colombia, punta gallinas, guajira

Punta Gallinas, The Guajira

colombia, cabo de la vela, guajira

As if Cabo de la Vela is not remote enough, the virgin sands of Punta Gallinas is pure, arid desert with surrounded by more pure, arid desert. Arriving by boat through the blue shallows, the marsh plants part like a curtain to paradise. Bar a few settlements made of wooden sticks, there is nothing but yellow sand, there is barely even any vegetation. It’s like discovering a new, uninhabited world. As one of the most remote places I have ever been, Punta Gallinas offers nature at its finest – the immensity of the desert, the intensity of an unforgiving sunset on the backdrop of the vast sea. There is little to do but contemplate our inconsequential human existence versus the immortality of nature.

THINGS TO DO

It is impossible to visit Punta Gallinas without a “tour”, which includes transportation and a tour around the viewpoints. I say “tour” because it is not an organised tour as such, rather, locals in Cabo de la Vela who organise the transport and drivers, and there is no guide.Upon arrival to Punta Gallinas, you will have a short break for breakfast before the tour where you will visit Faro de Punta Gallinas in, the Northernmost point of the South America, enjoy the turquoise mirror bay that is Bahía Honda; and gape in awe at the most incredible, monumental Dunas de Taroa, where the desert sand dunes embrace the sea with a sheer 45-degree descent. Running, sausage-rolling or roly-polying down is highly recommended! You will have some time to take photos at each point and then some free time to enjoy the beach and have a wander by the Dunas de Taroa. The tour takes around 2.5 hours and will drop you back to your hostel for lunch, and then you have free time in the afternoon.

 

WHERE TO STAY

The tour does not include accommodation or food, and you have to stay overnight because the boats and jeeps only leave in the early morning. The boats will land by Hospedaje Alexandra on the Bahía Hondita, where most people tend to stay. The other option is Hospedaje Luzmila, a short drive away which has great views. Don’t expect anything fancy, just basic wooden shacks with a dining area.

Hammocks
$15,000COP
$5USD/£4/€4
Chinchorros*
$20,000COP
$7USD/£5/€6
Cabanas (Private room)
$30,000COP
$10USD/£8/€9

*Chinchorros are just basically big hammocks, that are about twice the size and more comfortable

If you are on a tight budget, you can share one chinchorro between two – it’s not very comfortable but it is doable!

 

WHAT TO EAT

There are no restaurants in Punta Gallinas, the only option is to eat at either hostel or bring your own food. The hostel offers typical Colombian dishes served with plantain and rice at prices you would expect for being in the middle of nowhere.

Breakfast
Eggs & arepas
$6,000COP
$2USD/£1.50/€2
Lunch/dinner
Chicken or fish
$15,000COP
$5USD/£4/€4
 
Vegetarian
$10,000COP
$3.50USD/£2.50/€3
 
Fresh lobster
(They given you a whole lobster each)
$25,000COP
$9USD / £6 / €7
colombia punta gallinas wave
colombia punta gallinas wave

PLANNING YOUR TRIP

How to get from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallinas

To get to Punta Gallinas, you can speak to any hostel owner (or just ask a local and they will point you in the right direction) and they will organise everything.


There are two ways to get to Punta Gallinas: by 4×4 (4-5 hours) or by 4×4 (1 hour) + boat (2-3 hours). Either way, you will leave around 5am and arrive at Punta Gallinas around 9am.

Unfortunately, we went post-hurricane and 4×4 was not an option because the roads were closed. From what we have read and heard, you are choosing between the lesser of two evils. By road is a long, bumpy and uncomfortable ride on dirt roads. By boat is a long, bumpy, uncomfortable ride – and if you are unlucky – with waves constantly crashing into your face and soaking the entire boat. Oh and your life is in the hands of some local teenagers. If we had the choice, we would definitely choose road as your chance of survival is significantly higher should there be an accident. Of course, no one in their right mind would choose to go by boat! But, having survived, we can say it was a thrilling adventure even though at the time we were absolutely bricking it. Having said that, another group which arrived the next day were barely wet at all, so it just depends on the weather and how late the boat ends up leaving.

A word of advice – if you’re heading back to Cabo de la Vela, obviously, leave your big backpack with your hostel there and take a small rucksack. Also, make sure anything valuable is safely sealed in waterproof bags!

Returning from Punta Gallinas

For your return trip from Punta Gallinas, your boat or 4×4 will leave at 5am. You have the option of returning to Cabo de la Vela or heading to Uribia – this is included in your tour cost. You can also ask your driver to drop you at Riohacha Bus Terminal for a little extra (we paid $10,000COP each). Either way, you need to let your guy know when you are organising the tour in Cabo de la Vela.

colombia punta gallinas 4x4 faro
colombia punta gallinas 4x4 faro

Costs

$150,000COP ($53USD / £38 / €43)

$150,000 is the standard cost for a return trip, which includes a tour and transport to and from Punta Gallinas, with the option of returning to Cabo de la Vela or Uribia (even Riohacha for an extra $10,000). Depending on your negotiating skills and how many people there are, it is possible to haggle down to $100,000-$120,000.

Let the guy know if you want to stay one night or two, and the return boat will be ready to leave at 5am. You can arrange if you want to go back to Cabo de la Vela or directly to Uribia (and for a bit extra they will take you to Riohacha)

Total budget
Budget includes transportation, tour, food and accommodation:
For 1 night:

Tour & transportation
$150,000COP
$52USD/£37/€42
Food (3 meals & water)
$50,000COP
$17USD/£12/€14
Accommodation
$15,000
$5USD/£4/€4
Total
$215,000COP
$74USD/£53/€60

$205,000 per person for 1 night

For 2 nights

Tour & transportation
$150,000COP
$52USD/£37/€42
Food (3 meals & water)
$100,000COP
$34USD/£25/€28
Accommodation
$30,000
$10USD/£8/€8
Total
$280,000COP
$97USD/£70/€79

Total per person for 2 nights: $280,000COP.

There is no doubt that the trip to Punta Gallinas is significantly more expensive than your average backpacker budget, even without a single beer! To save some pesos, eat vegetarian, or bring your own food and water along. If you are travelling in a couple, pay for a shared chinchorro instead of a hammock each (it’s not so comfortable though!)

How many nights should you stay?

Most people only stay one night, but you don’t get a chance to appreciate the remoteness and peace this way. The first day is an early start, tour, you’ll be knackered and even though you get the afternoon to relax, one night means you have to be up at 4am again… Two nights means you can get some sleep, get up the next day and explore and truly appreciate what Punta Gallinas has to offer!

So is it really worth it?

We had read about Punta Gallinas and there was never any hesitation for us – if anything we almost didn’t make it – the hurricane meant that all the roads to the Guajira were closed, and we had to rearrange our whole itinerary and pray that they would re-open in time, as we had taken the time off work especially for this trip! Lucky for us, they did and it was definitely worth it – even the horrific boat trip we had to endure! If in doubt, think about how few places there are left in the world where there are no sign of people having lived, built roads and houses on, destroying the local environment and natural habitat around us! It is a rare sight and who knows how long it will remain this way! For now, large commercial businesses have no interest in Punta Gallinas but with tourism opening up in Colombia, it is only a matter of time before companies like Decameron want to come a build a luxury resort there!

colombia punta gallinas desert
colombia punta gallinas desert

 

colombia, cabo de la vela, guajira

Cabo de la Vela, The Guajira

colombia, cabo de la vela, guajira

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.

WHAT TO DO 

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.

colombia cabo de la vela hammocks sunset

 

WHERE TO STAY

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).

WHERE TO EAT

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.

A NOTE ABOUT WATER

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!

HANDMADE WAYUU BAGS

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.

 

 

HOW TO GET TO CABO DE LA VELA

colombia la guajira cabo de la vela map

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!

 

OPTION 1:

BUS AND 4×4

OVERVIEW
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

ROUTE
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
A)

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

B)

Cuatro Vias to Cabo de la Vela$15,000COP$5USD/£4/€4
 Until 3 pm 
colombia cabo de la vela caribbean sea

 

OPTION 2:

BUS AND PRIVATE TAXI

OVERVIEW

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

ROUTE

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

A) Bus

Santa Marta to Riohacha$20,000-30,000COP$7-11USD/£5-8/€6-9
3-4 hoursEvery ½ hour from 05:00 – 19:30 

Bus companies: Copetrán, Cootraceagua, Expreso Brasilia, Expreso Almirant Padilla, Expreso Wayuu, Rápido Ochoa, Torcoroma, Unitransco.

B) Taxi

Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela$100,000COP$35USD/£25/€28
3-4 hoursIdeally shared! 
colombia cabo de la vela sunset

 

OPTION 3:

BUS, BUS + 4×4

OVERVIEW:

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

ROUTE:

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:

A)

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
 

B)

Riohacha to Uribia
$15,000COP
$5USD/£4/€4
1 hour
 
 

Companies: Tierra del Sol or Cootraur

C) 4×4 (as in Option 1B)

Uribia to Cabo de la Vela$15,000COP$5USD/£4/€4
3-4 hours  

 

 

Total Budget for Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas

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.

Cabo de la Vela costs:

1 Night in Cabo de la Vela : $100,000
2 Nights in Cabo de la Vela : $150,000

Punta Gallinas costs:

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!).

 

A FINAL WORD…

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.

 

colombia cabo de la vela moon faro sunset