La Guajira is the Northernmost region of Colombia, neighbouring Venezuela and protruding into the Caribbean Sea. 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 de la Vela
The doorway to Punta Gallinas, Cabo de la Vela 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 de la Vela line the shore where the desert meets the sea. Cabo de la Vela is renown for its beautiful sunsets, which you can enjoy from your hammock, or, many gather at the elevated viewpoint of El Faro lighthouse. You can also climb Pilon de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), which has spectacular views of the northern coastline. Ojo del Agua is a stunning half-moon shaped beach surrounded by 5-metre high cliffs. Rumour has it that Cabo de la Vela is also incredible for windsurfing, attracting windsurfers from all over the world – people even bring their own sails to practise here!
There is no need to book anything – there are hostels and guesthouses up and down the street that offer hammocks or basic rooms. Hostel Caracol offers hammocks on the second floor with incredible sea views for $8,000COP. Some also offer campsites for the same price, so you can sleep on the beach!
Food is pretty basic but delicious – most places offer fish for around $15,000COP and you can get a whole lobster for $20,000COP! 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 veggies, 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.
This is really important – bring your own water! Drinking water is not readily available, so don’t expect there to be jugos or anything. 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. Make sure you bring enough for your stay! Also, you might think about buying extra to offer out. We made the mistake of walking around with a water bottle in our hands and children asking for water – it’s absolutely heartbreaking!
Mochilas Wayuu – Wayuu Bags
There are señoras and children selling beautiful handwoven bags which you will see all over Colombia (different tribes have different styles). Please bear in mind that these women spend days on each one – it’s a lot of work and extremely damaging for the eyes – many go blind from it. Be prepared to pay around $40,000-$70,000COP – they go for well over $100,000COP in Bogotá and other parts of the county, and over $100USD online! Sadly, little of this goes to the community who make them, so appreciate their craftsmanship and don’t try to barter. Also, please buy directly from the women on the street, who you can see making them, and not from the stalls – this ensure that 100% of your money goes to these women, and not middlemen traders.
Getting to the Guajira is an achievement in itself, it is so remote and isolated from the rest of the country that you must be prepared to spend the whole day travelling on different types of transports to get there. It is not cheap, and it certainly isn’t easy – but it is an adventure.
Aside from guided tours, there is little information about getting to the Guajira solo. After some thorough research, we embarked on our journey following the advice of See Colombia. However, on the advice from our bus driver, we managed to skip a step. Since then, we have also had friends get there in slightly different ways, so take a look at the three options and see which is best for you.