On the last days of our holidays in Colombia, we initally planned to visit Santa Marta and the Tayrona National Park. With our poor planning, the park was closed and we changed our plan to visit the Guajira Peninsula for a few days.
What is the Peninsula de La Guajira?
La Guajira Peninsula is a peninsula on the extreme northwestern coast of Colombia between Santa Marta and Venezuela. It is the terrority of the Wayuu community, one of the indigenous community still living in Colombia. The Guajira Penisula
Until 2011, the Guajira Peninsula was extremely dangerous and in a permanent guerrilla state. Since then, the situation cooled down and tourisms starts to rise in those desertic landscapes.
Who are the Wayuu? The Wayuu are one of the largest indigenous community of South America. They live on the Peninsula De La Guajira between Venezuela and Colombia. You can read more about their community in this article from The Story Institute.
How to visit the Guajira Peninsula?
It is possible to visit the Guajira Peninsula by yourself or with a tour. If you chose to do it by yourself, you need to be a good driver: the road conditions in the desert are difficult and there is no real roads after Cabo de la Vella.
With Alexandra, we decided to book a tour instead. Fortuitously, once again, we ended up with 4 other french speakers (2 Canadians and 2 Belgians) . The tour left from Riohacha, which is the usual entry point for any expedition into the Guajira Peninsula. It is also possible to leave from Santa Marta, which is another great option if you are planning to visit the Tayrona National Park.
Our visit to the Guajira Peninsula
Day 1 – Manaure, Cabo de la Vela and sunset by a lighthouse
At around 8.30am, our small group is ready to leave Riohacha for the Guajira Peninsula – after a small stop to get some biscuits provision. On the road, a game is organised by the Wayuu children: they stop the car in some “checkpoints” and we have to pay the passage with biscuits. While this game seems innocent, people there are really poor. They will insist to get money instead of biscuit but our guide (a very kind local indian coming from the desert) was really strict about us not encouraging mendicity.
Quite generally during our visit in the Peninsula, the poverty seems much more important than in the rest of Colombia. The deserts if filled with plastics, mendicity is established at every corner and the living conditions of the Wayuu are extremely difficult.
Nonetheless, the beauty of the peninsula is little by little revealed to us as well – we hope that tourism there will bring them more means to protect their natural environnment.
In our first day, we first stopped by Manaure, which is Colombia’s largest salt complex. Then, we head to Uribia, the capital of the Guajira Peninsula and of the Wayuu. Uribia, is the last “large” city before the desert – it appears more as a mandatory logistic stop than a milestone in the visit – the city is extremely dirty.
Leaving Uribia, we start to dive in the majestic desert of La Guajira and head toward our first stop: Cabo de la Vela where we will also stop for the night.
From Cabo de la Vela, we’ll visit a beach: Arco iris Beach and end the day at the Pilón de Azúcar, a very cute lighthouse, to watch the sunset.
At the end of the day – we head back to Cabo De La Vella to spend the night in a hammock. Cabo de La Vella is also one famous place for Kitesurfing. If the wind is up, you will see many of them surfing over the waves of the beaches nearby.
Day 2 – Punta Gallinas, Las Dunas del Taroa
Well rested after a good night in our hammock, we wake up with the sun and enjoy our breakfast – departure is set to around 8am. Our direction is Punta Gallinas, the most northern point of Colombia and of South America. Unlike the previous days, the roads are very bumpy and while it is possible to reach Cabo de La Vela on your own, anything after that point will require a guide. Slaloming throughout the desert and the cactus forests, we reach our first stop: Las Dunas del Taroa.
Las Dunas del Taroa The Dune of Taroa – is a very impressive dune overlooking the Carabiean sea. It is nearly as impressive as the world-famous Dune of Pilat in Arcachon (we will talk about it in another post) but without other French tourists. We enjoyed sliding on the warm sands and getting our feets in the water! The beach is beautiful and kilometers long, but the stop is relatively short (about 1 hour) – more than enough with the intense sun!
After leaving the Dune, we drove to our last night stop – Punta Gallinas. Punta Gallinas point of view is stunning: overlooking a cliff and a small port, used by the local community.
Our last day – on the way back to Riohacha
On the last day of our tour, the main purpose is to reach back Riohacha. We leave Punta Gallinas for a small boat trip in the morning and reach our driver, waiting for us to drive us back.
The rest of the day is a bit less interesting – we made a stop only for a quick lunch on the way back in Urubia and drive for a few hours until we reach Riohacha.
We then took a bus to Santa Marta in order to spend our last night in Colombia, tired but happy after a fabulous few days in the desert.
Francois forgot his passport in the tour agency in Riohacha. Thankfully, the agency (Kai Ecotravel) picked up our call in the evening and send it back by taxi to Santa Marta airport about 1 hour before our flight back to France….!
Your visit to peninsula de la Guajira in a few questions
Is there a version of this expedition with a 4 stars hotels and gastronomic food?
No, the tourism in the Peninsula is still pretty new and it’s still a very poor area of Colombia. There is no real alternative even if you are willing to pay more (or at least when we visited in 2018). We loved this adventurous feeling for a few days but it may not suit everyone.
Do I have to sleep in a Hammock?
No, there are beds too but the comfort in the Guajira Peninsula is very limited. Electricity is available only at set time (around lunch and dinner), there is no internet and no hot water. Generally, if you like luxury and comfortable travel – you will not find it here.
Is it comfortable to sleep in a Hammock?
Yes it is very – surprisingly. After days full of driving in the bumby 4W, the hammock, hand-made by the Wayuu are extremely welcome. The nights in the deserts are quite “animated” between animals and dogs fightings in the night and The hammock are also all in one room with every other travellers. We decided to sleep together in one hammock and we loved it.
How long do I need to plan to stay in the Peninsula De La Guajira?
We found out various tours but our recommendation would be to stay at least 2 nights there. With the 1 night tour, you will always miss Punta Gallinas and the Dunes which were the highlight of our visit.
It is also possible to stay longer, if you do not mind the conditions – we would have loved to but had to fly back from Santa Marta on our last day.
What things can you do beside the Peninsula De La Guajira in Santa Marta area?
Santa Marta, the main city nearby is one of the most visited place of Colombia. In our initial itinerary, we planned to depart back to France from Santa Marta after visiting the Tayrona National Park but it was closed at the time.
Near Santa Marta, you can also enjoy one of the most famous trek of Colombia: La Ciudad Perdida. It is a 4 days hike to reach an ancient pre-Columbian city. We unfortunately lacked the time to hike it in our visit to Colombia, but it is part of our plan to hike it when we visit back next year!
What type of animals can you see in the Peninsula ?
Very cute parrots (beware – they like to eat your clothes)! We’ve heard from our guide that there are many other aninals there such as wild cats or monkeys but we did not see any during our visit. The Wayuu are also stockbreeders, and you will see many domesticated animals on the way.
Who will enjoy best the visit to the Peninsula De La Guajira?
The 3 days visit we did in the Peninsula is definitely not for every traveller but it is more a matter of taste than difficulty. Overall, the hike are never longer than 1 hour, food and water are supplied and always available and the heat totally manageable. On the other hand, you will sleep outside in hammock, the poverty is striking (no easy access to hospital) and the electricity system unreliable. We recommend it only for physically healthy people.
Would we do it again?
Yes – without hesitation. Ideally for the longer tour or on our own if that is feasible by then.
Do I need to speak Spanish to visit the Peninsula de la Guajira?
Not really – although our guide did not speak english nor any of the local we met. Alexandra speaks fluent Spanish which enabled us to understand the people we met there and the wayuu people. Having one member of your group speaking Spanish will definitely help you have a more pleasant trip.
How was the food in the tour?
The food was pretty good overall. We have heard horrible stories from fellow travellers we met before visiting the Peninsula who got very sick after eating the food there and spend 3 awful days in the car… To stay on the safe side – we never eat the vegetable and ate chicken and rice for every meals we had there. Our companions were not that careful and ate everything – none of them got sick.
Our tour operator to visit the Peninsula de La Guajira was Kai Ecotravel. We strongly recommend them as we had an unforgettable visit to the Guajira Peninsula. They work with local guides and support the local community as well as being extremely professional and well-organised. The tour we picked was 3 days and 2 nights to Punta Gallinas.