If you want to discover a totally different world compared to the rest of Colombia, head for Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas.
Cabo de la Vela is a headland and fishing village in the Guajira Peninsula in the northern hemisphere of Colombia. If you continue north, you will reach Punta Gallinas, a desert oasis on the coast of the Caribbean Sea and the most northernmost point of the Guajira Peninsula and the whole of South America!
The unique geographical location of both places is a huge draw for adventure seekers and explorers alike. When you arrive in Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas, you enter the territory of the Wayuu people, who are very different from other Colombian communities. The Wayuu proudly claim that their land is the only place in Colombia that the Spanish could not colonise, because they stood their ground and scared them off when the Spanish tried to invade.
Before I travelled across South America, I had never heard of Cabo de la Vela or Punta Gallinas, and even when speaking with fellow travelers I had no idea what to expect. Whilst I hope the information below will help sway you to visit this forgotten world, I hope you are as surprised and amazed as I was when you see it with your very own eyes.
To give you a glimpse of what to expect, here a few descriptors of Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas:
A kite surfers paradise
Fresh and tantalising five-dollar lobsters
A portal to the heart of the milky way
Wind-speeds which are never below 50kmh
Handpicked cherry red cactus fruits
Don’t expect luxury in Punta Gallinas or Cabo de la Vela, instead enjoy the silence, the sun, the authenticity and the very special atmosphere.
To get to Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas, you need to take a bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha. Take a taxi to the petrol station on the main highway outside of town and ask for a bus to Riohacha. It takes around 3.5 hours from Santa Marta and should cost no more than COP $30,000 (€8 | $10).
If you are coming from Palomino, then wait on the main highway for a bus heading that direction. The journey takes around 1.5 hours and should cost no more than COP $10,000 (€2.80 | $3).
Step 2 (Call a local guide, Rainer)
Once in Riohacha, call Rainer (best recommendation ever). A local guy recommended by other backpackers and who organizes the most affordable transportation to Cabo de la Vela and then on to Punta Gallinas. When you are in either place, you can choose your own accommodation and pick your own food. His drivers would not impose any commissioned options on you, so, you can really pick what is best for you and your wallet.
- Transportation will cost you only around COP $130,000 (€38 | $43) We found other more official agencies that asked up to COP $250,000 (€72 | $82)!!
- In December 2018 Rainer could be reached on WhatsApp under: +57 310 7156920
You can ask Rainer to plan your trip according to your needs. Whether you want to spend 3, 4 or 5 days or even a week in Punta Gallinas or Cabo de la Vela, Rainer will sort it all out for you ~ it is cheaper than booking with an all-inclusive agency and you are keeping the money local which we LOVE. You can also let him know on very short notice whether you would like to extend your stay at a particular place for a night or two or move at a quicker pace. This flexibility comes at no extra cost.
You will also have all the transportation for little day trips and sightseeing spots in the region included.
- If you are into kitesurfing or want to learn, you can ask Rainer to drop you in Cabo de la Vela and you can stay there for a week to enjoy the perfect beach wind and clear water and then venture on to Punta Gallinas.
Step 2 (Other Options)
If you don't want to use the services of Rainer when you arrive in Riohacha after getting the bus from Santa Marta, you will then need to take a collectivo taxi from Riohacha to Uribia, the Wayuu capital. On arrival to the collectivo ranks, lots of drivers will come up to you to offer their car. This can be really overwhelming so just take a breath and ask for the price first ~ should be around COP $15,000 (€4 | $5). The cars sit between 4-5 people, so if you can team up with others - DO! It is always a good option to share a taxi, because the price doesn’t differ if you are one or five people taking the taxi and think of the environment :) It will take just over an hour to reach Uribia.
Riohacha is the last town with shops providing necessary amenities for your trip. Here, you should buy a lot of water; I recommend a big 5 to 10 litre container. You can buy supplies in Uribia but the prices are extremely inflated. Just hail any taxi from the street and ask them to put the meter on, or agree on a fixed price. The taxi to Uribia should be between COP $15,000 (€4 | $5) and COP $25,000 (€7 | $8) maximum.
From Uribia you can go to any tour agency and get a three day tour to Cabo de la Vela and / or Punta Gallinas. You will be travelling in a 4x4 truck to get to Cabo de la Vela which is far from luxurious. Expect to pay between COP $15-20,000 for the journey to Cabo de la Vela which should take between 1.5 and 2 hours.
The three hour ride from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallinas will require a heavy-duty vehicle that brings you to a little boat to cross a bay to the half Island of Punta Gallinas. Again, don’t expect the jeep journey to be comfortable ~ it will shake every bone in your body and you might require a subsequent spine transplant, but hey ho – it is a lot of fun and it will help you realise how lucky we are to live in country where the roads are in perfect condition (sorry Belgium).
Cabo de la Vela is tiny ~ REALLY TINY, but there are some great things to do and places to see.
It is a fishermen’s town where you can get fresh lobster and other marine delicacies directly from the ocean. The water is crystal clear and shallow, therefore it is perfect for those who seek to enjoy quiet beaches or learn how to kite surf. Cabo de la Vela is one of the worlds BEST kitesurfing destinations, due to the towns location and year round winds.
There are several kitesurfing schools in Cabo or you can speak to your hostel (see our accommodation section below). Expect to pay around COP $150 mill if you go with Posada Pujuru Kitesurfing school. They will also organise transportation to Punta Gallinas for you :)
Pilón de Azúcar is a small desert beach cove where the desert meets the Caribbean sea and a perfect place to spend the day catching a tan and swimming in the warm waters.
The Cerro Pilón de Azúcar can be found at the end of the beach and is a sacred place of the Wayuu people and popular with travellers looking for panoramic views over the deserts of Guajira and the Caribbean waters. Whilst the uphil climb can be tough in the heat (15 minute walk), it is worth it for the views.
Ask at your hostel or in the town and someone will point you in the right direction of Playa del Pilon where you will find the Cerro Pilón de Azúcar. You can organise a moto taxi to take you there from Cabo de la Vela (30 minutes) which costs around COP $5,000. Be sure to organise a time for your driver to pick you up, unless you fancy a long walk back!
**With Rainer’s tour, you will have the opportunity to visit some other beaches in the area where the sand looks a little bit red and the water Caribbean blue. Moreover, you will have the chance to climb the windiest desert view point mankind will ever be able to experience. Of course – all of this is included in the price you paid.
Cabo de la Vela is home to some of the most amazing sunsets due to its geographical location, facing out across the Caribbean Sea. Head to the El Farro lighthouse to catch the best sunsets Cabo de la Vela has to offer. Ask for details at your hostel, but all you need to do is take a moto taxi from Cabo de la Vela town on a clear day and head out to the lighthouse ~ you are welcome!
If you fancied getting out of Cabo in the day, you could combine the sunset at El Faro with a visit to Ojo de Agua Beach ~ which sits right next to the lighthouse. Whilst Playa del Pilon is probably more beautiful, Ojo de Agua has lovely little freshwater pools hidden in the rocky coves.
The 3 hour journey from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallinas is rough! You will be stopped by numerous road blocks operated by remote desert tribes to ask for money, candy and water.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: When you are in Uribia, buy some water, candies or even pens so you can hand out to the little ones.
Punta Gallinas is the most northerly point of South America. It is extremely remote, wild and windy. Small villages are scattered throughout the peninsula. With Rainer’s tour you will also explore a lighthouse and some of the biggest Sahara-style dunes ebbing into the Caribbean sea. A picture-perfect sight and really unexpected.
After the tour, you can walk to a beach and down to some of the cabanas in the afternoon. Its name is Playa Aguja. Expect a thirty minute desert heat walk to reach it.
I would say that there is more to do in Cabo de la Vela than in Punta Gallinas but both locations are interesting in their own right and not to be missed.
As Cabo de la Vela is small, don’t expect a party place, but if you want to relax and chill you will feel right at home. If you are lucky, you can join the kitesurfers with a few drinks as you watch the sun falling into the sea just in front of you.
In Cabo de la Vela, I highly recommend Posada Pujuru. It is on the waterfront and you have plenty of options of where to sleep; from charming hammocks to private rooms with your own bathroom and a small restaurant where you can have your breakfast. The free lockers may also be convenient to you.
On top of this, Posada Pujuru offers kitesurfing lessons ~ basically everything you will need in Cabo de la Vela.
Cost: $25,000 (€7 | $8) for a double room. It is not luxurious, but it offers everything you need for a restful nights sleep in this unexplored oasis.
Punto Gallinas is even smaller than Cabo de la Vela, therefore I found only one hostel just after the boat ride - it is called Hospedaje Alexandra.
The hammocks come in two sizes here and you also have the option of a private room. I tried the big hammock and it was an experience! You sleep with quite a big group of people under one roof but with no walls, right in the middle of the desert! Expect the wind to rock you all the way through the night. You will be provided with a pillow and blanket. The latter is duly needed, since it cools down significantly in the desert at night. The Hospedaje Alexandra offers a room to store your valuables, but as always, I recommend securing your backpack with a padlock.
Cost: COP $20,000 (€6 | $7) for the big hammock and COP $50,000 (€14 | $16) for the double room. May I suggest sleeping in the hammock? It is a lovely experience!
Go Travel and Talk TOP TIP: To sleep well in a hammock, lay in it diagonally! This way, the hammock will straighten up and you don’t have to sleep banana style.
Cabo de la Vela
You don’t find any real restaurants in Cabo de la Vela as it is more a sleepy fishing village. However, you will find great home-made options. There is one little fishing hut directly on the beach in front of Hospidaje Pujuru. It doesn’t have a name, but you can’t miss the smell of freshly grilled fish and a few improvised tables on the beach. You will not find a menu, but the local fisherman will come and tell you what he caught in the morning and what is still available. We got lucky and we could choose between grilled fish or fresh lobster garnished with some rice, plantain and some salad. It is an incredibly tasty and fresh meal for around COP $20,000 (€6 | $7) including an ice cold Venezuelan beer.
In Punta Gallinas, there is absolutely no other option then to eat in the Hospidaje Alexandra. As you are close to the sea, the best option is again fish, but you may also choose chicken or wild pig. Either option is available with patacon salad and rice and will cost you again around COP $20,000 (€6 | $7) per dish. They also offer a basic breakfast with bread, butter, jam and omelette.