¡¡¡Check out our completely up-to-date 2016 ‘Complete Guide to visiting Cabo de la Vela’ for more information on traveling to La Guajira!!!
Punta Gallinas is the northern-most point of South America – the beginning of a continent (or ending: depends on your perspective really): the point where the vast landmass of South America meets the ocean and just stops; where Colombia becomes desert and then becomes water…If this all sounds very dramatic then you’ve never been to Punta Gallinas: it’s a pretty dramatic place, in more ways than one! However, if you’re planning a trip to Colombia and want to include La Guajira (or the Caribbean coast in general), you really should be planning a visit to Punta Gallinas; in fact, it should be a high priority. Sure, Cabo de la Vela is lovely, and pretty easy to visit, but Punta Gallinas is where the Guajira peninsula gets truly unreal and otherworldly.
I first traveled to Punta Gallinas nearly 5 years ago; back then it was still very much off the mainstream Colombia travel radar, and for two of us to plan a trip to the point from Cabo de la Vela involved wandering around the town looking for another traveler to share the costs with and organize transport. Much has changed now and, although hardly overwhelmed by tourism, Punta Gallinas is now a regularly scheduled trip from Cabo, with daily departures and a steady stream of travelers making the journey. There are also private tours available from Santa Marta and Riohacha: everything is taken care of for 4 days and 3 nights or 3 days and 2 nights, for a pretty high cost. I would strongly recommend traveling La Guajira independently: the experience is far more rewarding culturally, and you have the freedom and flexibility to choose what you do and where you stay. Plus: it’s cheaper to travel to Punta Gallinas this way! This guide should be exactly what you’re looking for if you’re keen to visit Punta Gallinas without an organized tour.
So how can you travel independently to Punta Gallinas? All the information you could possibly need is coming up, in our Complete Guide to visiting Punta Gallinas…
How to get to Punta Gallinas:
There are 2 ways to get to Punta Gallinas: boat or car (well, 4×4 vehicle really). Both cost the same if organized from Cabo de la Vela: 150.000 COP. This cost is for return transport and the day-tour activity once you get to Punta Gallinas (more on that later). Food and accommodation are not covered by this cost. NB: this 150.000COP cost is the same regardless of how long you want to stay in Punta Gallinas – if you decide to stay more than one night just let the driver know when you’re planning on leaving in advance so he can schedule to collect you on that day. This was easy in high season when there were 4x4s leaving on a daily basis; it might be trickier in low season, but make sure to clarify with your driver in advance. Maiker Pinto at ‘Mochileros People Transport’ was my driver and he was perfectly happy to come and collect me a day later than everyone else (and he offered some fascinating cultural information about the Wayuu as he was driving for good measure).
Organizing the trip is easy now: most hostels and hotels in Cabo de la Vela ask you pretty much straight away if you want to visit Punta Gallinas, and there are tours leaving on a daily basis in high season and, even in low season there are generally enough backpackers to make organizing the trip pretty easy. Backpacking to Punta Gallinas is now just a matter of turning up in Cabo with the right amount of money and the desire to get away from it all! I have met many backpackers in Colombia asking how to get to Punta Gallinas, and the good news is that nowadays, it’s perfectly easy to organize a visit there and, what is more, to visit Punta Gallinas without an organized tour…
As I said, there are 2 ways of getting there: overland or oversea. I’ve personally done both and have to say that overland is a vastly better experience than by boat. The boat takes over 2 hours (after a 1 hour drive to the port), is horrendously choppy and exposed to the open sea, and is genuinely pretty scary! Whereas the 4×4 option, whilst pretty cramped, takes about 3/4 hours, includes a couple of stops for a stretch and some pretty stirring views, and allows you to see plenty of the beauty of the Alta Guajira along the road. So when you organize your trip make sure to ask if it’s by boat or by car…and push for the car!
Departure time is nice and early to give you time to enjoy the day in Punta Gallinas: between 5 and 6am is standard.
Accommodation in Punta Gallinas:
Where to stay in Punta Gallinas? Well, there’s really only one place to stay in up here: Hospedaje Alexandra. You won’t even need to call ahead and book if you’re planning to come from Cabo in an arranged trip – the car or boat just takes you straight there. And because the set-up for sleeping is basically hammocks and chinchorros you won’t actually need to worry about booking. A hammock will set you back 15.000 COP per night, and a chinchorro 20.000 (with price increases for high season during Colombian holidays). What’s a chinchorro? It’s basically a large Wayuu hammock, with room to lie diagonally and flat. For the extra 5.000, I’d say it’s worth it for a more comfortable night’s sleep. There are also a limited number of basic private rooms, which run to 30.000 per person. The hammocks are all strung up in several little outdoors areas, open on all four sides, but with a roof over the top: you will generally be put with the same people you came in the vehicle with, and you’ll all be strung pretty close together, so get used to becoming very comfortable with a couple of people pretty fast!
The owners are Ignacio and Leonidas: he’s in charge of the boats, whilst she is the real power behind the throne: a tough, no nonsense woman, who runs the show with an iron fist. She’s meticulously well-organized…so your bill will be spot on when it comes!
Cost of food and drink in Punta Gallinas:
How much does food cost in Punta Gallinas? The hospedaje takes care of both of these things: all 3 meals are available – breakfast at 6.000 (eggs and arepa, coffee), lunch and dinner at 15.000 for a large fried fish/chicken, rice, patacones and salad, or 35.000 for a huge, fresh lobster with the same sides (make sure to check if they have any and order in advance if you want one). There’s also the option of patacones and (incredibly delicious) goat’s cheese for 8.000 if the budget is a bit stretched or you’re not that hungry.
Drinks are also available: bottles of water are 2.500, as is Coca-Cola and other soft drinks. Beers varies in price depending on the brand – between 2.000-3.500.
If you want to bring your own food and drink you can, although there’s no kitchen access, so nothing that needs cooking. I’d recommend bringing your own large water bottle: it’s much cheaper than buying individual bottles here. Plus, bring your own snacks for between meals – again, a few packets of cookies and crackers are much cheaper in Cabo.
What to do in Punta Gallinas:
Here’s where it gets a little strange – most people basically pay the 150.000 COP as a fee for a one day, one night trip: leaving at 5am from Cabo, arriving for breakfast in Punta Gallinas, doing the day tour of the main sights, watching the sunset, going to bed, waking up and leaving. Whilst this includes some amazing stuff, it strikes me as excessively whistle-stop! Unless your schedule is so insanely tight that you are trying to see all of Colombia in 14 days, make the effort to stay 2 or 3 nights at Punta Gallinas.
For those who choose the one day/one night option, here’s how the day will most likely go:
5am – departure from Cabo de la Vela
8/9am – arrival in Punta Gallinas
9-10am – introduction, orientation and breakfast
10am-2pm – half-day tour of the main attractions of Punta Gallinas in the hotel’s jeeps: the lighthouse that marks the northern-most point of the continent, the view over the stunning Bahia Hondita, and most of the time spent at the majestic Taroa dunes, where you can swim and roll down the dunes for an hour or so.
2pm – lunch
3-5pm – relaxation time
5-7pm – walk to nearby beach for a swim and the spectacular sunset.
8pm – dinner then bed (or hammock)…
The next morning you’ll have breakfast, settle up the bill, and depart at around 8am to Cabo de la Vela.
It’s a busy schedule, and you’ll see the main highlights of Punta Gallinas in the day; however, I would, as I’ve said, strongly recommend adding an extra day and night onto your itinerary, just to have the chance to properly soak up the atmosphere. It’s not a common tactic (when I visited in December, our group of 4 was the only one that did this, out of about 15 people – but since when did travelers care out being in the minority!), but it’s certainly justifiable…
That extra day gives you the chance to explore the area in a more independent manner, away from the prescribed itinerary of the day 1 tour. I used the morning to take a walk across the desert to the north coast, meeting some local Wayuu people on the way, and enjoying the surprising variety of plants and animals. Then, in the late-morning, a few of us took a hike over to the remarkable networks of turquoise bays and mangroves, set against a red-desert backdrop, that make up the inland sea of Punta Gallinas. Later that afternoon, we took the hotel’s boat just over the bay to a nearby beach and spent the remainder of the day wandering the shore, swimming, and then watching a stunning sunset. And we built a sandcastle. But you don’t have to do that…
Basically, the extra day gave us the flexibility to see some more sides of Punta Gallinas, and to get off the beaten track a bit and explore the desert on our own two feet, which was a bit more exciting than doing it from the back of a van. Plus you get an extra night to enjoy the peace and quiet and the stars…This is one of several reasons why I would make the effort to travel to Punta Gallinas independently: a tour doesn’t give you the freedom to do these extra things.
Cost of visiting Punta Gallinas:
You can probably figure it out from everything I’ve already said, but this guide exists to take the guesswork out of a visit to Punta Gallinas, so we’ll do the maths for you! So how much does visiting Punta Gallinas cost? This is based upon my recommended 2 night stay:
- Transport and activities: 150.000 COP.
- Accommodation: 2 nights in a chinchorro – 40.000.
- Food: 3 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 2 dinners – 78.000 (add some more if you fancy lobster, or subtract a little if you’re going to bring your own or eat the budget dinner option).
- Drink: allow about 20/30.000 pesos for water and a few beers.
All in, this adds up to a total spend of just under 300.000 COP for 2 nights, all transport and activities, and food and drink. If, unlike me, you can forego meals, you can save money that way (they don’t make you eat, it’s up to you). You can also save a little by staying in a hammock, or visiting for just the one night.
If this seems steep, so be it, but I’d advise that it’s definitely worth the money: just cut back on the parties and drinking in Santa Marta and Cartagena, or eat cheaper elsewhere to make up the budget gaps. You won’t want to miss it: visiting Punta Gallinas ends up being many people’s highlights of a trip to Colombia!
What to pack for Punta Gallinas:
- Clothes: shorts, swim wear, several light t-shirts, long trousers and something thicker for the (sometimes) chillier evenings, a sun hat of some kind, sandals or flip-flops.
- Medicinal: sun block (and lots of it!), soap, shampoo and toothpaste – none of that is available once you arrive.
- Extras: a towel, a torch or headlamp, camera (and spare batteries), good camera bag and cleaning kit (the sand and wind combo makes for some potentially electronic-damaging situations), a good book, sunglasses (good wraparound ones if you wear contact lenses like me).
- A large bottle of water and extra snacks to save money on meals, or between meals.
So there you have: a complete guide to visiting Punta Gallinas. If you have any other questions please feel free to get in touch in the comments. And make sure to visit Punta Gallinas…it truly is worth the time and effort…and, using this guide you should have no problem managing to visit Punta Gallinas without an organized tour