Paisa Tours: Guide to Medellin and Colombia


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North Colombia & Caribbean Coast:
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Guajira Peninsula


[Ed - Oct 2012] - La Guajira seems to becoming an increasingly less safe place for tourists to visit, considering the steady stream of bad news stories I hear about tourists in the region. The latest was a rape, whose culprits seem to be being protected by their local indigenous community. Shame on that community. Given such a lack of the rule of law, you should perhaps reconsider whether it is worth the risk visiting this fascinating region.

Excellent for off the beaten track adventure tours in Colombia is La Guajira Peninsula, which lies on the coast eastwards of Riohacha and Park Tayrona. La Guajira is an arid but beautiful desert region with dramatic landscapes and some huge empty beaches, and is sparsely populated by indigenous Wayuu Indians. Most visitors head to Cabo de la Vela, though the most beautiful part of La Guajira is a little further East - at Punta Gallinas. The area is remote and travel and tourism infrastructure is lacking - you'll be sleeping in very basic hotels / posadas or in hammocks. This truely special region is well worth a visit - you'll feel very privileged if you do go, especially if you arrange a 4WD package with a local tour operator (see later for suggestions).

Riohacha

Riohacha is a large town and transport hub (there's flights from Bogota with Avianca) in La Guajira. There is little reason to stay here unless waiting for onwards transportation. Budget accommodation is sparse - try Mi Casona Hotel. The best place to stay in town is probably El Castillo del Mar.

Uribia & Manaure

Uribia is known as the indigenous capital of La Guajira as it is the largest town. There is a daily indigenous market good for buying Wayuu handicrafts and clothing. If you visit Uribia in May, don't miss the Wayuu Indian festival. Hotels in Uribia include Flamingo Hotel, Juyasirian and Uribia Hotel - but there's no real need to spend a night here. A little West of Uribia is Manaure, where there are a couple of hotels (called Palaima and Unuipa), as well as various interesting salt plains / mines. The coastline around Manaure is the best option for seeing flamingoes - there are huge flocks during the rainy season (September to November), while outside of this season you might only spot a few of the birds. Both Uribia and Manaure are interesting to visit, but by no means must see travel destinations - head onwards into Colombia's La Guajira for the top attractions.

Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela is easy enough to travel to, and the most popular destination in La Guajira. Weekends and public holidays can be quite busy, but the rest of the time it's a very peaceful, rustic and quiet seaside village. Cabo de la Vela's beaches are pretty, but more beautiful beaches are found outside of the town - such as Playa Pilon de Azucar (60 minute walk) and Ojo de Agua (a 90 minute walk).

There's over 60 hospedajes (guesthouses) in Cabo de la Vela - all offer pretty basic accommodation in either cabanas with beds or in hammock. Hospedaje Pujuru is a good option at 25,000 pesos per person for a bed, but the most upmarket option in town is Hospedaje Jarrinapi (50,000 pesos per person - but I've heard the service is very poor and the staff are rude there). On the coast about a 1 hour walk outside of Cabo de la Vela is Refugio Pantu, which is where Colombia's president chose to stay in 2008.

Punta Gallinas

Punta Gallinas, a spread out community of about 100 people, is a little further North/East of Cabo de la Vela. From Cabo de la Vela, you can arrange a car (3 and a half hours - about 250,000 pesos) or boat (2 hours - about 400,000 pesos - haggle HARD in both cases or you're get ripped off!) to arrive here. This is the most beautiful region of La Guajira in my opinion - a desert landscape of huge bays and empty beaches. You could easily spend a few nights exploring this spectacularly beautiful area around Punta Gallinas, which is the northernmost point in all of South America. The regular wind makes this one of Colombia's best windsurfing spots, though you're unlikely to see any other tourists if you do visit (N.B. you won't see any windsurfers - give it 15 years and it will be a windsurfing mecca probably!).

There's a few accommodation (hammocks only) and restaurant options in Punta Gallinas, such as Hospedaje Kijoro and Hospedaje Chander (which is actually in nearby Bahia Hondita), but by far the best is Hospedaje y Restaurant Luzmila (15,000 pesos per person - tel: (0057) 85215005 or (0057) 3126268121, email: emilioguia304@hotmail.com), which is spectacularly set surrounded by sea on a small peninsula. Hospedaje Luzmila can also arrange for hammocks under a thatch shelter on a lovely nearby beach, and will even bring some (excellent) food to you there - the service is almost 5 star standard, even if the accommodation very basic. They can also pick you up from Cabo de la Vela if you contact them in advance.

Isla Jiworrule is a small island a short boat trip from Punta Gallinas - a local fishermen should be able to take you there for about 100,000 pesos - here you can stay at Hospedaje Jiworrule, where there is also a restaurant.

An hours drive West from Punta Gallinas (or 2 and a half hours East from Cabo de la Vela) is Bahia Honda, a village about an hours walk from a lovely empty beach. Hospedaje Marlene is in the village, alternatively they can string up hammocks between trees on the beach and bring food to you there.

Nazareth & Deeper into La Guajira

About five hours travel East from Cabo de la Vela, and deep into Colombia's La Guajira Peninsula, is the small town of Nazareth. The only real reason to visit Nazareth is to travel onwards to the nearby Makuira National Park, a mountainous region of forest and waterfalls that is excellent for birdwatching (it's all somewhat of an anomaly in the otherwise desert landscape). A local guide will take a group into the park on a half day hiking tour to a waterfall for 40,000 pesos, alternatively it's possible to arrange a two day trip to the park which involves overnighting in hammocks at a basic posada on the far side of the park (100,000 pesos for a group, irrespective of size). There are also a couple of beautiful beaches a one hour walk from Nazareth.

There are a few basic accommodation options (hammocks, maybe a bed) in Nazareth - such as Negra Fina, Memeyon and Caguan, but the best option is San Jose de Nazareth (the green building on the left as you enter town).

90 minutes (by vehicle) West of Nazareth is Punta Estrella, where there are some fine beaches, and huge sand dunes. There are two basic accommodation options - Hospedaje Ester and Hospedaje Juliana.

It's possible to travel from Nazareth further South / East round the coast towards Colombia's border with Venezuela. Two and a half hours East of Nazareth is Puerto Lopez, with more beautiful, remote beaches and accommodation at Hospedajes Meneceo and Ursula Iguaran. Further South still there more beaches - and Hospedaje Rancheria de Huesosopo and Hospedaje Guachubari.

Travelling around La Guajira - Public Transportation

Public transportation is extremely lacking in La Guajira Peninsula. Riohacha, the district capital, has an airport that is served by one flight a day (from Bogota) with Avianca. From Santa Marta (to the West) it's 2 and a half hours travel overland to Riohacha (a little less if coming from Park Tayrona).

From Riohacha it's 80 minutes by road to the indigenous capital of Colombia, Uribia (regular buses), where one can change bus and travel onwards a further 80 minutes to Cabo de la Vela. There are regular buses to Cabo de la Vela from Uribia - but note that there is no direct service from Riohacha. It's also possible to take a bus from Maicao (which is on the border with Venezuela) to Cabo de la Vela - 8 hours travel time.

There is a weekly public transportation service in pick-up / camionetta from Uribia to Nazareth (9 hours gruelling, open air ride with no shade) - the service leaves Uribia for Nazareth on Monday, and returns from Nazareth to Uribia on Thursday.

There is no other public transportation of use to tourists in La Guarija. Getting a hire car in Riohacha and driving along the decent (though as of 2008 unpaved) road to Cabo de la Vela is simple enough, but if you try to travel deeper into La Guajira you're almost certain to get completely lost (in the desert) as there is a complete lack of signposts (the Wayuu locals have removed them all to maintain greater control over the region) and there are tracks all over the place.

During the wet season (September to November), many roads become almost completely impassable. Travelling to Cabo de la Vela during this period is rarely a problem, but heading further along the coast is almost impossible - though it is possible to travel from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallinas by boat if you speak with the locals (2 hours, costing about 400,000 pesos one way).

Given that independent travel in La Guajira is so difficult, by far the best way to visit is use a tour operator to book an all inclusive 4WD tour for you. Given the lack of vehicles travelling along the roads (or rather the tracks through the desert), hitchhiking is extremely difficult, though it might be a possibility if you're extremely patient (hitch hiking should be possible to Nazareth for example - but don't count on it).

La Guajira Tour Operators

Those who wish to only visit Cabo de la Vela can do so quite easily using public transportation, but there is far more to La Guajira than just Cabo de la Vela - and the only way you'll really make the most of your trip is by arranging a driving package with a local tour operator. You really are missing out if you don't arrange a package - many of which are remarkably good value if you're travelling in a group (the more of you there are, the cheaper the package becomes per person).

Kai Ecotravel is who we booked with in 2008 and can thoroughly recommend. Kai Ecotravel are one of the most respected of the local tour operators offering packages around La Guajira, and have an emphasis on community tourism and responsible travel. Their website offers suggested itineraries that last from one night to a week, but it's also possible to tailormake a package to suit your individual preferences. They'll take you to anywhere mentioned in this La Guajira travel guide.

Alternative local La Guajira tour operators (all are based in Riohacha) include Sol Era Viajes y Turismo (57270728), Cabo de la Vela Operadora Turistica (57283684) and Rancheria Tour (57283384), but I've no idea if they're as good as Kai Ecotravel.

Riohacha, Dibulla & Palomino - West towards Park Tayrona

The below mentioned parts of La Guajira are further West towards Park Tayrona, and can easily be visited under your own steam, without the need of an organized tour.

Riohacha has a pretty seafront Malecon (promenade), but little else of attraction to visitors to Colombia. There are numerous hotels in town - the most upmarket of which are Arimaca, Gimaura and Majayura. Just West of the town (en route towards Park Tayrona and Santa Marta) is Perico, which has a large flamigo colony.

Further West still is Dibulla (45 minutes from Riohacha), a seaside town with some very beautiful coconut palm fringed white sand beaches. The problem with Dibulla, however, is the murky brown waters (brown from sediment rather than pollution) that are thoroughly uninviting for swimming. However, I was told that the sea changes to a bluer colour during the rainy season (mid April to end of May, and September to November). There's a few hotels in Dibulla, including one extremely run down beach front hotel, though there are plans to renovate it (as of my visit in 2009).

Further West still is Palomino, a small seaside town found halfway between Riohacha and Santa Marta and at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The area is culturally very rich, and visits to indigenous Kogi villages (& shamans) can be made. Kayaking, river tubing and hiking into the jungle of the nearby mountains is also possible. The quiet beaches are very relaxing - Palomino is only very slowly becoming an ecotourism destination. Consider staying at the charming beachfront "eco-hostel" La Sirena, which is found in a private coconut plantation, and offers comfortable accommodation in rooms, hammocks and camping. Alternatively, try the beachfront Hukumeizi Hotel or try the rustic wooden cabins on the beach at El Matuy.  Palomino also has various campsites.



Colombia's La Guajira Peninsula:
Wayuu Indians of Colombia's La Guarija Peninsula
Wayuu Indians of La Guajira

Cabo de la Vela, Colombia
Cabo de la Vela - Hospedaje Pujuru (and other accommodation options) on the left.


La Guarija's Beaches, Colombia
Empty beaches along Colombia's Carribean coast.

Beaches in Cabo de la Vela
Cabo de la Vela's beaches - this one is a one hour walk from the village.


La Guajira - desert landscapes
La Guajira is a landscape of deserts and empty beaches - this photo was taken an hours walk from Cabo de la Vela.

La Guajira 4x4 adventure tours in the desert
A 4x4 adventure tour package is the best way to explore the landscapes of Colombia's La Guajira peninsula.




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