25 Reasons Why You Should Visit La Guajira: Colombia’s Caribbean Desert

Kitesurfing Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

Welcome to La Guajira, one of my favourite destinations in Colombia! A unique and beautiful department located in northern Colombia, this huge coastal Caribbean desert boasts giant sand dunes, salt flats, and stunning beaches, and is home to Colombia’s largest Indigenous population.

La Guajira is a world of adventure, with crashing waves, arid desert, and hundreds of bird species, from humble pelicans and elegant flamingoes to the ferocious eagles circling its coastline. Whether wildlife, extreme sports, culture, food, or history are your thing, there are plenty of reasons why you should make time to visit this beautiful region.

In this article, we will share with you 25 of the top reasons to visit La Guajira, from whale watching and birdwatching to exploring ghost towns and learning about the region’s Indigenous cultures.

Adventure in La Guajira

Kitesurfing Cabo de la Vela

Kitesurfing Cabo de la Vela

Home to some of the best kitesurfing in the world, Cabo de la Vela is a paradise for kitesurfing enthusiasts. The flat bay surrounding Cabo de la Vela offers constant year-round winds and flat waters, with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and the desert landscape of La Guajira.

It’s perfect for both beginners and experienced riders, and the sunsets are breathtaking. While there was only one kitesurfing school when I visited Cabo de la Vela in 2014, there are now 4 kitesurfing schools offering several courses, as well as rentals for experienced riders. Head to the north end of town when you arrive and chat with the different instructors to see which is best for you.

Unfortunately, I was a broke backpacker when I visited Cabo de la Vela, so my kitesurfing aspirations had to wait a few extra years until I travelled to Mui Ne in Vietnam.

Discover Punta Gallinas

Punta Gallinas, La Guajira

Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America, is a wild and secluded place that offers breathtaking landscapes and is perfect for adventure seekers and nature lovers. This arid peninsula boasts vast sand dunes that meet the crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea, and is also a habitat for flamingos that inhabit its scenic bays.

During your visit, you can discover hidden beaches, climb to the top of the lighthouse for breathtaking panoramic vistas, and stand at the precise northernmost tip of the South American continent.

Given the remoteness of Punta Gallinas, you can either hire a 4×4 jeep to take you or go as part of a tour.

Explore the Macuira National Natural Park

Macuira National Natural Park, La Guajira

An oasis within the desert, the Macuira National Natural Park is a protected area that boasts unique ecosystems and endangered species. You can hike through the spectacular cloud forests and see waterfalls and rivers, while learning about the importance of conservation and sustainability.

The park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including the threatened macaw and the endemic cactus species. It’s a perfect place for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful retreat in the heart of La Guajira.

In our opinion, Macuira National Natural Park is one of the most underrated places in Colombia, and offers a true off-the-beaten-path experience for the most rugged and adventurous travellers.

Explore Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

Cabo de la Vela is a small fishing village located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. The village is surrounded by desert and salt flats, and offers a unique landscape that is perfect for outdoor activities such as kitesurfing, hiking, exploring beaches, and sightseeing. The Pilón de Azúcar, a rocky hill that overlooks the sea, is a must-visit destination in Cabo de la Vela. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the sea and the desert.

Try Sandboarding in the Dunes of Punta Gallinas

sandboarding in punta gallinas

Punta Gallinas is a popular destination for thrill-seekers who want to experience the rush of sandboarding down the steep sand dunes. You can rent a board and slide down the dunes, taking in the spectacular views of the desert and the Caribbean Sea.

Swim in the crystal-clear waters at Playa del Pilon de Azucar

Playa del Pilón de Azúcar Cabo de la Vela - Colombia

The Caribbean Sea is known for its crystal-clear waters and beautiful beaches. In La Guajira, you can find secluded beaches that offer peace and tranquility. Playa del Pilon de Azucar, a short hike outside of Cabo de la Vela is one of the best beaches in the region, and is perfect for swimming and relaxing. For those less active, hiring a mototaxi to take you is also an option.

A second, but less beautiful beach worth visiting which is closer to town is Ojo de Agua.

Watch the Sunrise or Sunset from the top of the Pilón de Azúcar

el pilón de azúcar sunset

Watching the sunrise or sunset from the top of the sacred Pilón de Azúcar in Cabo de la Vela is an unforgettable experience. The view from the top is breathtaking and offers panoramic views of the surrounding desert and sea. Only a short walk from town, you can plan this with taking swim in the caribbean at Playa del Pilon de Azucar or Playa El Dorada.

Wanting to Sleep in a Bed and Not a Hammock?

25 Reasons Why You Should Visit La Guajira: Colombia’s Caribbean Desert -

Since most accommodations in Cabo de la Vela consist of hammocks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place with an actual bed. Playa Arco Iris is one accommodation in Cabo de la Vela that can offer this, making it a top choice for visitors.

Explore on Foot or Bike around the Taroa Dunes

Quand t'es dans le désert

Exploring the Taroa Dunes on two wheels is a popular activity for visitors to Cabo de la Vela, as it offers a stunning view of the surrounding desert landscape. To get to the dunes, visitors can hire a local guide or rent a 4×4 vehicle to drive across the sandy terrain. Once at the Taroa Dunes, there are a couple Rancheria’s to spend the night.

Have a Real Backpacking Experience

Desert Town of Cabo de la Vela

La Guajira is the perfect place for those rugged travellers wanting to escape the regular backpacking trail through Colombia. The region offers a true backpacking experience, as there is no wi-fi, showers are from a bucket, and travel is on the back of open 4×4 jeeps or trucks down hot, dusty roads.

This also means you need to be a bit more prepared while traveling through the La Guajira region. After Uribia, there are no ATM’s, drinking water is limited, and the local indigenous tribes living in the area are extremely poor.

For another popular off-the-beaten-track backpacking spot, check out our Best Things to Do in Sal Gil post, Colombia’s adventure sports capital!

Nature in La Guajira

Take a Dip in the Manaure Salt Flats

Manaure Salt Flats, La Guajira

The Manaure salt flats are a natural wonder that should not be missed. The shallow water is so salty that you can float effortlessly, while enjoying the stunning views of the colorful sunset. The reflection of the sun on the water creates a magical atmosphere with sparkles of blue, white, and pink, that is perfect for relaxation and contemplation. It’s a unique experience that will stay with you forever.

Go Whale Watching in Uribia

Whale watching Uribia

Whale watching in Uribia is a must-do tour for nature lovers. From July to October, humpback whales come to this area to mate and give birth. You can spot these majestic creatures and other marine life, such as dolphins and sea turtles. The experience is truly awe-inspiring, as you witness the whales breach and tail slap in the water. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these animals up close in their natural habitat.

Spend a Romantic Night under the Stars

Punta Gallinas Stargazing

Stargazing in La Guajira is a unique experience, as the region is known for its clear skies and lack of light pollution. On a clear night, the sky comes alive with thousands of stars, making it a magical experience. It’s a rare opportunity to witness the Milky Way in all its glory and to see constellations that are not visible from other parts of the world.

One of the best ways to enjoy the night sky in La Guajira is to take a guided tour with a local expert. Your tour guide will help you identify the different stars and planets, and provide fascinating insights into the myths and legends surrounding them. You’ll learn about the ancient cultures that used the stars for navigation and storytelling, and the scientific discoveries that have been made thanks to our understanding of the cosmos.

Go birdwatching in the Flamencos Sanctuary in Camarones

Flamingo Sanctuary at Camarones - La Guajira

A short detour on your way up to Cabo de la Vela prior to Riohacha, the Flamencos Sanctuary in Camarones is a must-visit destination for birdwatchers, one of the best locations on the Colombian Caribbean. While here, you can see hundreds of pink flamingos and other bird species in their natural habitat. The sanctuary is also home to other wildlife, including turtles and iguanas.

For a different perspective, you can hire a local guide who will take you out on a small wooden canoe powered by sail to see the beautiful pink flamingos.

Visit the Sea Turtle Research and Education Centre in Riohacha

Sea Turtle riohacha

The Sea Turtle Environmental Research and Education Centre in Riohacha is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and eco-tourists. This conservation centre is dedicated to protecting and studying sea turtles, and visitors can learn about the importance of sea turtle conservation efforts in the region.

The centre also offers tours to see the sea turtles in their natural habitat, which is a unique and unforgettable experience. Additionally, visitors can participate in workshops and educational activities to learn more about the local marine ecosystem and how they can help protect it.

Go on a Desert Safari Tour

taroa dunes in the la guajira desert

A desert safari tour is a unique way to explore the La Guajira desert landscape. You can ride in a 4×4 vehicle, visit remote villages, sand dunes, and see wildlife such as lizards, snakes, and iguanas in their natural habitat.

Culture & Food in La Guajira

Learn about the Indigenous Wayuu Culture

indigenous wayuu

The Wayuu people are a local indigenous group that has inhabited the La Guajira region for centuries. They have a rich culture and unique traditions that are still very much alive today. They live very difficult lives battling droughts and extreme heat on a daily basis in the La Guajira deserts.

You can visit a local Wayuu tribe, learn about their customs, and try their traditional food. The Wayuu are also known for their colorful handicrafts, including bags, hats, and hammocks, which are sold in local markets.

Enjoy the Local Cuisine (Fresh Lobster if You’re Lucky!)

Fresh fish! Another good reason why you should visit La Guajira.

The local cuisine in La Guajira is a delicious blend of flavors and traditions. Fresh seafood, arepas, and empanadas are some of the staple dishes, but the traditional Wayuu dish called friche is a must-try. It’s a hearty soup made with goat meat, vegetables, and spices that will warm you up on a chilly evening.

If you’re lucky like I was and the fishermen have a good day, there may also be a limited supply of freshly caught lobster available. You will have the option of it either being served plain or with garlic butter. By far the most delicious (and cheapest) lobster I have ever ate.

Learn about the Indigenous Yukpa people

Yukpa indigenous people of Macuira National Park

The Yukpa people are a local indigenous community that lives in the Sure Area of the Macuira National Natural Park. Visitors can learn about their traditional way of life, including their crafts and customs, and interact with the community. The Yucpa people are known for their beautiful artisanal crafts, and visitors can purchase handmade baskets, bags, and hats made from natural fibers as souvenirs.

Attend the Wayuu Cultural Festival

Festival de la Cultura Wayuu in Uribia, an amazing La Guajira travel experience!

The Wayuu Cultural Festival takes place in Uribia, and celebrates the culture of the Wayuu people. The festival is a lively event that features colorful traditional costumes, energetic music, and fascinating dances. Visitors can witness the Wayuu people’s weaving skills and taste traditional foods like goat, fish, and yucca.

During the festival, visitors can experience the Wayuu people’s history, myths, and legends through dances like the Yonna and Jota. The festival is also an opportunity to learn about the Wayuu people’s way of life and customs. The Wayuu Cultural Festival offers a chance to immerse oneself in the vibrant and colorful traditions of this fascinating indigenous group and to gain a deep insight into their rich history and culture.

Stay at a Rancheria

la guajira rancherias

Staying in a rancheria is a unique way to experience the local culture of La Guajira. Rancherias are traditional settlements of the Wayuu, and staying in one allows visitors to learn about their traditions and sample authentic Wayuu food. Accommodations in rancherias are typically simple, with hammocks or basic beds and shared bathroom facilities.

Buy a Colourful Wayuu Mochila Bag

Colourful mochila bag made by the indigenous wayuu

La Guajira is a prime destination to acquire beautiful Wayuu bags known as mochilas. These shoulder bags, handcrafted by the Wayuu people, feature vibrant and colorful patterns that incorporate traditional myths and legends. Over the years, they have evolved into a highly sought-after fashion accessory across the globe.

You can get your hands on an authentic Wayuu bag at a reasonable price in La Guajira. However, it is important to bear in mind that many Wayuu are in dire financial circumstances and rely on income generated by selling their crafts. Therefore, it is best to avoid haggling excessively when making your purchase.

History of La Guajira

Learn about the Wayuu Afterlife

Cerro Pilón de Azucar - Cabo de La Vela - Colombia.

El Pilón de Azúcar is a significant site in Wayuu mythology, and the Wayuu people believe that the souls of the deceased travel to this rocky hill to begin their journey to the afterlife. According to Wayuu tradition, El Pilón de Azúcar is the point where the spirits of the dead depart from the physical world and ascend to the heavens.

The Wayuu also believe that El Pilón de Azúcar is home to the spirits of their ancestors, who watch over and protect their descendants. Many Wayuu families visit the site to honor their ancestors and perform spiritual rituals. The panoramic view from the top of El Pilón de Azúcar also offers a breathtaking and unique perspective of the desert landscape of La Guajira.

Learn about the Region’s History at the Taroa Dunes Museum

Taroa Dunes

The Taroa Dunes Museum, located in Cabo de la Vela, is an absolute must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history and natural resources of the region. The museum boasts a vast collection of artifacts from the pre-Columbian era, including pottery and jewelry, that offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives and traditions of the indigenous communities that once inhabited the area.

In addition to these ancient artifacts, the museum also features displays on the rich flora and fauna of the region, showcasing the incredible biodiversity that can be found in this unique landscape.

Explore the Ghost Town of El Horno

el horno ghost town

El Horno is a ghost town that was once a bustling mining village home to Cerrejon, one of the world’s largest open coal mines. The abandoned town is now a unique tourist attraction, and visitors can explore the ruins of the houses and the old mining machinery. Walking around the town feels like stepping back in time, and it provides a glimpse into the region’s history.

Visit the Salt Museum

Manaure salt flats, la Guajira.

The Museo de la Sal Ichi in Manaure is a small but interesting museum that provides visitors with insight into the history and significance of salt mining in the La Guajira region. The museum displays various tools and equipment used for salt mining, as well as exhibits on the salt-making process and the different types of salt produced in the area.

Visitors can also take a guided tour of the nearby salt flats to see firsthand how salt is extracted from the ground. It’s a great place to learn about the cultural and economic importance of salt mining in the region.

Finishing Thoughts

In conclusion, La Guajira is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered, offering a unique and unforgettable experience for travellers seeking adventure, culture, and natural beauty. With its stunning landscapes, fascinating Indigenous cultures, and rich history, there are countless reasons why this region should be on every traveler’s list.

From exploring remote villages to soaking up the sun on pristine beaches, La Guajira has something for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in Colombia’s Caribbean desert.

For more inspiration on planning your Colombia adventure, check out our Top Things to Do in Guatape post, Colombia’s most colourful and vibrant town!

Let us know in the comments if we missed anything, or feel free to reach out with any specific questions on La Guajira travel!

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