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History of San Andres and Providencia


The first inhabitants of these Caribbean islands were Miskito Indians from the coast of Nicaragua. In 1620, British Puritans arrived from Europe looking to found a religious society, but instead of building another New England, they soon established the islands as a major base for slave-run plantations and privateering. The Spanish captured the islands in 1641, claiming rightful ownership of them by virtue of their proximity to the Spanish-controlled mainland; the English resisted, even re-capturing the islands for a brief period, until they finally recognized Spain’s claim in 1793.



The legendary privateer Sir Henry Morgan used these islands as a base in the mid-17th century, launching the sacking of Panama from Providencia. On San Andrés you can visit Morgan’s Cave, a natural grotto where Morgan allegedly stashed treasures. As with most places once frequented by pirates, the islanders tell tales of lost loot but no one ever seems to find any.





The islands have variably been under British, Spanish and Dutch control, which has resulted in a blend of languages and cultures. Spanish is most commonly spoken, followed by English. Most of the native islanders, the Raizal, speak a Creole English incomprehensible to outsiders, but they can speak standard English and Spanish, too. Different groups of immigrants have come to the islands over the years, including U.S. missionaries, Chinese, Arabs and mainland Colombians.



Colombia claimed the islands in 1822 when it gained independence. Nicaragua has disputed the claim, though it has never challenged it with force, and as recently as 2001 filed a claim with the International Court of Justice to resolve the matter. Colombia responded by establishing military bases on the islands. On December 13, 2007, the International Court ruled the islands were Colombian territory, but left undecided the maritime border issue. There is also a small movement of native islanders seeking independence from Colombia.





In the 1950s the Colombian Government launched an intensive “Colombianization” of the islands to promote their growth and declared them a free-trade zone. As a result, San Andrés has become the package holiday and weekend destination of choice for Colombians from all walks of life. Providencia and Santa Catalina, declared national parks, are protected Caribbean marvels.



Traditional island homes are sturdy, airy, wooden structures with broad porches and old-fashioned wooden shutters. Relatively few remain nowadays, as most residents live in North End or in squat, cement homes built in the last 50 years. One of the best places to see traditional island architecture is at the Casa Museo Isleña (Island House Museum).



Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina: History Of San Andrés and History of Providencia and Santa Catalina.

09 Aug 2011

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