Visiting the most Northern point of South America and a place where you can slide from a sand dune right into the Caribbean. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
You basically have two options to get to this place called Punta Gallinas, located in la Guajira, the desert of Colombia:
- Book an expensive tour
- Go by yourself
Honestly, as convenient as tours are, to me it is way more fun trying to reach a destination by myself even if I don’t know exactly how to get there…
Riohacha – a good place to start your desert adventure
From Palomino, a cute little surf town close to Parque de Tayrona, me and a friend, I met along the way, headed to Riohacha. As we were not really sure how long the whole journey will take, we used this place as a base for our trip. After an evening walk along the marina we bought some groceries and headed to sleep to be ready for our Colombian desert adventure.
We got up at 5:30am the next morning and took a bus to the station of Riohacha, where we were told that there are no buses leaving for Cabo de la Vela.
Riohacha –Quatro Vias
One of the bus drivers was friendly enough to direct us to another place, which was only a 20min walk. From there you can either take a taxi or a colectivo, which is a small bus or truck, to another town called Cuatro Vias. If you have some time and want to safe some money just wait for the colectivo to be filled up.
Cuatro Vias is more like an intersection with some small shops to eat and wait for your connection, not really a place to spend some time. Make sure to grab some delicious arepas con queso (flatbread made out of maize dough) and a tinto (espresso) for the road. Ready to go, we jumped into the back of another colectivo towards Uribia, which is your gateway to Cabo de la Vela.
One of my favorite parts about travelling Colombia are the people. As tourism is not as developed in a lot of parts of the country, people are very interested and curious about your story and at the same time so friendly and helpful. Knowing some Spanish will definitely change your Colombian experience.
Quatro Vias – Uribia
After roughly 4 – 5 hours you will arrive in Uribia, depending on your connections. Uribia feels like a different world, buzzing streets, lots of markets and trucks waiting to head into the desert. It was still early when we arrived and the trucks were not busy yet, this made it easy for us to bargain the price.
We grabbed some fruit and veggies in the markets for the next couple of days as we were not exactly sure how much time we are going to spend in the desert. Also keep in mind that the food will be more expensive due to transportation costs and that Uribia will a be your last place to get some cash.
Ready for our desert adventure we jumped into the back of the truck and said full excitement “Listos!” Vamos!”
Ha, well besides us no one was ready – we waited another hour to be 23 people in total, including lots of food and drinks for the families and including kids on our laps and on the top of the truck.
Be ready for a bumpy desert ride
One of these days, that I am happy to be 5’2’’. It was a cozy, joyful ride and funnily enough we got portrayed a bunch of times by other ‘Gringos’ from the tours we avoided to take.
So this was the adventure we were looking for, a three hour truck ride together with 21 locals through the Colombian desert. These are the moments of your journey you will remember.
Instead of heading straight to Cabo de la Vela, we of course had to drop of all the families first. So basically we got an extended tour through la Guajira and it was great to see how families live, so remote in little huts in the middle of the desert, but everyone seemed so happy and content.
Cabo de la Vela is a small laid back fishing village, which basically consists of only one street. Luckily we travelled in the shoulder season and there was not a lot going on. I had been traveling for two months along the Colombian coast at that point, so I was pretty happy to relax, read and explore the area for a little while.
In Cabo de la Vela we asked our truck driver to drop us off at Daniels’ place, which is the cheapest hostel in town and was recommended by other travellers. There are a few other places to choose from, just walk along the street and ask your way around.
Daniel had hammocks set up for us right at the beach with a beautiful view on the ocean including amazing sunsets every night. There is also the option to choose cabanas for the night if you prefer.
What to do in Cabo de la Vela?
- Explore: There are plenty of beaches around Cabo that you can explore, just ask the locals and they can also bring you on their motorbikes.
- Swim: You can either swim in Cabo de la Vela or choose one of the other beaches in the area.
- Relax: Just bring a book and enjoy the view in your hammock.
- Kitesurf: There is a kitesurf school in Cabo de la Vela if you feel like doing some water sports. Check out Colombia Kite Surf.
- Visit the Dunes of Taroa: The Dunes of Taroa is where the ocean meets the desert and indeed it is a wonderful, peaceful place, where you can basically slide into the ocean from the sand dunes. In order to find a truck that takes you to Punta Gallinas you can either ask around in town or let your hostel organize a driver. Together with two French, two Polish backpackers and a local we left Cabo early in the morning. A crazy ride took with a breakdown brought us to the Dunes of Taroa early in the afternoon.
Punta Gallinas – the most Northern Point of South America
From Taroa we headed to the most northern point of South America, Punta Gallinas where we stayed with a Wayuu family for the night. The Wayuu people are an American Indian ethnic group living in the peninsula of la Guajira. The family offered us comfortable and colourful Chincurros, hammocks, that are made by their tribe. There are only three options for accommodation in Punta Gallinas and your driver will organize this beforehand.
After lunch, me and my friend decided to explore the area a bit and walked around the water up to some sand dunes overlooking the ocean, to take a nap after a long day of driving. The area around Punta Gallinas is beautiful, filled with mangroves, sand dunes, clear water and the space seems endless, it provokes a feeling of being so remote that needs to be explored. I was fascinated by the landscapes and colors also during sunset, they made the whole experience magical and created a feeling of absolute serenity.
While exploring the area I had the feeling this is how traveling should be – discovering places where it is only you and the nature and it feels so untouched that you wish these places will stay like this forever. You feel like you are actually exploring a country and know not too many people have been there but then you wonder how and whether this place might change in the future.
It is hard to say what will happen to Punta Gallinas in the future, but for now it is a wonderful adventure and a beautiful place to explore. We headed all the way back through the desert the next morning and actually found a ride back to Palomino with fellow travellers to the place where the whole adventure started.
- Riohacha – Quatras Vilas: Colectivo: 3,000 COP
- Quatras Vilas – Uribia: Colectivo: 7,000 COP
- Uribia – Cabo de la Vela: Truck 11,000 COP
- Accommodation Cabo: Hammocks: 5,000 COP x 3
- Punta Gallinas: Truck 2 days 150,000 COP
- Night in Punta Gallinas: Hammocks: 10,000 COP**
Total: 196,000 COP ($75) for a five day desert adventure excluding food and the ride back from Cabo.
- Average for a two day tour from Riohacha: 250.000 COP including everything.
- You can also take a boat for 140.000 in return + additional bus costs from Cabo de la Vela – this will be your only option in rain season.
** The prices date back to November, 2014 and are probably changing with the seasons, but this should be a rough guideline for your individual trip to la Guajira.