It takes some work to organize a trip to the desert of Guajira to visit Cabo de la Vela. And besides, is it really worth it?
Since 2015, I have been to Cabo de la Vela 3 times (by myself or through an agency) to get the best information for my readers.
By reading this kick-ass guide (the best online; Yes. I’m very proud of my work ^^), you will:
- Decide if you wish you visit Cabo de la Vela.
- Learn how to make the most of it.
- Know my 2 favorite local agencies: Beatrice and Paola.
Let’s go see the sandman!
Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.
- Easy to join a group tour to La Macuira
- Exciting extra Wayúu experiences during the trips
- A small agency with excellent drivers
- Excellent prices & communication
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Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Every year, I spend thousands of euros to find the best experiences and allow you to contact these agencies directly! Our analysis and feedback will teach you how to travel smartly in Colombia (no more silly mistakes)!
Cabo de la Vela: Takeaway and Map
I know your time is precious. Here is the top information you MUST know before coming to Cabo de la Vela:
- Cabo de la Vela is a small beach town 2h from Riohacha by 4*4.
- You’ll find yourself in Alta Guajira, expect basic infrastructure. The dining options will be limited to daily fresh fish, chicken, or goat offerings, while freshwater is hard to come by. Accommodations may involve sleeping in a spacious hammock known as a chinchorro.
- 1 full day is enough to visit all the highlights. Kitesurfers’ll stay longer.
- All the multi-day trips to La Guajira include a 1-night stop at Cabo de la Vela.
- Poverty and plastic waste clinging to the cactus may shock some travelers.
👉 Want to know everything about La Guajira? To learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to La Guajira.
Cabo de la Vela: The perfect travel guide
Follow my recommendations, and you’ll have a fantastic time!
#17: You can get to Cabo de la Vela on your own
Cabo de la Vela is very out-of-the-way, and you may think you need professional help getting there. The truth is, though, that you can definitely get to those unforgettable adventures without that. Here’s how:
Getting to Cabo de la Vela
The first step to this will be getting to the town of Riohacha. Generally speaking, you will be coming by bus, although flying there is also possible.
Once you’re in Riohacha, you can decide on one of two options.
- The one I recommend is to go to this specific crossroad. You will have to take a 30-minute cab ride from Riochacha. From here, you can get a 4×4 onward through the desert. It shouldn’t cost more than 50,000 COP per person if you travel in a group, and the trip will take around 2 hours. It may be more complicated if you’re traveling alone, as the jeep will leave once it is complete.
- The other way to do this is to go to Uribia, about an hour from Riohacha. From here, you can go to this crossroad and find a 4×4, as described above.
Or, you can go to the city’s main marketplace and find a vehicle headed for Cabo de la Vela. I’m not fond of this option as much because it’s time-consuming. It’s also less comfortable. I did it the first time I went to Cabo de la Vela. I was buried under a ton of chips, and my neighbor was a chicken.
Getting out of Cabo de la Vela
Returning to Riohacha from this place is a little more complicated.
Your best bet is to find a vehicle going back to Uribia. You have to do this usually around 5 am or so. Then jump a shared taxi to Riohacha.
Note: The indigenous people may sometimes go on strike, making it difficult for you to pass through. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict this beforehand.
#16: You can visit Cabo de la Vela with a local agency
To be specific, you can talk to this particular agency in Riohacha to set up a tour, which I highly recommend.
This multi-day trip through the desert includes a night in Cabo de la Vela and various other nights in nearby areas, such as Punta Gallinas and La Macuira.
This will be the best way to make this trip for some travelers. The advantage of working with an agency is that everything is included for you, and there won’t be much guessing—or bad surprises, like being stuck in the mud or a 3-day strike.
I would say that if you are a person who hates planning anything, avoid the agencies. Also, if you want to spend a long time in this area, make the trip on your own. Otherwise, the agencies are a better bet.
#15: You’ll probably stay in a ranchería
A “ranchería” is, in this part of the world, a native-style bunkhouse or hostel-type accommodation. This is the order of the day in Cabo de la Vela.
The town itself is a beach town, and it’s tiny. It primarily consists of one long avenue lining the beach.
The most basic lodgings are to be found right at the entrance to the town. These usually don’t have running water at all, and you will only get a few hours of electricity per day.
As you continue, you will find better accommodations and a few bars and restaurants. Moreover, the kitesurfing schools are located at the end.
Depending on where you stay, you can get a bed, a hammock, or a chinchorro (a very nice hammock as big as a bed).
Naturally, I recommend staying in the kitesurfing zone. I stayed in Analauli, which has rooms with showers, options to stay in a bed, and electricity 24 hours a day.
Another good option is Utta, which is near the lighthouse. This place is more secluded, and you will have the best views each night at sunset.
#14: It can rain (best time to visit Cabo de la Vela)
The first thing is that the temperature almost stays the same all year. It’s mid 20 C° at night and the low 30 C° in the daytime. It feels scorching with the intense sun.
From December to April, it’s windier, and temperatures may be slightly cooler. October and November are considered to be the rainy season.
If it does rain, don’t even think about taking your own vehicle for at least a week after. Tour operators will know whether they can make it or not, depending on how muddy the roads are.
Also, no matter the time of year, bring plenty of sunscreen. A good sombrero or fishing hat is also a great idea.
Finally, keep Colombian holidays in mind. These are from mid-December to mid-January, Holy Week, and student vacation periods in June and October. All of these times are good times to avoid vacationing in this part of the country.
#13: Cabo de la Vela is a kitesurfing paradise
In four words: kitesurfing is incredibly fun! And Cabo de la Vela is one of the better places in the world to do this activity.
There are strong winds all year around in this place, and the conditions are ideal for this sport almost all of the time.
Also, the kitesurfing community is incredible; you’ll feel at home.
Please remember, though, there is a learning curve to kitesurfing. A complete beginner would need at least 10 hours or so of lessons to get something out of it.
This means that you will have to commit to staying for several days.
Some beginners may want to start in Riohacha, as the winds are more constant. This makes it easier to “get your legs” for kitesurfing. Once you get the hang of it, you can move on to Cabo de la Vela.
#12: El Faro is the perfect spot to watch the sunset
If you keep walking past the kitesurfing zone, you will come to El Faro after about 40 minutes. Or a 5-min moto-taxi.
“El faro” in Spanish means “the lighthouse,” and there is a small lighthouse there.
Instead of stopping there, I prefer to continue down the path to the nearby cliff, as the views are even better.
Either way, arrive around 5:30pm or so at the latest. This will ensure that you get the best spot.
#11: El Pilón de Azúcar and Mirador Tortuga are 2 fantastic lookout points
Many would say this part of South America is the most beautiful and picturesque of all! And that’s saying a lot because Colombia has a lot of spectacular landscapes!
Going to these lookout points, you will see the union of the trinity of the sea, the sky, and the hilly desert landscape, all coming together in their maximum glory. As long as you don’t make any noise, you will only hear the sound of the breeze.
El Pilón de Azúcar
This place is known as “Kamaichi” in the local Wayuu language and is located beside Playa Dorada. It takes about 15 minutes to get all the way to the top of it.
Playa Dorada itself is 5-10 minutes away on a motorcycle from Cabo, or you can walk it in a couple of hours.
When you get there, you will see a little statue of the Virgin of Fátima there. If you look down in the valley, you will see the names of the dead to whom people wanted to pay tribute. They are spelled out using rocks.
The view from the top is spectacular, and it’s my favorite thing to do when I stop at Cabo de la Vela.
This point is located on the top of Piedra Tortuga, a large slab of stone named for its turtle shape. It has fantastic views up and down the coastline.
It will also take you 15 minutes or so to reach the summit here, but it’s a much easier walk because the terrain is much flatter.
The Mirador is right next to the Ojo de Agua beach, about an hour from Cabo de la Vela on foot. You can also take a moto-taxi, which will get you there in around 5 minutes.
#10: Enjoy the beaches of Playa Dorada, Ojo de Agua, and Arcoiris
We mentioned the beaches briefly above; 2 of them are located right next to one of the lookout points.
Once again, you can walk here in a couple of hours if you wish, but it’s much easier to take a moto-taxi for 10-15 minutes or so. It will cost around 10,000 to 15,000 COP, and you can also arrange for the driver to wait for you and take you back.
The beach’s sand is golden; you’ll love feeling it under your feet, facing the turquoise and pristine Caribbean sea. Be cautious. The waves can be a little rough here for swimming.
If you want to swim, doing it in the morning is better. Also, in the afternoon, there is very little shade.
The beach area isn’t very built-up, but you can buy drinks and local crafts here, such as the famous “mochila” bags.
This beach is located less than 1km from the Pilón de Azúcar lookout point.
Unfortunately, swimming is super dangerous because of the waves and ocean currents.
It’s still worth going here because the ocean spray passes over the rocks and creates a rainbow effect, where the beach gets its name.
Playa Ojo de Agua
This was my favorite beach in the area. Here, the waves are usually calmer.
It’s right next to the Tortuga stone and lookout point, which is also much closer to Cabo de la Vela.
They also have refreshments for sale here, and it’s another spot that’s famous for its beautiful sunsets.
#9: Your next stop should be Punta Gallinas
Punta Gallinas is the most northern point you can reach while still being in South America, right at the top of the Guajira Peninsula. It’s also one of the world’s most remote and wild places.
In my opinion, if you’ve already made it as far as Cabo de la Vela, you owe it to yourself to spend at least a day in Punta Gallinas as well.
In fact, if you went to Cabo de la Vela on your own, you will probably have this tour offered to you by someone in town at least once.
You will generally have to make arrangements to do the tour on the following day. The total cost for transportation will be around $30-40 USD or 150-200,000 COP.
One good way to do this is to visit Punta Gallinas on your way out, because the tours usually take you from Cabo to Punta Gallinas and then back to Uribia.
However, I have found that the vehicles that depart from Riohacha are much more reliable for the trip, so please keep that in mind.
#8: It’s a harsh environment
Please keep in mind that this is a tough place to live in on a long-term basis.
Much of the desert has nothing to it except for the sand dunes, the dry brush, and lots of wild goats roaming around.
The goats are actually so important to the local economy that the Wayuú people still often use them as currency, especially for dowries.
The water here is a big problem, especially potable water. And it has gotten worse in recent years because what little water has flown through here in local rivers has started to dry up for various reasons (many of them man-made causes).
Please be ultra-conscious of your water consumption anywhere in La Guajira.
You will encounter impromptu tool booths where locals ask you for food and water. These are often manned by children as young as 5 or 6 years old. It’s truly heartbreaking. I recommend bringing extra drinks and snacks if you can.
Being in this part of the world makes you grateful for where you live and your lifestyle. We all really have it so easy compared to the people in La Guajira.
#7: It’s dirty
Unfortunately, many tourists and locals aren’t very conscious about how they should handle their garbage in Cabo de la Vela and the surrounding areas.
Garbage often winds up blowing all over the desert, and you will see bits of it stuck to cactuses and other thorny plants all over, sadly.
Please, especially as a visitor, be extra mindful of your impact on your surroundings. Make it an absolute commitment to leave a place the way you found it.
If you are going into a remote area, plan to bring all your stuff – including trash – back with you and dispose of it at the most appropriate place you can find.
Also, try and bring a big – and full – water bottle with you to Cabo de la Vela. You will reduce your need for precious local water and also reduce waste. They don’t sell anything bigger than a 500ml bottle in town.
#6: You’ll have a hard time if you are vegan or vegetarian
The local population doesn’t have access to – and doesn’t eat – a lot of plant-based stuff. They tend to eat local goat and seafood with a little rice from elsewhere in Colombia.
If you aren’t ok with the above food, please bring food with you. Options for eating are very limited in Cabo de la Vela.
#5: Bring some cash
Honestly, bringing all the cash you might need from Riohacha or even before that would be best. There are no ATMs or card machines anywhere in the area.
Try and bring small change as well, because they may not always be able to give you back exact change.
Here are some of the prices you can expect to pay (as a tourist and in COP) in Cabo de la Vela
- Your own private cabin: 150,000/2pers (please reserve well in advance)
- Water, two 500ml bottles: 5,000
- Juice: 10,000
- Toilet paper: 3000
- Chinchorro (big comfortable hammock): 25,000 per night
- Regular hammock: 20,000 per night
- Breakfast: 15,000
- Full meal: 30,000 (protein, rice, fried plantains)
- Domestic beer: 6,000
#4: It’s safe to travel to Cabo de la Vela
People worry a lot about traveling through Colombia, especially to remote areas like this one. In this case, though, there is very little to worry about.
The local Wayuu culture is famous for resisting any criminal bands or illegal groups trying to come into their territory. They are also historically very good at policing their own criminal elements.
I’ve personally been there 3 times – twice on my own with no agency involved – and never had the slightest problem or even seen one.
#3: Say goodbye to the internet
There is absolutely no internet anywhere near Cabo de la Vela and the surrounding area.
But Claro, a phone operator, works great!
Before traveling to Cabo de la Vela, plan ahead to disconnect and go offline. Consider this trip as an opportunity to alleviate your stress levels.
#2: Cabo de la Vela is an important site for the Wayuú
The local indigenous people, the Wayuú, consider dreams to be a part of real life. Every single dream is to be interpreted in great detail.
In their dreams, they consult departed loved ones, their gods, and nature herself. They do this to make important life decisions, such as changing homes, traveling, or starting a new business.
They say that Cabo de la Vela (called Jepira in Wayúu) is one of the sites in their territory where their ancestors who have passed on have an easy connection to the people.
They believe that their dreams are especially relevant in these areas and even have the power to alter the future in a deep and meaningful way.
#1: Wayuú handicrafts
Going to Cabo de la Vela, you can buy a traditional “mochila,“ little bags made by the women of the Wayuú.
Like their dreams, their mochilas are unique and special, and full of meaning. Every stitch put into a mochila has deep spiritual significance for them.
When a Wayúu girl reaches puberty, she is isolated from society for a few months. The women teach her everything they know about the art and craft of making mochilas – among other things relevant to their culture.
They say that the best mochilas aren’t even the ones available in Cabo de la Vela, but honestly, even these are still very special.
You will already get a great price by buying one right where they are made, so there’s no need to haggle over the price.
I recommend you buy several of these; they make great gifts, and you will be supporting a very impoverished local economy that can use your help!
Cabo de la Vela FAQ
Here are the answers to the most frequent questions our readers might have.
What is the meaning of Cabo de la Vela?
Cabo de la Vela means (“Cape of Sails”). It was named by Juan de la Costa when he spotted the windswept cape known today as Cabo de la Vela.
How to get from Santa Marta to Cabo de la Vela?
To get from Santa Marta to Cabo de la Vela, take a bus from the bus terminal (Copetran) or the public market (smaller bus, more frequent departures) to Riohacha. It takes about 3 hours. Then head to Uribia (an hour's drive) and found a 4×4 (two more hours).
How do I get from Palomino to Cabo de la Vela?
The most efficient way to do this is to take a taxi directly from Palomino to Riochacha. Then, follow the road as mentioned previously.
How do I get from Cartagena to Cabo de la Vela
To get from Cartagena to Cabo de la Vela, take the earliest Brasilia bus to Riohacha (around 5am). It takes about 7-8 hours. Then, follow the road as mentioned previously. You should be able to reach Cabo at the end of the day.
How long should I stay in Cabo de la Vela?
Two nights is the perfect stay for most people; plan to stay longer if you plan to kitesurf. With an agency, 1 night is enough.
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