The Charms of La Guajira

A remote Colombian province offers much to the intrepid
The Charms of La Guajira

The sparsely populated province of La Guajira lies in Colombia’s most north-eastern point, along the country’s border with Venezuela. This arid province is a superb option for the more intrepid traveler. Travel can be tricky and facilities basic, but those who make it deep into the province are rewarded with a seemingly unending expanse of deserted Caribbean beaches.

What to see and do in La Guajira

This is one of the very few spots in the world where you can see snow-capped mountain peaks from the beach

The easiest access point in La Guajira is Palomino, the first settlement and tourist attraction when crossing over the provincial border from Santa Marta. The main town is little more than a few scruffy-looking buildings located along the highway. However, a short walk down the track takes you away a world away, to miles of deserted beach stretching out in either direction as far as the eye can see.

One of the particular attractions of Palomino is that you can see snow-capped mountainous peaks (of Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada) on the horizon, whilst lying on the beach. This is one of only a handful of spots in the world where you can do so. Overall, relaxation is the order of the day in Palomino. A couple of the hostels located on the beach offer activities such as yoga classes and surf / body board hire. The current is strong here and waves sometimes get big, making it an attractive spot for surfers.

If you fancy a day away from the beach, an enjoyable activity is to go tubing along the freshwater river which runs past the town and down to the sea. Several operators offer the tubing trip from along the main drag. For around 15,000 COP you will get hire of the tubing rings and transport on a moped up to the edge of the forest path. It is then a 10 minute walk through hilly terrain to reach the river where you start the trip down. The route sees you float past an indigenous settlement, with inhabitants in traditional dress, before bringing you out on the beach about 2-3 hours later.

Cabo de la Vela is famous for its deserted beaches and large population of flamingos

Travelling out from Palomino and deeper into the province will allow you to reach La Guajira’s other attractions. The most famous of these is Cabo de la Vela, a headland and small village located in the midst of the desert. This area is famous for the deserted beaches and pristine waters, as well as for the large populations of flamingos which inhabitant the region. Cabo de la Vela is also a stop-off point for those wanting to exploring more remote beaches such as those at Ojo de Agua and Playa de Arrecifes. Accommodation in this region is somewhere between basic and non-existent; the only way to stay at the best beaches is to go back to basics and take along hammocks or camping equipment.

Getting to, from and around La Guajira

Most visitors to La Guajira arrive from Santa Marta. To reach Palomino you need to first get to the central market / bus station in Santa Marta and catch one of the buses going in the direct of Tayrona National Park. Palomino is further on from the park and the journey takes between 2 and 4 hours, depending on how frequently your bus stops. Once you pass Tayrona the scenery on the journey becomes increasingly impressive as the road follows the coastal route, giving sweeping views of the rugged beach terrain.

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The journey to Cabo de la Vela is a little more difficult as you must first get to Riohacha, the main city in La Guajira. Avianca and Satena offer direct flights from Bogota to the city. Intercity bus companies in both Colombia (Santa Marta, Cartagena, Cucuta) and Venezuela also travel to Riohacha. From there, you will need to take a bus towards Uribia, the second largest city in the province, and then another bus trip on a dirt track to the Cabo. The trip takes a number of hours, but is undoubtedly worth the effort.

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