The Guajira is the Northernmost region of Colombia, between the Caribbean Sea and Venezuela, where lies the the little discovered gems of Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. It is an extremely impoverished region, geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of Colombia. But, to travellers, it is a desert paradise; virgin, untouched by commercialisation and construction.There is no running electricity, water and don’t even think about phone signal – if you want to get away from modern civilisation, this is the place to be. Here live the indigenous Wayúu tribe famous nationally for their handcrafted mochilas, but, otherwise, like many indigenous tribes, they are largely forgotten by the rest of the country. The landscapes are truly breathtaking – that’s what people come for, and you will be not disappointed.
Cabo is a remote desert village around 60km across rough, roadless dirt from Uribia, the nearest town. It is considered a sacred place to the Wayuú tribe, as they believe it is the gate to the afterlife. Here, your backyard is literally the sea. Modest, wooden houses of Cabo line the shore where the desert meets the sea. Cabo is renown for its beautiful sunsets, which you can enjoy from your hammock, or many gather at the elevated viewpoint of El Faro lighthouse. Hike 10 minutes up to Pilon de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), which has spectacular views of the northern coastline (I didn’t make it due to an unfortunate motorbike-related accident). Ojo del Agua is a beautiful half-moon shaped beach surrounded by 5-metre high cliffs. Rumour has it that Cabo is also incredible for windsurfing, attracting windsurfers from all over the world – people even bring their own sails to practise here. If you are feeling adventurous, head to Punta Gallinas, the Northern Tip of South America.
There is no need to book accommodation in Cabo de la Vela. There are hostels up and down the street, many offering hammocks on the shore. Hostel Caracol has second-storey hammocks overlooking the sea for $8,000COP ($3USD / £2/ €2).
Most places offer delicious, fresh fish for around $15,000COP ($5USD / £4/ €4) and you can get a whole lobster for $20,000COP ($7USD / £5/ €6)! Dishes tend to come with rice, patacones or chips and salad (if you have spent any time in Colombia you will come to expect this). For vegetarians, there is a restaurant that offers lentils and veg – with delicious coffee rice! It looks more like a bar, and is the only place that proudly offers wi-fi. You can’t miss it because that’s where all the foreigners go.
Bring your own water! Drinking water is not readily available, so don’t expect there to be fresh juice like most places in Colombia. You can buy small bags for 100 pesos in Uribia, which is the most practical – but be warned the heat will make the water taste like plastic. Also, I’d advise buying extra to offer in case you want to offer it to locals – the children roaming the streets don’t beg for money, instead, they ask for water. It’s pretty heartbreaking. If you don’t want to offer, be tactful and don’t walk around with a water bottle in your hand!
There are señoras and children selling beautiful handwoven bags which you will see all over Colombia. These bags are made in the Guajira by local women, you can watch them weave them on the streets. Be prepared to pay around $40,000-$70,000COP per bag ($14USD / £10/ €11). This is a bargain compared to everywhere else in the country – they are sold for well over $100,000COP ($35USD / £25/ €28) in Bogotá and Cartagena, and over $100USD online! Sadly, little of this goes to the community who make them, so appreciate the craftsmanship and be mindful about bartering. These women take days to make each bag, it is a lot of work and extremely damaging for the eyes – many go blind from it. Not only is it cheaper to buy directly from the women, but you know your money is going directly to those who made it.
You can get to Cabo de la Vela from Santa Marta, the bus/route is the same from Cartagena, Tayrona and Palomino. If you’re leaving from Tayrona or Palomino, just stand on the main road and wait for the bus.
Don’t forget to start as early as possible. The last pick-up trucks pass Cuatro Vía/Uribia around 3pm so it’s important to leave Santa Marta by 8am!
Santa Marta – Cuatro Vías – Cabo de la Vela
Total Cost: ($16USD / £10 / €11)
This is the cheapest option that needs fewest changes of transport.
A) Bus from Santa Marta to Cuatro Vias
B) 4×4 from Cuatro Vias to Cabo de la Vela
A) At Santa Marta terminal, get a bus that terminates at Maicao and ask the driver to get off at “Cuatro Vías”. If you are going from Tayrona or Palomino, just stand on the main road and wait for a red and white bus with “Flamingo” on it.
B) Cuatro Vías is a crossroads that leads to Uribia. When you get off the bus, you will see guys with motorbikes offering rides to Uribia. Tell them you want to get to Cabo de la Vela. They will call the pick-up trucks which are on their return journey from Maicao, who can pick you up from Cuatro Vías on their way to Cabo. Remember they will make a stop at Uribia to pick up supplies and people! These 4×4 pick-up trucks drive go to Maicao early in the morning to get supplies for Cabo, stopping at Ugribia on the way and serving as a colectivo bus for locals
COST AND TIMINGS
|Santa Marta to Cuatro Vias||$25,000COP||$8USD/£6/€7|
|Every 1/2 hour|
(From Palomino $20,000COP)
Companies that go to Maicao: Flamingo, Superstar (Cootragua), Expreso Brasilia, Unitransco
|Cuatro Vias to Cabo de la Vela||$15,000COP||$5USD/£4/€4|
|Until 3 pm|
Santa Marta – Riohacha – Cabo de la Vela
Total Cost: ($25USD / £18 / €20) (assuming taxi between 2)
This option is better if you don’t mind spending more money or you are in a group of 4 in order to share the cost of a taxi.
A) Bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha
B) Taxi from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela
A) Get a bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha
B) At Riohacha, tell the taxi that you want to go to Cabo de la Vela. This should cost around $100,000COP – but this will depend on how many people you are and your negotiating skills. Ideally you want to group up with others spread the cost and have more bargaining leverage.
COSTS AND TIMINGS
|Santa Marta to Riohacha||$20,000-30,000COP||$7-11USD/£5-8/€6-9|
|3-4 hours||Every ½ hour from 05:00 – 19:30|
Bus companies: Copetrán, Cootraceagua, Expreso Brasilia, Expreso Almirant Padilla, Expreso Wayuu, Rápido Ochoa, Torcoroma, Unitransco.
|Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela||$100,000COP||$35USD/£25/€28|
|3-4 hours||Ideally shared!|
Santa Marta – Riohacha – Uribia – Cabo de la Vela
This is the longest route, but another option should the first two not work out!
A) Bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha
B) Bus from Riohacha to Uribia
C) 4×4 from Uribia to Cabo de la Vela
A) Get a bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha. Upon arrival to Riohacha, ask to be dropped off where buses go to Uribia (by roundabout Francisco El Hombre), which is a few blocks away from the bus terminal.
B) Get a bus to Uribia.
C) In Uribia, go to “Las Pulgas” market square where the 4x4s that go to Cabo will leave from (as in Option1C)
COSTS AND TIMINGS:
Santa Marta to Riohacha
Every ½ hour from 05:00 – 19:30
Riohacha to Uribia
Companies: Tierra del Sol or Cootraur
C) 4×4 (as in Option 1B)
|Uribia to Cabo de la Vela||$15,000COP||$5USD/£4/€4|
There are no ATMs in Cabo de le Vela, so make sure you take out enough cash for your trip in Santa Marta / Riohacha / Uribia. Here is our suggested budget for your trip to the Guajira, taking into account cost of transport, accommodation and food but no extras such as Wayuu bags or beer.
1 Night in Cabo de la Vela : $100,000
2 Nights in Cabo de la Vela : $150,000
1 Night in Punta Gallinas: $250,000
2 Nights in Punta Gallians: $260,000
We stayed two nights in Cabo de la Vela and two nights in Punta Gallinas, so we had took $500,000 each to cover costs of the whole trip to the Guajira. Although no one enjoys walking around with lots of cash, it is better to have too much than too little! We would advise getting cash in Santa Marta just in case (our trip was a near-disaster!).
Many people go to Cabo de la Vela but are put off by the cost and effort of going to Punta Gallinas – however, it is definitely worth every peso! After 6 hours in the back of a pick-up truck to get to Cabo de la Vela in the first place, we wanted to take our time and make the most of the days we had in the beautiful Guajira region. We would definitely recommend staying at least two nights in both Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. One night in each place makes for an exhausting whistle-stop tour where you will only be knackered from waking up at 4am and spending hours on end bumping around the desert.
We had an incredible time in the Guajira, despite a few minor glitches (with our bus getting a flat tyre, then almost leaving Alberto behind in Riohacha and me suffering a horrendous motorcycle burn…) Our trip was definitely an adventure and The Guajira is, without a doubt, one of our favourite regions in Colombia and the highlight of our two weeks on the Caribbean coast.