Wondering if you should stay in Riohacha before and after your trip to the La Guajira desert? Is this city even worth your time?
While Riohacha may not be an extraordinary destination, I always like to arrive a day before my La Guajira trip to enjoy a good rest and a tasty dinner. After three visits, I’ve learned the ins and outs of this city, and I’m here to share my insights with you.
So, grab your bags, and let’s embark on a desert exploration journey, starting from this unassuming base.
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Our ríohacha Travel Guide
All you need to know to plan your trip to Ríohacha.
1# You might get bored in Riohacha
Riohacha is a fairly small city, home to just over 200,000 people. As such, don’t expect the amenities of a larger city like Bogotá, Medellín, or Cartagena. However, there are still activities to keep you occupied during your stay.
In my opinion, Riohacha has just enough attractions to fill your time if you’re staying overnight. Here’s a sample itinerary covering the city’s best landmarks in 2-3 hours:
- Visit the Catedral Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, an attractive church built in the early days of the Republic of Colombia.
- Stroll along the Malecón, a wide boulevard at the sea’s edge. In Latin American cities, the Malecón is the place to see and be seen. Late afternoons are the best time to visit, as you can enjoy the cool breezes.
- Explore the Mercado Nuevo, where you can find plenty of local handicrafts for sale. It’s best to shop on your way back from your desert trip so you’re not weighed down on your journey to the desert.
- Wander down to the Muelle Turístico (Tourist Dock) just as the sun sets over the pier. It’s also a great spot for people-watching.
- Relax on the rooftop of the Hotel Taroa. Early evenings are perfect, or you can catch the sunset too. Be aware that the place closes early, at 10 or 9 pm on Sundays.
The most popular artisanal item in Riohacha is the Wayuú “mochila,” a small shoulder bag. These handcrafted bags are essential to Wayuú culture and make fantastic souvenirs and gifts.
You’ll find two types of “mochila”: one-thread and two-thread. The one-thread bags are of higher quality and more durable. Although they’re more expensive than two-thread bags, it’s worth the investment. However, you can still find decent two-thread pieces. Generally, the faster they’re made, the lower the quality.
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2# But there are a few cool day trips
Options while staying in Riohacha may be limited, but that doesn’t mean you have to twiddle your thumbs if you find yourself there for more than a few hours! Some exciting options nearby can keep you entertained during your sojourn in Riohacha. Here are some ideas:
Go to Mayapo Beach
Mayapo Beach is just a 40-minute taxi ride from Riohacha. The distance is only around 25 km (16 miles), but the road’s poor condition means you’ll have to endure a bumpy ride filled with potholes. However, the beach is worth the trip, in my opinion. It should cost around 60,000 COP for a taxi each way.
Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful white sand beach on the Caribbean coast. The sea is stunning, and the wind is constantly blowing here. People love to flock to this location for kitesurfing, windsurfing, and other wind-dependent water activities.
The beach area has a laid-back vibe, although it’s still a touristy spot, with a few restaurants near the ocean. It’s not as serene as Cabo de la Vela or Punta Gallinas, but it’s also not swarming with tourists and touts like Playa Blanca (Isla Barú).
I especially loved the ” Isaashi ” restaurant for its beach setting and tasty seafood.
Spending the night here is not a bad idea—lovely, colorful wooden cabañas available. If you’re coming for kiting or other water sports, this is the place to be.
Birdwatching at Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos
Nature lovers, rejoice! The Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos is a must-visit for those who enjoy exploring local flora and fauna. The sanctuary is about 20 km (13 miles) outside of Rioacha, and the road is in better condition than the one to Mayapo Beach, so the trip should take less than 30 minutes each way.
The sanctuary comprises three areas: dry forests, mangrove forests, and wetlands.
You can either sign up for a guided tour from Riohacha or show up at the entrance. If you choose the latter, be aware that the sanctuary is open from about 7 am to 5 pm (check the hours before going, as they sometimes change due to circumstances or seasons).
The tour on-site includes a sail through one of the two lagoons inside the sanctuary on a small sailboat, which will get you up close and personal with the wildlife, including flamingos. It’s better to do it at the opening or closing time to avoid the scorching mid-day sun. Still, don’t forget to wear a hat and apply plenty of sunblock!
3# Taking a multi-day trip to the Guajira desert is the only reason to travel to Riohacha
As a self-confessed desert enthusiast, I’ve already made three trips to the La Guajira department and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Riohacha has become more than just a “launching point” for me; it’s the gateway to a region brimming with hidden gems. Let me tell you about my favorite spots: Cabo de La Vela, Punta Gallinas, and Macuira.
Kitesurfers, listen up! Cabo de la Vela is a fantastic alternative to Mayapo, with its stunning landscapes and tranquil atmosphere. Plus, there’s swimming, hiking, and out-of-this-world stargazing to keep you entertained.
Punta Gallinas is the northernmost tip of South America, boasting jaw-dropping scenery and access to the epic Taroa Dunes, where you can surf from the dunes straight to the ocean.
But my top pick has to be Macuira National Park – a lush oasis amidst the desert wilderness. Hike through its diverse trails, and chat with local guides who’ll teach you about the Wayuú culture.
To plan your desert adventure, meet with a reputable local agency in Riohacha. They’ll help you arrange a 3, 4, or 5-day trip in a reliable jeep with an experienced crew.
Here are my 2 favorite agencies (I went on various trips with both of them):
- Beatrice’s agency: Affordable and well-organized tours to Punta Gallinas (3 or 4 days). Book in advance as it’s a small agency.
- Paola’s agency: The seasoned pro of desert trips, with daily departures. Her specialty? A 4-day Macuira tour, including Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas.
4# Only kitesurfers stay in Riohacha longer
Kitesurfers, don’t overlook Riohacha as a prime kiting destination in Colombia. Here’s why:
- Budget-conscious travelers will find their money goes twice as far in Riohacha compared to Cabo.
- Beginners will appreciate Riohacha’s less intense winds and waves. There’s even a small lagoon in the Mayapo area with calm, shallow waters – perfect for newbies.
- Riohacha is more accessible than Cabo, making it a convenient choice.
5# How to get to Riohacha
As I mentioned earlier, getting to Riohacha from other parts of Colombia isn’t too challenging. The city boasts a national airport and an extensive bus network connecting it to nearby Colombian cities. So, let’s dive into the details!
Riohacha’s local airport operates daily flights to and from Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. The average flight time is just over an hour, with slightly shorter times from Medellín and slightly longer ones from Cali. Expect to pay around 50 USD for a one-way ticket (if you book it in advance). I flew from Medellín with Avianca.
If you happen to be in a Colombian coastal city, continuing your journey to Riohacha by bus might be more convenient. The list below showcases the average travel durations and prices from various starting points:
- Barranquilla | 5 hours | 40-50,000
- Cartagena | 7-8 hours | 55-70,000
- Santa Marta | 2.5 hours | 30-50,000
- Valledupar | 4 hours (only 3 buses per day!) | 35-40,000
Dozens of bus companies operate in Colombia’s Caribbean region, offering similar services. My top picks are Bolivariano, Brasilia, and Berlinas. Copetran is also a decent choice, especially if you’re traveling from Valledupar.
Traveling to Riohacha from Palomino involves:
- Going to the side of the only main road along the coast.
- Flagging down a bus.
- Hoping for an available seat – there’s no proper bus terminal.
Driving in this part of the world is not for the faint-hearted. Roads are often in poor condition, and navigating them can be challenging. A glance at a map will show you what I mean!
I recommend leaving the driving to professionals and arriving stress-free. However, if you’re determined to drive, avoid doing so at night!
6# Where to stay in Riohacha
Riohacha has its fair share of safe and not-so-safe neighborhoods. Generally, aim for accommodations between Calle 7 and the seashore and between Carreras 2 and 9.
Keep in mind that these hostels tend to have a lively atmosphere, which may result in some noise. Most offers shared or private room options.
- Casa Flor Hostel & Drinks: Close to the malecon with friendly staff, but the showers in the rooms could be better.
- Hostel Laguna Salá By FSL: Hospitable staff, but cleanliness can be hit-or-miss.
One option: Aiwa. This eco-hotel is located right on Mayapo Beach (remember that it’s 40-min away from Riohacha) and features a garden, restaurant, bar, and terrace. The rooms are clean and comfortable. Round-trip transportation is available from downtown Riohacha or the airport for an additional fee. The private beach is for hotel guests only, and a tasty complimentary breakfast is included.
As of this writing, Riohacha doesn’t have any upscale accommodations with fancy spas or freshwater swimming pools.
7# Feast on a Cazuela de Marisco
You absolutely must try a cazuela de marisco while visiting Colombia. This scrumptious dish, found on both coasts, features mixed seafood cooked in a stone pot with a creamy (sometimes cheesy) sauce and infused with local herbs. Trust me; it’s divine!
My top recommendation for devouring this culinary delight is at La Casa del Marisco. Expect to pay around 25,000 to 35,000 COP, depending on the ingredients and time of year.
Although Riohacha does not offer a large number of activities, it does have a few restaurants that are worth mentioning in this travel guide. International cuisine may be scarce, but local dishes are definitely present. Here are my picks for the best local eateries:
- La Jaus by La 13: This intimate spot offers delicious pizza and hummus. With only four outdoor tables, be prepared for a cozy dining experience. Dishes here cost around 40-50,000 COP.
- Eoletto Kite Café: A lovely café offering quality fare and a refreshing selection of craft beers.
- Seaside shrimp cocktail: At this location, right by the sea, you can savor a spectacular shrimp cocktail.
- For the adventurous, sample some indigenous Wayuú cuisine, such as friche.
- Don’t forget to try La Guajira’s famous cheeses while you’re in Riohacha.
8# Be Cautious in Riohacha
Riohacha is a regional capital and trading post with plenty of gray and black market activity due to its proximity to Venezuela. Consequently, some unsavory characters may be lurking about, making the area potentially dangerous.
To stay safe, it’s best to limit your exploration to daylight hours, except the well-lit and secure malecón. Also, stick to the earlier hotel recommendations and avoid anything outside that zone at night.
You don’t need to be paranoid and scared of everything while traveling to Colombia, but you should know the main safety tips.
9# Avoid October and November
October and November in La Guajira typically mean one thing: the rainy season. Riohacha experiences several changes during this time:
- Increased humidity, making high temperatures more uncomfortable
- No more cooling afternoon breezes
- Lack of wind, rendering kitesurfing impossible
- Potential road closures to northern points like Macuira and Punta Gallinas due to heavy rain
Keep in mind that some years also experience heavy rainfall in May.
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