An off-the-beaten-track destination that has slightly become a must-visit in the Colombia travelers’ lists – this is Cabo de la Vela. Cabo de la Vela is a small coastal village in the northernmost region of Colombia and South America, exactly in the department of La Guajira, known for its golden beaches and strong indigenous traditions. Traveling to Cabo de la Vela is an adventurous experience you should consider if you are planning a trip to Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
In this post, you will find all the information you need to know before traveling to Cabo de la Vela. Why you should visit it, how to get there, where to stay, the best time to visit, and also what other attractions you can find along the La Guajira desert.
Discovering La Guajira and Cabo de la Vela
La Guajira is the northernmost department of the 32 departments that make up Colombia. It is part of the Colombian Caribbean natural region and borders the deep blue Caribbean Sea to the north and east, and Venezuela to the east. With a population of over 900,000 inhabitants in an area of 20,800 km2 (8,049 sq mi), you could say it is not the most densely populated zone in the country. Despite that, the department is home to a variety of ethnicities, the indigenous being the largest. The Wayuu indigenous community is the most representative, but there are the Kogui, Ika, Kankuamo and Wiwa that inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. You can find Muslim population too. This ethnic melting pot causes that Spanish is not the only language spoken but Wayuunaiki and other dialects.
Another aspect that characterizes this region is the climate. La Guajira’s climate is arid, dry and has high temperatures – it is actually the driest region in the country. The average temperature ranges from 22 to 30 °C, rising up to 42 °C. You can find mostly desert areas, with savannas, dry and rain forests in some points. Part of the Sierra Nevada and the Serranía del Perijá belong to La Guajira and to the north you find also Serranía de Macuira, which are biodiversity hotspots in the middle of the desert. Because of its location, La Guajira has great potential for electricity production from solar radiation and wind.
La Guajira is divided into 15 municipalities including Riohacha – the capital. Cabo de la Vela is a headland in the northern part of the peninsula where some people settled down and formed a small village. The Wayuu believe that Jepirra – as they call it, is a sacred place where the spirits of their deceased arrive to journey into the “unknown”. Today it is an important destination for ecotourism in the Caribbean region of Colombia, where travelers can enjoy amazing landscapes and interact with the local culture.
1. How to get to Cabo de La Vela
Bogota – Riohacha
The first step is to get to Riohacha, the capital of La Guajira. There are about 2 to 3 direct flights from Bogota to Riohacha’s Almirante Padilla International Airport with Avianca and Viva Air airlines. The trip is 1,044 km (648.7 mi) and 1 hour 40 minutes long.
From the main cities on the Caribbean coast – such as Santa Marta and Cartagena, you can travel there by bus. From Santa Marta, the trip takes 4 hours approximately.
From other cities in central and southern Colombia, the best option is to fly to Bogota and then to Riohacha (most flights make a stop in Bogota anyways).
Riohacha – Uribia – Cabo de la Vela
This is where the adventure begins since it is not as simple to get to Cabo de la Vela on your own. In Riohacha, you should take a shared taxi to Cuatro Vias which is a crossroad where informal transport is arranged. This takes you almost an hour. At Cuatro Vias, you mostly find Jeeps / shared taxis that leave once full and charge around 15,000 COP. These drop you off in Uribia about 30 minutes later. There, you have to get on a 4×4 truck with other people and tons of load to finally arrive at Cabo de la Vela. This last stretch of the trip takes 1.5 to 2 hours and costs 15-20,000 COP.
So, the whole journey from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela takes 3 hours or more, as it is nearly 200 km to the north. There are direct private transfers organized by hotels in Riohacha – it might be easier considering this option.
2. Where to stay in Cabo de la Vela
Finding accommodation in Cabo de la Vela is easy. However, you should keep in mind that there is no running water and no electricity. Power is produced by a generator and for showering, sometimes you will have to use a bucket.
Sleeping in hammocks is the most common choice. You find these in the rancherías, the typical Wayuu huts where they live and offer tourist services. You can also choose to sleep in a chinchorro, a larger hammock. Prices range from 10,000 COP to 20,000 COP per person per night, but if you take breakfast it should be more than that.
Some beachfront hostels offer basic private rooms for about 30,000 COP or the hammocks option too.
If you are more the always-looking-for-comfort person, you should probably stay at a hotel in Riohacha and take a one-day tour to Cabo de la Vela.
3. Best time to travel to Cabo de la Vela
As La Guajira is still undiscovered by most Colombians and foreign tourists, you can have a nearly private experience traveling to Cabo de la Vela, but a general recommendation is to plan your Colombian trips avoiding the high seasons, which usually go from June to early August and from November to February, also during Holy Week.
As for the weather, the dry season is during the first 4 months of the year and the rainy season goes from September to November. Traveling to Cabo de la Vela during the rainy season can make the journey quite difficult, so it is better to visit the cape in other months.
4. What to do in Cabo de la Vela
Visiting Pilón de Azúcar is usually the first activity of tours in Cabo de la Vela; you can get in 20 minutes by moto-taxi. It is a small, grayish hill from where you have a 360° view of the blue-green Caribbean Sea, the adjacent beach and the desert. You can climb the hill in 10-15 minutes and feel the strong winds at the top. There is an altar of the Virgin of Fatima, but the importance of this place is related to the Wayuu cosmogony – this is where their ancestors’ spirits get to rest. Pilón de Azúcar beach is excellent, it has golden sand and waters apt for swimming.
This is another beach where you can have a refreshing dip but it is average. The name comes from a freshwater pool in the coastal rocks.
This small lighthouse is a great spot to watch the incredible Caribbean sunset of La Guajira, so finish your day here.
This is the northernmost point of Cabo de la Vela and is a beach where you see a rainbow when the waves hit strongly the coastal rocks under a direct sunray. This is possible in the afternoon; however, you cannot always see it.
Kitesurfing and windsurfing
Adventurous travelers find joy in La Guajira because the winds are pretty strong, meaning the sea here is perfect for practicing kitesurf and windsurf. There are several schools managed by Wayuu people that offer 1-hour to full-day classes.
Buying handicrafts from the Wayuu is a must. Their mochilas (handmade bags) and other knitted souvenirs take a lot of effort and time from the Wayuu women. Knitting a handbag can take up to a week! Each product has a unique design and bright colors. Also, this is an important income source for the population.
On the road to Cabo de la Vela, you can make a stop at the Manaure salt mines, near Uribia. These are known for being the largest salt mines in Colombia, there you see large piles of salt and clear pools in between.
By traveling a couple of hours more towards the north, Punta Gallinas receives the most daring tourists. This is the northernmost tip of the continent where you find the amazing Taroa dunes, another lighthouse/viewpoint and more rancherías.
5. What you should consider when traveling to Cabo de la Vela
- Although it is possible to travel to Cabo de la Vela independently, it is better to book with a local agency to avoid any hassles and feel safer. This way you just need to worry about having fun.
- Bring enough water for the trip. Buy water and snacks in Uribia as there is more variety of products.
- Consider the weather in the region to pack your clothes. Also, always use sunscreen and a cap.
- Support the local communities using their services and paying fair prices for their products. This includes trying not to give away food or money. Tourism is the main income source for the inhabitants of La Guajira, which are impoverished and lack government presence.
This was the essential information for traveling to Cabo de la Vela in La Guajira, Colombia. We hope this was useful and encouraged you to visit this beautiful country.
La Guajira’s official website
About the authors.
Ana María Parra
Current content writer for Sula. Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content. Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.