Aug 23

Colombia Travel Guide: how to visit Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

Cabo de la vela Guajira Colombia

In 1499 a Spaniard named Juan de la Costa first spied the desert coast of La Guajira when he spotted the windswept cape that is known today as Cabo de la Vela (“Cape of Sails”), and Jepira to the indigenous Wayuu inhabitants of the Guajira deserts – along with Venezuela’s Gulf of Paria, this makes Cabo one of the first places visited by Europeans in the South American continent. And now, more than half a millennium later, Europeans, along with tourists and travelers from all over the world are making a similar journey to experience Cabo de la Vela for themselves – the small, beach-side community is fast becoming a hugely popular stop-off on the Colombian backpacker circuit. 

Cabo de la Vela is hardly swamped with travelers just yet (although it can get very busy on holidays) but it’s generally seen as a fairly important spot to visit on a Colombian adventure. So, to make your life easier if you’re planning a visit to Cabo de la Vela (which you should really think about doing), here’s a complete travel guide to Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira – how to get there, what to do, where to stay, eating, drinking…the whole 9 yards!

Cabo de la vela sunset
Come to Cabo for sunsets like these…

How to get to Cabo de la Vela:

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Traveling to Cabo de la Vela isn’t exactly hard, but it can be quite long-winded – if you’re starting in Santa Marta or Riohacha then there are going to be 3 different vehicles involved in transporting you to the desert cape…but never fear, that’s what I’m here for! You can take an all-inclusive tour to Cabo de la Vela, but it’s much nicer and offers more freedom and flexibility to travel independently to Cabo de la Vela. So here’s the step-by-step guide to getting there:

  • Step 1 – You need a bus to Riohacha: chances are you’ll be starting in Santa Marta or Palomino (most travelers take this route); if you’re in Santa Marta take a cab to the gas station on the main highway outside town and ask for a bus to Riohacha, and if you’re in Palomino then wait on the main highway for a bus heading in that direction (going right, if you’re facing the sea), and get a price. 

From Santa Marta it should take roughly 3 and a half hours and cost around 30.000 COP; from Palomino, it’s more like an hour and a half and should cost closer to 10.000 COP (NB. a good rule for Colombian bus travel is to allow about 7.000 COP for each hour of travel more or less).

  • Step 2 – When you get in to Riohacha, ask to be dropped where the colectivos to Uribia depart from – this is basically a few streets with a bunch of drivers of shared taxis heading into the Wayuu capital of Uribia, the starting point for trips into the desert north. The cars are big, old Cadillac-style cars that seat 4/5 people plus the driver – there are plenty and they depart when they’re full. 

On arrival lots of drivers will come up and offer you their car – ask for a price first, and try not to pay above 15.000 COP (a price they’ll usually come down to, especially if you use the classic line: “My friend told me they paid that…”). It takes just over an hour to get to Uribia; ask to be dropped where the colectivos for Cabo de la Vela go from.

  • Step 3 – In Uribia you need to get on a public 4×4 truck to get to Cabo de la Vela: prices here are negotiable, but expect to pay between 15-20.000 COP for the journey, which should take between 1 and a half to 2 hours. These trucks are by no means luxury: on my last visit in December I was with 3 other travelers in the back seating area, along with 10 locals, plus a bunch of crates, personal belongings and a goat, in an area designed to seat 6 at most! It’s all part of the magic though! These trucks can take a long time to fill up, so be patient.

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Cabo de la vela Guajira Colombia
The road into the desert…

So, if you follow these 3 steps you should be able to get to Cabo de la Vela without too much hassle. Here are a few bonus tips to make it run even smoother (plus a key tip on getting back again)

Tip 1: Start this journey early from your starting point – with delays and waiting for colectivos to fill up it can take the best part of a day to reach Cabo, and the Uribia connection is less reliable after the early afternoon – if you’re arriving in Uribia after 3 pm, look for a hotel!

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Tip 2: If you’re coming from Valledupar, you’ll need a slight variation on this journey – you’ll need to get a colectivo for about 30.000 COP to ‘Cuatro Vias’ (the crossroads that leads to Valledupar, Riohacha, Uribia, or Maicao), then get onto another shared taxi to Uribia for about 4.000 COP and 30 minutes. Then follow Step 3 as above and Bob’s your Uncle!

Tip 3: When you’re looking to leave Cabo de la Vela, tell your hostel and they can call and make sure the return truck has space for you – these trucks leave between 4-5 am only from Cabo…so set an alarm!

So that’s how to get to Cabo de la Vela…the next stage: where to stay…?

Accommodation in Cabo de la Vela:

Where to stay in Cabo de la Vela? At this point it really is up to you: there are so many options for a night’s sleep in the little town, ranging from basic hostels to beach-side huts. I have visited Cabo twice and have stayed in both a basic hut by the sea and a hammock in a hostel – stringing up a hammock in a beach-side shelter should cost between 10.000-20.000 COP depending on the season (national holidays, Easter and Christmas are the busiest); there’s also a nice new beach-side hostel called El Caracol (look for the building with 2 stores!), with hammocks for 10.000 and chinchorros for 15.000. They also have basic rooms for 30.000 COP.

Caracol Cabo de la vela guajira Colombia
The view from Caracol Hostel

Most places that offer accommodation also offer food (more on that below), and basic shower facilities – be warned squeamish travelers…there’s mostly no running water in Cabo de la Vela; showers are generally taken with a bucket of water from a tank, poured over you with a bowl. It’s really easy and not bad at all, but maybe not for the precious backpacker…your call! Anyway, what I’m really saying here is that it’s easy to find accommodation in Cabo de la Vela…but what about food and drink!?

Eating and Drinking in Cabo de la Vela

This part is quite easy as well…unless you don’t like fish or are a vegetarian! There are lots of little restaurants in Cabo de la Vela, mostly serving fried fish dishes, accompanied with coconut rice and patacones. This is usually about 15.000 COP, and there’s sometimes a fresh lobster that’ll set you back more like 25.000 (still not bad for a whole lobster!). Breakfast is the normal egg and bread affair and is more like 5-7.000 COP; lunch and dinner are basically variations on the same theme. There’s sometimes beef or chicken available for closer to 10.000, or goat for about the same.

Cabo de la vela Guajira Colombia
Lunch/dinner will be a variation of this most likely…

For drinking, there are plenty of little stores that sell bottled sodas and water, as well as beer – be warned, the beer is Venezuelan beer, due to the easy importation from the nearby border: it’s not the best, and the bottles are usually tiny, but it’s only 1.500-2.000 pesos a bottle, so it’s not too bad really. One tip I would have when it comes to drinking is this: be really respectful of the local culture – Cabo de la Vela is known as Jepira in Wayuunaiki, and is a sacred place where the souls of the dead Wayuu come to rest, so please keep drunkenness and noise to a minimum and be respectful of local people.

What to do in Cabo de la Vela:

There are plenty of things to keep you busy for a few days in Cabo de la Vela: mostly involving beaches and desert! Here are the best activities available in Cabo de la Vela:

– Visit Pilon de Azucar and its beach: this conical hill by the sea is sacred to the Wayuu and can be ‘climbed’ in about 15 minutes for commanding 360° views of the surrounding desert and Caribbean sea. The beach is the nicest in the area, with not too many waves, warm water, and nice sand. It’s worth making time for a few hours here. A mototaxi from Cabo will take you there and come for you later for between 8-10.000 COP (negotiate!).

If you want to quote a plan with El Pilón de Azúcar included, click here.

Cabo de la vela Guajira Colombia

– El Faro lighthouse: this isn’t much of a lighthouse, but the views over the sea are pretty special, and the sunset view from here is undoubtedly one of Colombia’s most beautiful.

– Ojo del Agua beach: this beach gets its name from a small, freshwater pool located in the rocks behind it – these days the pool is pretty unimpressive, and the beach, whilst worth a look, isn’t as lovely as Playa del Pilon.

Book and quote the visit to Ojo del Agua Beach here.

Most mototaxi drivers will offer a visit to all of these places over a few hours, arriving at El Faro for sunset for a negotiable cost of about 25.000 COP – this is a good option if time is of the essence!

Cabo de la vela Guajira Colombia
It really is like a swimming pool!

You can also enjoy some time in the town itself: the beach and sea directly in front of Cabo de la Vela have the nicest, calmest water you’re likely to see in Colombia, and there are lots of small shops and people selling artesanias like the famous Wayuu mochila bags – expect to pay much less for these than you would elsewhere (between 40.000-70.000 depending on the quality of the bag – you can negotiate, but show some respect with this: the bags take time to make and are important income in a very poor region).

The other popular activity in Cabo de la Vela is kitesurfing; it’s supposedly one of the best places in the world to learn how to do this, with classes going for about 80.000 COP per hour, and full courses available on request. At the far end of town are a couple of kitesurfing schools, where you can usually sleep in a hammock as part of the cost of a course.

Cabo de la Vela is also the base for visits to the northernmost point of South America, Punta Gallinas – here’s our complete traveler’s guide to visiting Punta Gallinas (which you really should!)…

Extra Cabo de la Vela tips:

La Guajira is a desperately poor region, which has been hit disproportionately hard by Colombia’s droughts – the very northern deserts haven’t seen rain in over 3 years! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit; on the contrary, tourism income is becoming essential to the region’s local economy…but please, please, please: be respectful and aware of the situation in the department. – La Guajira is not the place to get righteous about perceived over-charging or haggle over-zealously! Simply be happy to have the privilege to visit this stunning, unique environment and treat the place and the people with the respect they are due!

Wayú mochila
Please be respectful of the Wayuu people

So that’s the complete guide to visiting Cabo de la Vela in La Guajira: everything you need to know to make your trip easy, fun, and interesting. 

If you have more doubts, questions, or want to book, click here.


22 thoughts on “Colombia Travel Guide: how to visit Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

    Enrique Lizardi on

    Hi Chris. I am going to santa Marta in February and want to go to Cabo but I arrive at 5 p.m. you think it’s possible to get to Riohacha/Uribia that same day? Or maybe Maicao/Cuatrovías, as some else say, the same day?


    Nicolas on

    Thank you so much Chris for this blog, it helped a lot !!

    I went there, and it was GREAT. But I think that it may be interesting having more information about this place. So if I’m spoiling you can delete my message ;)!

    1. From Santa Marta, you can catch a bus to Maicao and ask to get off at Quatrovias (20 000 $). It’s easy from Santa Marta (and I guess fromage rioacha also).

    2. Then in Cuatrovias, you can have a deal, for 30 000 $, for the ride to Cabo, a night in hammock and the classic tour of Cabo. If you are early you can walking in the village or going to the beach. before the tour start.

    3. In Cuatrovias they will also offering another deal to Punta Gallinas. 140 000 $ for go and back from Cabo to Punta, the tour, a night in hammock and a (small) breakfast.

    They will try to link those 2 deals. Very hard to negotiate cheaper those 2 deals.

    4. About the mood there.

    I think we should be more accurate about the place, it’s not a paradise. Landscapes are amazing. Like you’r in the desert, it’s crazy. Unique. But about swimming in the sea in Cabo for example, it was a bit weird for me, because there is a whole world between me, the tourist-witch-wanna-be-a-traveller-instead-of-a-tourist and the reality there. It’s very poor. It’s not miserable, people live there and life is hard but it’s not miserable. Still, I think you should be ready.

    5. Punta Gallinas. (Sorry if I should have written This part of the post in Punta Gallinas section).

    Hospedaje Alexandra. Mini tourist machine. You will not sleep in a hammock on the beach, you will be around 30 tourists in side by side hammocks. They will try to charge more stuff than you bought so check well. (It happened with several people including me). There is a Tienda with water and beer at a regular price. And I’m pretty sure that they lied about the existence of this tienda. But this information is not relevant because I don’t really remember what they exactly said, and in general, Colombian do not lie, so it would surprise me. And i strongly advise you to walk in the desert, to the other hostel and go back, 10km in total, 2hours, it was amazing. Walking alone in the desert. Wow! Be sure to be well equiped (3L of water, app).

    Do not sleep during transportations ;). It’s possible to find a jeep to go back to Cuatro around 12h for 20-30 000 $.

    Just be aware that you will enjoy there the landscape, the kindness of Wayuu people, and some beaches :). And a hammock on the beach is quite amazing.




    Vinai Marilisa on

    Just a question, are in Cabo de la Vela any tienda where to buy fruits vegetables and other stuff? can I find hostal with common kitchen,?


      Chris on

      There are some basic grocery stores, but not much for sale in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. Most accommodation is fairly basic, and I don’t know of anywhere with a common kitchen.


    Tee on

    Hi Cris, great and valuable insight – thanks! One question re: accomodation. We are travelling with a baby so wondering if you would consider facilities family-friendly? I understand they are very basic (hamock/chinchoros are not an option 🙁 could you recommend the best one for us? Thanks a lot!


      Chris on

      If hammocks aren’t an option Hostal El Caracol has some basic rooms, as do the two kitesurfing hostels in town. Lots of the little guesthouses have basic rooms, but there is very little beyond ‘basic.’ If a bed is enough then it’s definitely family friendly. I would go with Caracol: it’s comfortable and they have beds.


    Susanne on

    I just came back from cabo de la vela and want to give some information. We got there with a friend of the hostel in riohacha, but organised the way back on our one. even though it was high season (semana Santa ) there were many places with hammocks avaiable, so that’s no probleme. Also, plenty of motortaxis. As we wanted to go to cartagena the same day we left cabo, we followed Chris advice and got up early.but we didn’t need to.tell anyone in advance. We just stood on the road, the 4×4 passed by we asked “uribia?” The car was very empty and therfore comortable,20.000 to uribia, 25000 to “4viajes”. All the people on the 4×4 said we should change at 4viajes (Chris explains this place in his “how to come from valledapur) because its easier and safe. BEST DECISION EVER, becauae we actually wanted to go to Santa marta and not to riohacha. at 4viajes, we could catch a bus heading to Santa m. For 25.000! So we started at 5 and arrived in Santa m. at 11 o’clock in the morning. If you come from Santa m, the maybe easiest way is to take a bus to maicao and to get of at 4viajes (just guessing ). Enjoy it!


      Monika on

      Chris, thank you, very useful information on the transportation connections from Palomino to Cabo!! Also big thanks to Suzanne for info on how to get back. Suzanne, you wrote you were in Santa Marta at 11am – were you able to get to Cartagena by the evening? If I’ll have a flight from Cartagena the next morning I want to make sure I will be able to get there for sure the night before.
      Chris, from all this it looks like it would be impossible to go in one day from Punta Gallinas all the way to Cartagena, am I correct? Do I have to make a stopover for the night on the way back either in Cabo or maybe in Uribia – is Uribia interesting to warrant spending a night, it being a Wayuu cultural center? Thank you again for writing, invaluable info!


        Chris on

        Hi Monika,

        If you’re in Santa Marta by lunchtime you should easily make it Cartagena by that evening; the bus takes around 5 hours. And I would definitely say it’s impossible to make it back from Punta Gallinas to Cartagena in one day – the best way to break the route up would be to spend a night in either Palomino or Santa Marta. That way you will break the journey down into a more manageable increments. The issue you might face is that it can be hard to travel directly from Punta Gallinas and then on to Uribia in one day, as most transport from Cabo to Uribia only leaves really early in the morning. I would plan an extra day in your itinerary (always a good idea with the less than predictable transport options in the Guajira)

        Chris 🙂


          Monika on

          Hi Chris,
          thanks for the reply! 🙂
          That makes sense that transportation from Cabo leaves early. That would mean though, that rather than in Palomino or Santa Marta, I would have to break the trip from Punta Gallinas to Cartagena in Cabo, no? If I understand correctly from your Travelling to Punta Gallinas post (I plan to stay 2 days as you recommended), the return transport leaves every day around 8am. That would get me in Cabo by 11am+/-, likely too late for onward travel to Palomino if, as you say, there are no colectivos/buses even to Uribia. I would have to spend a night in Cabo and then the next day follow what Susanne posted above … and hope I make it to Cartagena in one day. Or did I misunderstand? Also, there are VERY mixed/negative reviews online of the Cartagena-Sta Marta bus service called MarSol. I think I’m leaning towards using a regular bus. Any opinion on that?
          Thank you again, I’m so glad I found your blog!


    lina arciniegas on

    Hi ! I’m Colombian and will be traveling at the end of the year.
    Would u recommend renting motorcycles in Santa Marta to go to Guajira.. ?
    What are the pros n cons of traveling by motorcycle in Colombia? specially this area?


    Patricio on

    Whow, whow, whow & THANKS – this is absolutely helpful. Great! 🙂
    Actually I preponed my flight to Colombia for two days to follow your advice and have more time, as I will start my journey with this trip.

    Flights arrive in Riohacha at 11:30 and 17:00

    So I guess the latter makes more sense – watching sunset, having dinner, leaving Riohacha after breakfast (what time do you recommend, suuuuper early?) and having most of the day in Cabo…


      Franco Maggiori on

      Hi. Everything excellent and useful, but perhaps you should add more details regarding how to come back (to Santa Marta, in my case): it seems that you can leave from Uribia to Cabo pretty much at any time after 3 PM, but for some reasons you can only leave Cabo at 4-5 AM. I don’t understand this point: if there are trucks coming at any time from Uribia, why can you not use the same to go back to Uribia after 5 AM?
      Also, once you arrive back in Uribia in the morning, is it easy to get back to Santa Marta the same day, or is there a risk to get stuck on the way if you arrive too late and miss one of the connections?
      Thanks and bye.


    Richard Wolters on

    Hi Chris,

    great stuff 🙂 im planning on going there by motorbike starting in Santa Marta. Do you have any specific recommendations / hazards I should be aware of for this part of colombia? It seems that if there are mototaxi’s driving there it should be doable with a motorbike. Thanks in advance.

    ps, Jose (from guadalupe) said hi – I spend a great couple days with him during christmas!


    Max on

    I dont get the sunset picture as the sun sets to the west. Cabo in on the East coast.

    Otherwise good info.


      Chris on

      Thanks Max, although is it possible you’re thinking of a different Cabo? Cabo de la Vela is on the west coast of the Guajira peninsula in the Colombian Caribbean and famous for it’s amazing sunsets,



    judit on

    hi Chris – thanks for this post, up to the last minute i was hesitant to do it solo but it was definitely worth it! the places (cabo and punta gallinas) are amazing and as you say by now everything is super organized for solos – i also met a ton of great people in the dufferent collectivos and vans :)))


    Eugene K on

    What a great peice this was on Cabo. I’m especially intrigued by the Wayu and their craft of mochilas. Any other stories or suggestions on those lovely works of art? Thank you!


      Chris on

      Hi Eugene,

      Thanks for your comment. We have a new blog post all about the craft of Wayuu mochilas:

      I’d also recommend Michel Perrin’s anthropological book “The Way of the Dead Indian” if you’re interested in learning more about the Wayuu culture and their myths and legends (it’s from the 1970s but still fascinating).



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