Colombia is rife with a plethora of varied landscapes and regions with different cultures and traditions, but perhaps one of the most distinctive is La Guajira, the northernmost region in South America. The scenery is utterly unique, the indigenous wayuu people who make up the majority of the population are totally different to most other Colombians and the economy is more closely linked to Venezuela than the rest of the country. And, as for how to get to La Guajira, that itself is part of the reason that it has remained so beautifully isolated and mysterious.
Driving from the lush, verdant Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta towards Riohacha, you will immediately be struck by the incredible change in terrain that happens almost out of nowhere. The greenery of the jungle swiftly converts to arid, barren desert as the temperature rises and the humidity falls.
Arriving in Riohacha on a Saturday night we were greeted by the sight of merry locals drinking by the beach and several cars competing to see who could blare the music out of the boot the loudest. A few beers later and the heady mix of reggaeton, vallenato and salsa all blended into one dulcet tune.
We arranged a tour upon arrival at our hotel. There are plenty of tour agencies operating out of Riohacha who will organise transport to the north. Unless you are hoping to travel during a public holiday, you should have no problems organising your trip when you arrive. Simply ask at the hotel reception for a recommended driver or walk along the main street by the sea and nip into one of the operators.
So the next morning we headed towards Punta Gallinas, the most northern point of Colombia, in an overloaded car with a wayuu guide whose handle on Spanish was far from perfect. To make matters slightly more exciting, he decided that it would be an excellent idea to spend the entire five-hour journey downing beer after beer. Eventually we made it there alive, welcomed by the impressive end-of-the-world winds that define this region. Punta Gallinas is literally on the point of South America, with a stunning sea on both sides. And nothing else. I was taken aback by the incredibly bold colours – the deep red of the earth and the striking greens and blues of the sea.
Spending the night in a hammock, miles away from any kind of civilisation, there was a feeling of peace and relaxation that is rare for such a stunning place, which should be immersed in a sea of tourism. However, the curious and special thing about this area is that the land is all owned by the wayuu and so the region is unlikely to become overdeveloped and crowded and will most likely retain its solitary charm and serenity, at least for a little bit longer.
This feeling of tranquillity and isolation was only enhanced the following morning when we made our way to one of the area’s most famous, yet totally deserted, sights, essentially nothing more than a gigantic sand dune. The soft, red sand on the majestic dune made our run to the top surprisingly tiring, but totally worth it when we reached the peak. Nonchalantly cascading into the empty and endless ocean, the dune sits at the border where the desert meets the sea in such a thrillingly beautiful encounter that is more reminiscent of a totally unrealistic sci-fi movie than anything I had come across in the real world.
Reluctantly, we made our way back to the car to continue on to Cabo de la Vela, a tiny village made up of a few shacks and a number of hammocks lined up along the beach. The winds here were slightly less overwhelming and the sea was calmer. Although ever so slightly more developed than Punta Gallinas, this was still a picture of serenity (apart from the group of rowdy paisas who happened to pick this as their weekend piss-up destination). Watching the sunset from next to the lighthouse was a truly awe-inspiring experience. Looking out to sea, I was struck by the realisation that the world is in fact round. Not that I had ever doubted it but from here you can see the horizon literally curving around you on three sides, a sensation that overwhelmed me.
This part of the world is truly a marvel of nature. The lack of development and tourism give the impression that it has remained unchanged for centuries. One can almost imagine the first explorers arriving on the beaches of Cabo and finding it almost exactly as it is today. Add to this all the scrumptious (and cheap) fish, lobster and goat that you can shake a stick at and there really is no reason not to visit. Go now, before the whole world starts to take notice.