Test Design Lighthouse

Implementation of pilot projects on sustainable development in San Andres, Old Providence and Santa Catalina, Colombia


The archipelago of San Andres, Old Providence and Santa Catalina is in an isolated location some 200 km east of the coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean. Old Providence and Santa Catalina are 22 square kilometres in area and have about 5,000 inhabitants. The islands are situated in moist and warm tropical climes where the mean annual temperature is around 25°C.


The islands are roughly a two-hour flight from Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia.
The islands are surrounded by shallow waters, which extend over some 160 km² and harbour diverse types of coral reef. View from Crab Cay towards the east.

The population’s most important sources of income are tourism, fishing and agriculture, and the majority of inhabitants work in more than one economic sector at a time. Problematic issues are the increasing tendency for young people to find work on ships and move away from the islands, and for land to be sold to foreign investors, particularly from the tourism sector.


For a number of years, tourism has been gaining in importance, and it is now undergoing a rapid transformation. What originally started as a limited range of tours offered out of private initiative during the 1970s and 1980s has, over the years, distinctly changed life on the islands. While hotels, restaurants, diving centres and holiday camps have created additional ways of earning money, ultimately they only benefit a small segment of the population.


The shift towards exclusive and especially luxurious types of holiday has also brought more serious degradation of the environment in its wake. In this situation, a good alternative would seem to be the promotion of a more benign form of tourism. It should be targeted to those who would like to enjoy the near-natural environment and culture of the islands without making negative impacts.


In the last few years, the Colombian national environment agency Coralina devised a plan for sustainable development for the archipelago. With the help of the Lighthouse Foundation, work has now begun on putting this into practice. For instance, to promote more sustainable tourism, a nature trail was designed and laid out, giving access to the mangrove forest habitat of the islands.


Training tour guides and developing business ideas for visitor hospitality and management are vital elements in ensuring that, while the environmental idea is conveyed to visitors and islanders, the local population also receives a direct benefit.


A similar concept was designed for a snorkelling trail, and various suitable sites around the islands were tested. However, in this case, it has not yet been turned into a permanent attraction.


Likewise the strategic plan for waste separation was worked out and discussed with the islanders. Implementation will go ahead in the year 2004.