La Guajira desert, the most northern tip of South America covered in sand and draught. I already heard some pretty spectacular stories about this deserted strip of land in Colombia and couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes. We’ve seen snowcapped mountains, lush jungles, Caribbean beaches, moon landscapes, and vibrant cities. Now it’s time to explore the desert!

Truck to Punta Gallinas in Colombia

The road to La Guajira

Going to La Guajira you got two options. You can do a tour that costs you a shitload of money, or you can figure it out yourself. Not only more backpacker budget-friendly, but also a lot more adventurous. Make sure you find an English guy like I did, and you got nothing to worry about. So there we went, two Belgians, two English, and I off to the desert. On this little field trip, we probably used every sort of transportation you can think of, ranging from moto’s, minibusses, 4×4’s to boats going through landscapes that changed even quicker than we changed vehicles.

First stop: Cabo de la Vela

Our first stop was Cabo de la Vela. A little desert town where it hasn’t rained for about three years. Not a single drop. It’s a dusty little town existing of only one main road with a few accommodations right at the beach. It’s also the place where the indigenous Wayuu people live that make the most gorgeous bags. It takes them a month to make one bag. You’ll notice these bags have lots of different patterns. It turns out that every single pattern has a specific message or meaning and belongs to a certain family. The patterns are passed on from mother to daughter to keep the family message going. Special, isn’t it?

Wayuu bags la Guajira
Kitesurfing Cabo de la Vela

Lobsters and kitesurfing

Cabo de la Vela also had a little surprise waiting for me. I’ve always wanted to learn how to kitesurf, but never really got the chance to do it. And here I was, in the middle of nowhere without running water or any sort of Western luxury, only to find out this is the place to be for kitesurfing. So exciting!! The first attempt at kitesurfing got rewarded by another perk of Cabo de la Vela: $8 lobsters. This little desert town got it all figured out I must say!

Northern Milestones

Cabo de la Vela wasn’t our final destination though. We got another 4×4 and a boat that brought us to Punta Gallinas; the most northern point of South America. Quite a milestone I must say. I got to touch ground in the most southern point in Argentina and now after 6 months made it all the way up to the North. Instead of considering taking a ferry to Antarctica, up north, we found sand dunes. Quite the opposite. Punta Gallinas offers you sleeping in a hammock, rolling off sand dunes, eating more lobster, and watching amazing sunsets. How good is this place?

Punta Gallinas desert beach
Cookie toll in La Guajira Colombia

Cookie Toll

There’s something special about the road politics between Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. The dusty dirt roads here are ruled by the indigenous kids and their moms who figured out that tourists can be quite fruitful. Since there’s practically nothing and there’s no way you can start your own little vegetable garden, you gotta find other ways to get food. Well, those smart-ass kids figured it out: Cookie toll. Every ten meters or so there’s a big rope across the road and a group of sassy kids that won’t let you through unless you give them cookies. Damn, I wish I was that smart at that age.

Leaving La Guajira with a bang

Four days of desert fun in La Guajira made us longing for pretty beaches with palm trees again. However, getting back to Palomino didn’t go as smoothly as our way in. 19 people, two babies, a box full of lobsters, a chicken, and a goat, all pushed into the back of a truck. And there’s always room for more.

Oh well, you can’t leave La Guajira without an experience like this. We must have been just as much the tourist attraction as our co-travelers were for us. This beautiful part of Colombia has been worth every hassle and is definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Colombia has been rocking, please keep on doing just that and I’ll probably never leave.


desert of la Guajira Colombia

Photos by: M. Barends ©

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