- 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
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 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 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
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
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, 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
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:
email@example.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.
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
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
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).
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
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
& 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.