Unique destination in the Colombian Caribbean: Old Providence McBean Lagoon Park

Old Providence McBean Lagoon Park is the only National Natural Park, of the 59 in Colombia, located in the insular Caribbean and is part of the Seaflower Man and Biosphere Reserve, established by UNESCO in 2000. Know more about the biosphere reserves of Colombia in our entry Next Travel Ideas? Visit the Biosphere Reserves of Colombia.

In this blog I offer you a brief review about everything you need to know before visiting Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park in the Colombian Caribbean.

Discovering Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

This protected area in unique and is the only one in the insular oceanic Caribbean of Colombia. It is located northwest of the island of Providencia archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. The park has an extension of about 9,95 km² of land area of which 9,05km² are marine area.

The small part of its land area is known as Iron Wood Hill, which has the second largest barrier reef in the Caribbean, after Belize, protecting the coasts of the island of Providencia. Thanks to the large coral reef in this area, its waters turn from a dark blue to a translucent turquoise blue; that is why it is known as “the Sea of 7 colors“.

Ecosystems at Old Providence McBean Lagoon

The park has 4 ecosystems of the archipelago that can be appreciated during the traveler’s visit: mangrove forests, coral formations, seagrass meadows and a small extension of dry forest.

Dry forest

This is a typical tropical dry forest distributed between 0-100 meters above sea level, the extent of this ecosystem in the park is 4.96 km².


Mangroves are coastal tree formations with adaptations to filter saltwater flow. In the lower part of the McBean micro-cave it is possible to appreciate the mangroves with an extension of 4.07 km².

SeaGrass Beds

These are formations of phanerogams capable of carrying out their life cycle submerged in saline waters. In the Iron Wood Hill and McBean Mangrove sectors there is an area of 5 km² of these seagrasses.

Coral Reefs

These are communities made up of stony or hard corals, algae, octocorals and sponges. The park has coral formations in the reef lagoon and lagoon terrace occupying an area of 13.43 km² or 90.4% of the total protected area. The protection of the coral reefs were the main reason to declare the park as a protected area.

Thus, the park has been part of the Special Management Area of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina since 1996, the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve since 2000 and the Seaflower Marine Protected Area of the Archipelago since 2004.

How to get to Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

Bogotá-San Andres Island

Take a 1,2- hour flight from Bogotá to Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ) at San Andres Island. Once at the airport, tienes dos opciones para llegar al parque:

1. Take an extra 4-hour katamaran to Old Providence Mc Bean Lagoon.
2. Take a 30- minutes flight to El Embrujo Airport (PVA)

What to do in Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

It has a 32-kilometer coral barrier reef and a small hill known as Iron Wood Hill. In this protected area, where there is a 48-hectare dry forest, you can go hiking, diving, snorkeling and bird watching, among other activities. The islanders limit construction and are owners of the entire hotel offer, to reduce the environmental impacts of tourism, a task they do hand in hand with travelers who know this natural wonder.

Diving and snorkeling

The park has 2 authorized dive sites with a maximum depth of 12 meter: Crab Cay and White Shoal (Hippie’s Place). There is a variety of reef species of wonderful colors and shapes for these activities. The transparency of its waters will leave you speechless, and the range of colors that you will be able to appreciate goes from deep blue to translucent sea water.

Among the species that can be observed are: Groupers, Chermas, anemones, mollusks, echinoderms and fish. The most important feature is the barrier reef, one of the largest in the world!

This not only gives it a permanent ecological importance, but also gives its waters an amazing aspect, making you able to see species with the naked eye without special equipment.

Corals of Peace, Diving with Purpose

Corales de Paz is a local foundation devoted to the conservation and research around the coral reefs in San Andres And Providencia. In 2020, it won with its initiative Seaflower Meaningful Diving (SMD) one of the most important awards recently offered for the reactivation of nature tourism in Colombia (Know more about in our entry The Top Post-Covid-19 Destinations for Conservation Lovers in Colombia).

Seaflower Meaningful Diving – Natural Wealth Award

“Seaflower Meaningful Diving, Diving with Purpose”, is focused on promoting collaboration between islanders, fishermen and tourists to fund projects for education, conservation, restoration and management of coral reefs in the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina, through e-learning courses, complemented with gamification, allowing people to start their diving experience and preparation from home.

In the destination, travelers will be able to dive with Green Fins certified operators (as responsible and environmentally friendly dive operators), and receive the Reef Check EcoDivers (participatory coral monitoring) and/or the Reef Repair Divers (participatory coral reef restoration) certificates.

The first results of this project will be seen in 2022, so get ready!

Seaflower Meaningful Diving is the result of a strategic alliance between three organizations: the Corales de Paz Foundation, the local tour operator specialized in diving Paradis de Colors and the engineering and technological innovation company DeepCo.

Land and Maritime Hiking

Hiking is an exciting activity in Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park. You can hike only 1 trail: Iron Wood Hill. The round trip is about 3 km and medium degree of difficulty. During the tour it is possible to appreciate the mangrove and dry forest ecosystems along with the park’s terrestrial fauna.

Kayaking is also available at the park’s permitted sites: Crab Cay, White Shoal, Okay Point Land Trail dock at Iron Wood Hill and McBean Mangrove Land Trail overlook dock.


According to the PROAVES and McNish registry, the park has 179 bird species, of which more than 156 are migratory. There are 22 locally registered marine species and 21 shorebirds; during the winter season, the number of birds in the park is reduced.

The archipelago has an endemic bird, the San Andrés Vireo (Vireo caribaeus) locally called Chincherry.

According to Proaves, San Andres is an important step area for migratory birds, and as part of the Biosphere Reserve “Seaflower”, in it was declared as an Important Bird Area -IBA by Birdlife in 2005.

Wildlife Observation

On the island it is possible to identify more than 2 species of bats, one of the most representative is the Jamaican fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis). There are 2 species of snakes Boa or Bowla (Boa constrictor), and the Black Blind Snake (Leptotyphlops goudotii spp. magnamaculata).

Only one type of amphibian, the Bolivian toad-frog (Leptodactylus bolivianus, synonym L. insularis), has been recorded around the park.

Black crabs or zombie crabs (Gecarcinus ruricola), which inhabit scattered stones throughout the park, are appreciated by visitors and are also part of the island’s economy, both for local consumption and for export to San Andres Island.

Where to stay in Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

The park does not have lodging but you can stay on the islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina.

Providence Island offers a wide variety of accommodations. Our recommended options for you to stay in are:

  • Crab Cay Boutique Lodge
  • Cabañas Agua Dulce.

Best time to visit Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

The park can be visited all year round, the dry months are from January to late June.

Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park Entrance fees

The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 5,500
  • Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 11,500
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 19,000
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.

What to consider before visiting Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

  • Try to collaborate with the conservation objectives of the area and be careful with the environment.
  • When snorkeling or scuba diving, stay away from coral reefs, avoid touching or breaking them, corals are very fragile and take a long time to grow.
  • Avoid buying handicrafts made with shells, corals, and/or animal, vegetable or mineral elements.To take any of the tours inside the park you must hire an authorized and certified guide.
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sunscreen, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
  • Recommended the use of binoculars to admire animals’ behavior and beauty in their natural habitat.
  • Carry valid identity documents and health insurance. It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

  • Colparques
  • Colombia travel
  • EcuRed
  • Corales de Paz
About the authors

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.