Regardless of how Narcos and popular media choose to portray the country, Colombia is far from the war-torn land that it once was. In fact, tourism to the South American country has surged 300% in the last decade due to factors such as improved peace relations and pop culture, providing a window into the beauty that Colombia has to offer. While the country’s capital city of Bogota has traditionally been deemed the favorite travel destination followed by cities such as Cartagena and Medellin, there’s a dreamy desert location that is quite possibly the most well-kept secret in all of South America: Punta Gallinas.
Exploring the Department of La Guajira
While known for being home to total nothingness, Punta Gallinas and the department it is part of, La Guajira, are characterized by giant sand dunes that stretch all the way to the Caribbean coast and provide homes to the Wayuu indigenous people that live there. To explore the vast, wild deserts of Colombia, you’ll have to ensure you’re ready for a two-day trip in a jeep through nothing but sand and wide open spaces.
The desert is actually home to two stops on this trip: Cabo de la Vela, which is closest to the nearest big city, and Punta Gallinas, which is much further out in the desert. Depending on your adventure level and the time you have to explore, you can choose to go to both or just one. While there’s not much to do in La Guajira, the beaches, sunsets and starry nights make it well worth the trip. If you get a good, experienced guide, they’ll be able to provide you with some insight into the Wayuu Indigenous people and their customs while you’re driving through the desert.
How to Get to Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas
Rioacha is the capital of the department of La Guajira and is very accessible by bus from the major cities of Santa Marta, Parque Tayrona or Palomino. Once you’re in Rioacha you can walk along the beachfront and you will see more than a handful of tour groups and individual guides willing to take you to Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. You shouldn’t expect to pay more than $50 per person and the trip will include meals as well as accommodation in the form of a hammock. Don’t let the hammock scare you away. Due to the fact that you’re so far removed from any civilization and light pollution, you’ll score some pretty stunning views of the Colombian star-filled night sky!
It’s important to stock up on water before you head out into the desert as it’s insanely expensive to purchase the little water available once you reach your accommodation in either place. Be sure to also stock up on small little candies, as the indigenous children love to stop and ask for treats and it is a nice gesture on your behalf. Pack lots of sunscreen, breathable clothing and ensure you’ve checked all safety requirements for travel in the area as well as certifications for the guide you’ll be traveling with. While Colombia is a fairly safe place to travel if you’re smart about your surroundings, it’s easy to get ripped off by tour guides in any country.
Breathtaking Beauty in Colombia’s Desert
Again, while heading to Punta Gallinas won’t be the most activity-filled adventure you’ll have, simply getting to the destination is what makes this trip well worth it. If you choose to just head to Cabo de la Vela, you’ll want to be sure to visit the Playa del Pilon and Ojo de Agua as well as the sacred hill of Pilon de Azucar. You’ll definitely want to plan on climbing this hill to witness spectacular views of the desert and the Caribbean Sea. If you’re headed all the way out to Punta Gallinas, which is highly recommended, be sure you have your guide take you to the lighthouse which is the symbolic point of the northernmost tip of South America. Enjoy some time to roll down the sand dunes and settle into a spot on the beach to watch one of the most stunning sunsets you’ve ever seen.
They say that the journey is more important than the destination, and while the northernmost tip of South America forms a breathtakingly beautiful portrait that is called Punta Gallinas, that is actually true in this case. Exploring Colombia’s desert will require you to take a two-day journey in a bumpy jeep through sand dunes. You’ll sleep in a hammock under the stars, bathe in the Caribbean Sea and meet some of the kindest people you’ve ever met. It won’t be easy getting there, but it’s well worth the trouble.