The Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park is located on the island of Providencia, which is part of the Department of the San Andres Archipelago, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
By virtue of its several distinctive traits, the Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park is a unique and highly important site, despite its relatively small dimensions. In the first place, it is the only National Natural Parks System protected area located in the oceanic island Caribbean of Colombia. Secondly, it forms part of the third longest barrier reef in the world, after those of Australia and Belize. And lastly, it has been honoured with a set of distinctions, notably the Biosphere Reserve designation, granted by Unesco in 1979. Furthermore, since 1996 it has formed part of the Area de Manejo Especial del Archipielago de San Andres, Providencia y Santa Catalina, of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve since 2000, and of the Areas Marinas Protegidas del Archipielago since 2004.
The Park features aspects of the archipelago’s different ecosystems:
Coral reefs: The Park presents two different kinds of coral formations, one continuous and the other discontinuous, composed of thousands of beautiful pinnacles. The pinnacles are isolated coral structures that rise up from 4 to 8 metres from the seabed to the surface, and are noted for a profuse growth of fire coral, which covers their peaks. Around them we occasionally observe enclosures of elkhorn coral, isolated colonies of brain coral, and a few soft corals. On the seabed, at irregular depths, major colonies of elkhorn coral grow and present isolated mounds that reach up almost to the surface crowned by fire coral. As from depths of 5 or 6 metres, the terrace presents an almost flat bottom with some crest-shaped coverage of brain coral and soft corals.
Mangrove swamps: The McBean mangrove forest is the largest (48 hectares) and best preserved on the island. It consists largely of a strip of red mangroves on the sea shore and around lagoons, and of black mangrove further inland. There are also specimens of white mangrove, among other species.
Underwater meadows: A strip of meadows that lines the coast and is followed by a lagoon with sandy bottoms and numerous patches of coral, protected by the extensive barrier reef that surrounds the archipelago.
Dry forest: The Park contains a small sample of dry forest, covering an area of about 48 hectares, represented in the Iron Wood Hill sector, where characteristic arboreal and shrub vegetation prevails together with the occasional endemic species.
The terrestrial sector of the Park is included in the following two large micro-basins on the island of Providencia:
The McBean micro-basin contains most of the Park area. Here numerous intermittent rivulets have their source, and their waters flow into the McBean mangrove swamp.
The Bailey micro-basin covers only a small portion of the Park area, which is drained mainly by three rivulets that run predominantly in an east and north-east direction as far as the near vicinity of the settlements of El Val le and Rocky Point.
Besides what is already mentioned in the description of the ecosystems, one should note the vegetation present in Crab Cay, dominated by the cocoplum, whose fruit is used by the local population to prepare a delicious sweet that visitors may taste. There is also a number of coconut palms and mango trees.
The importance has already been noted of reef formations and the abundance of corals, which may be hard or soft, although the variety of marine fauna in the Park also comprises other species such as sponges, crustaceans -with the lobster predominating -, molluscs -mainly the queen conch-, and a wide variety of fish such as the triggerfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish, porgy and barred grunt.
Despite this, we cannot speak of a great number or diversity of species in the Park, given its small proportion of land and its characteristic as an ocean island. On the other hand, a large number of endemic species exists, notably of bats, which is the only mammal present. The remaining land fauna in the Park is represented mainly by a few reptiles such as the iguana, the blue anole and, what is undoubtedly the Park’s most representative species, the hawksbill turtle. This is an average sized turtle, reachinga maximum length of approximately 82 centimetres and an average weight of 54 kilos. It is a species of solitary habits, although it forms small groups along almost all coasts and around island coral areas, for which reason it appears in the area with one of the world’s biggest coral reefs: Pro-videncia. It is distinguished from other turtles by the fact that its carapace scutes overlap like roof tiles, giving the rear margin a serrated look, even in adult specimens. It is essentially a carnivore, feeding on snails, crustaceans, sea urchins, sponges, jellyfish and fish. It prefers temperate tropical waters and in the Atlantic its range stretches from the north-east United States to south-west Brazil.
Lastly, the Park provides the habitat for numerous species of birds, both resident and migratory, some of which nest in the volcanic cays.
The islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina have a combined population of approximately 5,000 people, mostly natives descending from African slaves and English puritans.
The local economy is based on tourism, fishing and agriculture, although visitors here are guaranteed contact with all the Park’s forms of culture: its beautiful coloured architecture, its cuisine, its music, its dances and its native language, called Creole by some.
- Established: 1995
- Area: 995 hectares (905 marine)
- Altitude: Between 0 and 150 metres above sea level
- Climate: Warm Average
- Average temperature: 25°C
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: The Park lies in the north-east section of Isla de Providencia, which forms part of the San Andres, Providencia y Santa Catalina Archipelago, 775 km from the north coast of Colombia, specifically between Maracaibo Hill and Iron Wood Hill.
- HOW TO GET THERE: There are two main routes: 1.- The overland route: From Cartagena we take the Mamonal highway to Pasacaballos, where a ferry crosses the Canal del Dique, and then proceed by road to Playa Blanca or the village of Barn, which stands 20 minutes away from the El Rosario islands. 2.- The sea route: Also from Cartagena, we sail from the La Bodeguita nautical sports harbour to the El Rosario Archipelago. The boats are fast launches that leave between 7:00 and 10:00 am, and the trip lasts between one and two hours. The wharf stands on Aveniida Bias de Leso, opposite the La Marina
- WHERE TO EAT: The archipelago has restaurants that serve typical island food, especially in those areas most devoted to tourism: Centro, Agua Dulce and Sur Oeste.
- WHERE TO STAY: The local communities on Providencia and Santa Catalina offer accommodation in small hotels, cabins and native guesthouses. This is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the natives’ warm hospitality and, at the same time, the only option for visitors, since no other type of lodging infrastructure exists in the Park.
- WHERE TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: There is an emergency hospital nearby on Isla oe Providencia.
- HOW LONG TO STAY: The ideal stay would be five days and four nights.
- WHEN TO GO: The first six months of the year are the best time, since they coincide with the dry season. The rainy season stretches from July to December, with maximum rainfall in October and November. March is the driest month.
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK: By virtue of its great beauty and its diversity of terrestrial and marine environments, of the hospitality of the people and of the variety of activities that may be carried out in this small protected area, the Old Providence McBean Lagoon Park is a privileged place for eco-tourism, The local Rainbow Guide Touristic Association, whom you can contact through the Park, provides guides who specialise in the different attractions of the Park and in hiring the necessary equipment, The most recommended activities are the following:
- Hiking in The Sendero de los Siete Colores (Seven Colors Trail), several stretches of which have a number of attractions and provide scope for activities.
- Hiking in McBean Mangrove: Here you may walk to the mangrove, take photographs, film videos and observe the wildfowl. The trail is 800 metres long and its degree of difficulty low.
- Hiking in Iron Wood Hill: The main attractions here are the dry forest, the mangroves and the land fauna, which may be photographed or filmed. The 3-kilometre-long trail is of moderate difficulty.
- Hiking in Crab Cay: This is one of the most attractive tourist spots, Here you can observe the local fauna, mostly birds. The simple trail is only 100 metres long. Here you may also swim in the calm, transparent waters. Visitors sunbathe on the wharf.
- Snorkeling and scuba diving enable you to observe the marine flora in the coral ecosystems in the sectors of Crab Cay and Hippie’s Place. The underwater landscape is spectacularly attractive: the different kinds of reef, with their great diversity of forms and colours, resemble a submerged garden.
- Steering a kayak along the Seven Colors Trail, which covers the reef lagoon, to Crab Cay, the edges of the mangrove swamp and Oyster Creek (McBean Lagoon). From the reef lagoon you get a different perspective of the mangrove swamp and the unique opportunity to observe the underwater life that teems beneath the calm waters over the submerged roots of the mangroves. This lagoon also harbours an exuberant seaweed meadow spattered with small patches of coral.
- Environmental research and education. Besides this, visitors to the Park will find more characteristic landscapes on the islands of Providen-cia and Santa Catalina, such as the Playa and Agua Dulce area, the Manzanillo beach, Santa Catalina, the Sur Oeste beach, El Peak, La Cabeza de Morgan and El Fuerte. Another highly recommendable visit would be the Three Brothers Cay area, although access is now forbidden due to its great fragility and its importance for wildfowl.
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