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Reviewed on 21 Nov 2019
Reviewed on 9 Mar 2020
Reviewed on 5 Jan 2020
Colonial towns and Wayúu villages, remote beaches and massive sand dunes, a flamingo sanctuary and arid desert terrain all await in Colombia’s northernmost department. Get off the beaten trail at the isolated beach towns and indigenous settlements in La Guajira. Discover a region of untamed natural beauty, which stretches along the Caribbean coast from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and across vast desert in the Guajira Peninsula. First inhabited by tribespeople, such as the Wayúu, La Guajira was later disputed by Spanish, English and Dutch invaders. Today, ancient tribal traditions triumph over the lingering European influences.
At the heart of the region’s coastline is Riohacha, a colonial city founded in the 16th century that serves as the gateway into the peninsula. Its main attraction is the 3-mile (5-kilometre) long Riohacha Beach. Spot hundreds of flamingos and visit a small Wayúu community at Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, a 30-minute drive south of Riohacha. Further south is Palomino, popular for its heavenly stretch of sand and access to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Travel inland to dusty Uribia, the Indigenous Capital of Colombia. See Wayúu women dressed in brightly colored dresses and men wearing wide-brimmed hats. Come in late May, when the town hosts the Festival of Wayúu Culture. Nearby is the impressive Manuare Salt Flats.
Head north and deep into the La Guajira Desert to Cabo de Vela. Sunbathe next to free-roaming goats, swim in turquoise water and try kitesurfing and windsurfing. Dine at beach shacks run by Wayúu families. Enjoy superb coastal and desert views from Pilón de Azúcar hill. Gaze up at the huge Taroa Dunes that frame Punta Gallinas, South America’s northernmost point.
Be sure to join a guided hiking or jeep tour in Macuira National Natural Park, set within a Wayúu reservation. Walk over huge dunes, marvel at mystical cloud forests and spot hundreds of bird species. Watch a performance of Wayúu dance when staying the night at a rancheria in Nazareth.
Reach La Guajira by flying to Riohacha from Bogotá or travel overland from major cities, including Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Getting around this wild region is best achieved via organised tours or with the help of a hired local guide.