilla Bank, Quita Sueno Bank, Serrana Bank, and Roncador Bank.


Before 1960, the population of the islands was almost entirely Raizals, who are an Afro-Caribbean group, Protestant in religion, and speak San Andres-Providencia Creole. Colombia has promoted the migration of Spanish-speaking mainlanders, with Catholic missions participating since 1947. This policy seems to be an answer to growing discontent within the raizal community that could strengthen separatist movements; a raizal majority would in this case win a pro-independence referendum and could be neutralized by outnumbering them with immigrants.

By 2005, Raizals were only 30% of the 90,000 or more inhabitants of the islands, with the rest being mainland Colombians..



The airport serves the cities of San Andres and San Luis, but also commercially serves the nearby island of Providencia Island. All being major touristic and vacational spots for South and Central American tourists.

Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport is also known as Sesquicentenario International. Airport. The airport is the 6th busiest airport in Colombia in terms of passengers, with 836.234 in 2006. Most of these passengers come from the continental part of the country, due to poor international direct service to the island. Many international tourists have to fly to one of Colombia's or Panama's largest airports to be able to reach the islands. Although in recent years San Andres has started to received seasonal charter flights, mainly, from Canada and few Central American countries.

The airport is one of Colombia's fastest growing airports with a 13.4% increase in the number of passengers between 2005 and 2006.

External links

ICJ Nicaragua v. Colombia (Preliminary Objections) and (Merits) and 2007 Preliminary Objections Judgment and ASIL and BBC and Colombia President and Colombia MFA and Analysis 20 Hague YIL 75-119 2008

[*] (English)

Government Tourism website with small map

San Andres information (Spanish)

San Andres Website

Tour Operator in the island, website with satellite map (Spanish)

Scuba diving information about San Andres (Spanish)

Information on some Atolls (German)

Information on Colombian lighthouses (German)


New York Times article on independence movement

Didn't find what you were looking for.
Need more information for your travel research or homework?
Ask your questions at the forum about Biosphere reserves of Colombia or help others to find answers.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina

Disclaimer - Privacy Policy - 2009