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Exploring the Desert of La Guajira – Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas

When you think of Colombia perhaps the picturesque green rolling hills of the Andes, the sprawling jungle of the Amazon, or the white sand beaches of the Caribbean coast some to mind. However, one of Colombia’s most impressive landscapes is the desert peninsula of La Guajira. Exploring this unique landscape with its rolling dunes and authentic indigenous culture is one of the neatest experiences you can have in Colombia. Learn all about La Guajira and visiting Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas here!

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Desert of La Guajira Cabo de la Vela Pilón de Azucar
The Desert of La Guajira near Cabo de la Vela with the Pilón de Azucar in the background.

La Guajira Peninsula

In the far north of Colombia, far past the colonial charm of Cartagena and the unspoiled beaches of Tayrona, you’ll find the desert peninsula of La Guajira. Home to the Wayuu people, this area was never successfully conquered by the Spanish, and in addition to the amazing landscape, you’ll find a bastion of traditional culture.

Read on to learn what you can see during a trip to La Guajira.

Want to see the desert of La Guajira for yourself? Our 3 Day Package includes everything mentioned here!

Salinas de Manaure

Outside the city of Riohacha, the gateway to the desert of La Guajira, you’ll find the Manaure Salt Flats. These sea salt mines produce more than 1 million tons of salt a year, and going on the tour known as La Ruta del Sal not only lets you learn more about the production but allows you to see the impressive landscape of the inland desert sea dotted with mounds of salt ready to be harvested.

Truck in the La Guajira Desert
No paved roads here! Visiting La Guajira is a true adventure.

Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela is a small town located several hours north of Riohacha across an unmarked desert road. It’s the last small bastion of civilization in La Guajira. It was one of the first places on the South American mainland visited by Europeans, discovered in 1499.

Today, it remains mostly inhabited by the Wayuu and if you want to get yourself an elaborate and colorful mochila handmade bag, there’s no better place to do it.

There are also several neat sites to see outside the town. The imposing rocky hill of El Pilón de Azucar, which derives its name for its appearance like a pile of sugar, has an amazing beach adjacent where you can catch some sun while dipping your feet in the desert sand before cooling off in the waters of the Caribbean.

In the afternoon, you’ll want to head to Ojo del Agua beach, where you can climb a hill to see one of the most amazing sunsets in Colombia.

Pilón de Azucar Beach Cabo de la Vela La Guajira
The beach beside PIlón de Azucar near Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

If you love unique and desert landscapes, you’ll also be fascinated by the Tatacoa Desert, which you can visit as part of our 5 Day Tour of Colombia’s South and also takes you to the archeological sites and gorgeous countryside of San Agustín.

Punta Gallinas

Wander further north through the sparsely inhabited desert to reach Punta Gallinas. This is as far north as north goes, and marks the most northern point on the entire South American continent.

Here, you’ll find the windswept sands of the Taroa Dunes. These massive rolling dunes of sand will make you feel small and roll right into the sea, framing one of the most beautiful and unique beaches in Colombia. Wade through the sands to climb down and take a refreshing swim and enjoy this unspoiled landscape.

You’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the Wayuu here, staying in a small lodge and participating in a workshop on the making of the elaborate mochilas and other artisan crafts. If the season’s right, you may even be able to help release turtles into the wild.

Taroa Dunes Punta Gallinas La Guajira
The Taroa Dunes at Punta Gallinas, La Guajira

Mayapo Beach

On the way back to Santa Marta, make a stop at Mayapo Beach. This small and lesser traveled beach is another oasis of natural unspoiled beauty and refreshing place for a swim before leaving the desert of La Guajira behind making your way back to the city.

Planning a Trip to La Guajira

This is one of the most adventurous destinations in Colombia and perfect for those that want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and feel they have been transported to a place that feels and looks like an entirely different world.

You’ll want to bring along plenty of sunscreen and a good hat and clothes to keep you sheltered from the hot desert sun. Infrastructure here is less developed, so it’s important you come with an adventurous off the beaten path spirit. You may even get the opportunity to sleep in the fresh evening air in one of the giant elaborate hammocks, known as chinchorros.

Indigenous Woman at Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira
You’ll be able to get in touch with the Wayuu Indigenous Culture in La Guajira.

You should also plan your trip with a guide. Our 3 Day Package to La Guajira is perfect for that! It will take you to all the sites mentioned here. A visit here makes the perfect addition to a larger trek of the Caribbean Coast, combining perfectly with our Caribbean Express Package that will also take you to Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tayrona, and Minca. We can also put together a custom package for you that includes La Guajira and other sites in Colombia.

Regardless of how you visit, a trip to La Guajira will let you claim a place among the adventurous and privileged few that have seen this remarkable place!

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