Cabo de la Vela – The Merging of Desert and Ocean on Colombia’s North Coast

by Stephanie Walsh · 9 comments

in Colombia, South America, Travels

Views of the Colombian coastline and the country's first wind farm in the distance at Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela is a unique landscape in La Guajira, Colombia where miles of flat, barren, desert land spread vastly across the peninsula, meeting with turquoise green waters of the Caribbean Sea to the North and the borders of Venezuela to the East in one of the most northern region in all of South America.

Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

Getting to Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, is no easy feat. Starting in Riohacha, the capital of the region, we took a car with an Argentinian girl, for one hour across the start of the Guajira desert to the small town of Uribia, populated mainly with the indigenous Wayuu people. From there we jumped into the back of a 4×4, where we made friends with another Argentinian girl who was also traveling to Cabo de la Vela alone. It took almost an hour for the jeep to leave Uribia, as they loaded the roof rack with supplies to take to the isolated Wayuu people living far out in the deserts of La Guajira. After some local Wayuu people squashed in beside us in the back of the jeep, we finally took off on the two-hour bumpy, dusty journey across straight flat desert to reach Cabo de la Vela. For such a mountainous country, it was a very different experience to be driving straight on flat ground for over two-hours.

Wayuu woman sits with us in the back of the jeep on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Wayuu woman sits with us in the back of the jeep on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Wayuu people join us in the back of the jeep on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Wayuu people join us in the back of the jeep on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

After a quick tyre change at 17 km’s to go, and a few stops in the middle of nowhere to drop the Wayuu people off at their houses, we made it to Cabo de la Vela. For the last 10 minutes of the journey we were driving through the shore waters of the completely motionless ocean. It was a spectacular blue colour and extremely peaceful with lone fishing boats visible far out at sea every so often.

The flat, straight road to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

The flat, straight road to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Wayuu woman heads into the desert to her house, on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Wayuu woman heads into the desert to her house, on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Flat, open desert for miles on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Flat, open desert for miles on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

We set up our tent on the beach with one of the best views I’ve ever woken up to. Our Argentinian friends rented two hammocks for $12,000 COP a night (5 Euro) to sleep in and we paid $10,000 (4 Euro) a night per person (not per tent) to camp. Nothing is free…even in the desert/beach.

The view from our tent - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

The view from our tent - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

Beautiful turquoise sea in Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

Beautiful turquoise sea in Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

The facilities were very good, much better condition than that of Tayrona National Park. The bathrooms were spotless and very modern, however the showers had no running water so we had to ask for a bucket of water from the restaurant. Luckily for us, we had our trusty Solar Heated Shower Bag so we poured the bucket of water into it and we had a perfect, powerful shower in no time. Best travel gadget ever.

Andres does a handstand at sunset in Cabo de la Vela

Andres does a handstand at sunset in Cabo de la Vela

Smile - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

Smile - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

That evening we got another jeep to a nearby beach and one of the best spots in the peninsula to watch the Guajira sunset. The guy brought us, waited for us and brought us back, all for $30,000 between the 4 of us. Not bad.

One of the best spots to watch the sunsets in Cabo de la Vela

One of the best spots to watch the sunsets in Cabo de la Vela

At a certain stage in the night, they turn off the electricity and everything becomes pitch black, perfect for stargazing. We lay on the velvety sand and had competitions to see how many shooting stars we could see.

The picture says it all - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

The picture says it all - Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

The Crazy Woman of Cabo de la Vela

The next day we went to another incredible beach 20 minutes drive away from where we were camping. While swimming in the turquoise green sea, we noticed a woman sitting on a rock, on the beach, starring at us. Apart from her, we were the only ones around. She remained perfectly still the whole time we were at the beach, but kept starring at us. We waved, she laughed and eventually we left her there to climb the Cerro Kamachi.

The crazy woman of Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

The crazy woman of Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, Colombia

The Cerro Kamachi is a huge hill sacred to the Wayuu people, with fantastic 360-degree views of the peninsula. It was extremely windy at the top, so much so, that at times I thought I was going to be blown away, so you do have to be careful. There is a small stone shrine to the Virgin Mary built at the top, decorated with Wayuu wristbands. In the far distance, you can even see a wind farm, which in Medellin two weeks later, we found out, was Colombia’s first wind farm (see feature photo).

Cerro Kamachi is a sacred place for the Wayuu people of La Guajira

Cerro Kamachi is a sacred place for the Wayuu people of La Guajira

On top of Cerro Kamachi - amazing 360 views of Cabo de la Vela peninsula

On top of Cerro Kamachi - amazing 360 views of Cabo de la Vela peninsula

The stone shrine on top of Cerro Kamachi, Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

The stone shrine on top of Cerro Kamachi, Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

After climbing Cerro Kamachi, we decided to explore a new place to view the sunset that evening, as the sunsets in La Guajira are a big spectacle for visitors. We climbed to the top of another huge hill on the opposite side of the beach, through barren dry land, cactuses and wild goats. It paid off. Yet another amazing sunset over the Caribbean Sea, at Colombia’s northern coast was witnessed.

Sunset Day 2 at Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Sunset Day 2 at Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

It was dark by the time we made it back down the hill but we luckily we had brought our headlamps with us. Best travel gadget ever (again). We decided to check if the crazy woman was still there, so with our head lamps turned on, we leaned over the cliff and looked down at the beach to where she had been sitting all day. With a quick scan of the area, our light flashed across her face and she turned (creepily) to look up at us. She had been sitting there for hours starring out at the ocean. And now she was still there but doing it in the pitch-black dark!

Stranded in the Dark

Naturally I wanted to leave quickly before the crazy woman started running after us (probably), but the jeep that was supposed to pick us up never came back. It was pitch black and there was no one but the crazy woman on the beach around. It was an hour walk back to the village but we had no other choice but to start on foot. So with only our headlamps to guide us, we followed the trail of a rough dirt track towards the small village. We walked in silence for the most part listening out for the sounds of the crazy woman running after us (well that’s what I was doing anyway!). She never appeared and we made it back at last.

The unusual landscapes of Cabo de la Vela

The unusual landscapes of Cabo de la Vela

Leaving Cabo de la Vela

Leaving Cabo de la Vela is more exhausting than getting there. A jeep leaves the small village while it’s still dark at 5am heading for Uribia. As the sun rises, it picks up various locals who are taking their two-hour journey to work in Uribia (or further). From there, you can get another one-hour car journey to Riohacha all for about $24,000 COP (10 euro/14 USD) per person for the complete trip. You might notice the Wayuu people pay a lot less than you, but they have to make that tough journey every day so I wouldn’t complain.

Mud house on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Mud house on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Cactus fence on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Cactus fence on the way to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Colombia

Note about Uribia: While the trip was amazing and the places we seen incredibly beautiful, I want to mention how surprised I was at how absolutely full of rubbish the town of Uribia was. Plastic bags and containers littered the fields, the roads, the rivers and the town. It is clear after spending some time there that the local people have a huge lack of education about the importance of keeping their local environment and their homes litter free. Many times we witnessed (and tried to stop) young girls and grown men throw their rubbish casually on the ground or into the ocean without any thought as to what would happen to it after they had thrown it there. It is a huge pity to see the town of Uribia being destroyed by the trash. The local people need to be educated and made aware of the long-term consequences of littering. Perhaps with some government-led initiative they can encourage the people to un-do what they have already done.

 

For more travel photos from Cabo de la Vela, check out our Flickr set here.

 

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John G March 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Wow! Savage stuff. How lucky for you! You know you can see both Magellanic Clouds from there if you are stargazing. Jealous!!!
Another great blog. I’m really enjoying these. Keep ’em coming!

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2 Stephanie March 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Thanks! Indeed you would have been a useful a astronomy geek to have there! We’ll go together some day! 🙂

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3 Claire March 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Wow Steph, my first time reading your blog. Its so fantastic, you guys are great! Keep the stories coming, especially the ones about malfunctioning clothing… Yee should get those morph suits, there’s no way they would rip on yee. And would make an AMAZING picture!!
PS. Why are there no dags in your pictures, South America is full of nice dags

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4 Stephanie March 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Haha Thanks Claire! There is a picture of a lovely loyal dag we met in Mompox! What a guy! Good advise on the morph suits…I’ll keep that in mind! 🙂

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5 cindy thetravelgal May 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm

What an interesting place. Thanks for bringing it to life for the rest of us.
Looking forward to seeing more of your posts.

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6 Steph May 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Thanks Cindy! Glad you enjoyed it! Always happy to know someone knew has visited the site! 🙂 I am going to check out your blog now!

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7 Jimmy September 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Hey,
Great blog, just wondering we are thinking of doing a trip to Cabo but arn’t sure whether to do a tour or do what you guys did. I just wanted to know roughly how much money you spent and also whether you think you were able to see all the places that you may see on a tour.

Cheers
Jimmy and Tash

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8 Stephanie Walsh September 7, 2013 at 6:01 am

Hey guys! Thanks for commenting. Well, the way we did it took a long time in fairness and I am not even sure if it worked out that much cheaper because we never priced the tours (but our route was cheap….about $24,000 COP per person each way [~$14 USD] ). We just went to Cabo de la Vela and didn’t go any further, to Punta Gallinas, because it was very expensive (like $150 USD!) to get there from Cabo. But then again, we didn’t shop around and the guy that quoted us that price was probably trying to rip us off. I have heard that the tours are expensive, but they bring you to Cabo and Punta Galinas. I suppose it just depends on how important it is that you reach the northernmost tip of the south american continent! 🙂 Could be worth it, just for the bragging rights! 😉
Anyway hope that helps! Enjoy your trip!

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