What To Do In Riohacha, Colombia: My Travel Guide For 2024

The best guide to Riohacha in Colombia for what to do and how long to stay—infos based on my 3 trips over there and our local friends.

🛑 Imagine arriving in Riohacha with all the right information in hand for an optimized, hassle-free adventure in the La Guajira Desert.

Are you wondering if you should stay in Riohacha before and after your tour of 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. 

Here’s what you’ll get if you read my guide c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y:

  • Where to eat the best Cazuela de Marisco—a delicious seafood meal.
  • Which famous sport can you practice there? It starts with a “K”.
  • 3 incredible places you must include in your trip to La Guajira
  • Safety rules you must know.
  • The 2 months of the year when you should NOT come to Riohacha.
  • And more.

Who are we 👋

Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Here, you will find everything you need to fall in love with this beautiful country easily.


My Favorite Local Agency In Riohacha

Book with locals
Easily Join The Best Tours in La Guajira with Paola
4.8

Over 100 of our readers explore La Guajira with Paola every month. This is the best-organized agency in the area, with consistent departures, excellent responsiveness, and great flexibility.

Pros:
  • Excellent multi-day tours to Cabo de la Vela, Punta Gallinas and Macuira Park.
  • Pay local prices at no extra cost.
See her profile How to pick your tour
Easy, quick and risk-free (Talk first. Book later)

Riohacha Travel Guide

Let’s start by giving you an overview of Riohacha.

WHERE IS RIOHACHA in Colombia

Riohacha La Guajira (2)

Riohacha, the capital of Colombia’s La Guajira Department, is a city rich in history and culture, located by the Caribbean Sea and the Ranchería River.

Known for its sandy beaches and desert-like conditions due to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, it’s primarily inhabited by the Wayuu, an Amerindian ethnic group.

Founded in 1535 by Nikolaus Federmann, it’s named after a local legend about an axe. Historically, Riohacha was a crucial port, famous for pearl diving, and later developed into an important maritime commercial hub.

Its history includes being a strategic location during Colombia’s independence battles and becoming the La Guajira capital in 1964.

More than 10,000 travelers have already used our Colombia travel guide

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WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO

Sunset el Faro Cabo de la vela Aleja

Riohacha experiences a semi-arid climate with hot temperatures and high humidity year-round. The weather here is characterized by hot days and warm nights.

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.

It’s perfect for the other months of the year.

IS RIOHACHA WORTH VISITING?

Cocktail in Riohacha La Guajira (4)

No, Riohacha is not an interesting city to visit, especially if you don’t have many days available in Colombia.

I like to stay there the night before I leave for the La Guajira desert because it’s more practical—it allows me to deal with any unforeseen events that are quite common in the area, such as road blockages.

My opinion: If you’re already between Palomino and Riohacha, you can ask Paola to arrange private transport to take you directly to her agency on the departure day.

What to do in Riohacha, Colombia

You might get bored in Riohacha.

The city 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. 

What To Do Around Riohacha

On the other hand, there are several excursions to do around Riohacha. Let’s start with the day tours

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).

My opinion: I especially loved the ” Isaashi ” restaurant for its beach setting and tasty seafood.

Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos

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!

👉 Paola can plan a day trip to any of these destinations

KITESURFING IN RIOHACHA

Kitesurf Etto La Guajira (2)
Credit: Etto

Kitesurfers, don’t overlook Riohacha as a prime kiting destination in ColombiaHere’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.
  • Ask Etto to know more about it.
Book with locals
Kitesurfing in La Guajira with Etto & Paula
4.8

Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.

Pros:
  • Excellent bilingual guides.
  • Kitesurfing trips to Punta Gallinas.
See their profile Our guide

A multi-day trip to the Guajira desert

I’m a desert fanatic, and I’ve planned multi-day trips in La Guajira three times already, but I’m far from done. Let me walk you through my favorite discoveries: Cabo de La Vela, Punta Gallinas, and Macuira.

If you’re into kitesurfing, Cabo de la Vela is your place. It’s a serene alternative to Mayapo with breathtaking views. But that’s not all – you can swim, hike, and watch a beautiful sunset like nowhere else.

Then there’s Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America. The scenery is stunning, and you can’t miss surfing down the Taroa Dunes right into the ocean.

But my personal favorite is Macuira National Park. It’s a green haven in the midst of the desert. The hiking trails are diverse, and local guides offer insights into the Wayuú culture you won’t find anywhere else.

Local agencies can set you up with a 3 to 5-day tour with a jeep driver– it’s the only way to experience this unique region.

Here is my favorite agency:

  • Paola’s agency:  A well-organized agency with daily departures. Her specialty? A 4-day trip to Macuira, Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas.
Book with locals
Easily Join The Best Tours in La Guajira with Paola
4.8

Over 100 of our readers explore La Guajira with Paola every month. This is the best-organized agency in the area, with consistent departures, excellent responsiveness, and great flexibility.

Pros:
  • Excellent multi-day tours to Cabo de la Vela, Punta Gallinas and Macuira Park.
  • Pay local prices at no extra cost.
See her profile How to pick your tour
Easy, quick and risk-free (Talk first. Book later)

Where to stay in Riohacha, Colombia

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.

Budget options

Hostel Laguna Salá By FSL
Credit: Hostel Laguna Salá By FSL

Keep in mind that these hostels tend to have a lively atmosphere, which may result in some noise. Most offer shared or private room options.

Mid-range options

Aiwa Hotel
Credit: Aiwa Hotel

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.

Gastronomy in Riohacha

You absolutely must try a cazuela de marisco while visiting Riohacha. 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.

Here are also 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.

How to get to Riohacha

Plane to Riochacha La Guajira

Getting to Riohacha isn’t too challenging. The city boasts a national airport and an extensive bus network connecting it to nearby Colombian cities.

By plane from Bogotá, Medellín and Cali

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.

By bus from the main cities on the coast

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. 

Coming by car

Driving in this part of Colombia is not for the faint-hearted. Roads are often in poor condition, and navigating them can be challenging.

I recommend leaving the driving to professionals and arriving stress-free. However, if you’re determined to drive, avoid doing so at night!

Ask Paola to arrange private transportation. She knows excellent drivers, and prices are affordable.

Is Riohacha Safe?

Riochacha La Guajira

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.

Multi-day trips to La Guajira are totally safe.

My opinion: In Colombia, in the big cities, I always recommend that travelers take a cab at night when the streets are empty, and be careful with valuables (telephone, wallet).

Bottom line: Riohacha, Colombia

In brief, Riohacha is a practical stopover for rest and a good meal before venturing into the La Guajira desert.

While not a must-see destination, its strategic location makes it valuable for accessing nearby kitesurfing spots and multi-day trips to discover incredible places like Punta Gallinas, Cabo de la Vela, and Macuira Park.

Stick to safer areas for accommodation, and consider local (and legal) agencies like Paola’s for organized desert tours.

Book with locals
Easily Join The Best Tours in La Guajira with Paola
4.8

Over 100 of our readers explore La Guajira with Paola every month. This is the best-organized agency in the area, with consistent departures, excellent responsiveness, and great flexibility.

Pros:
  • Excellent multi-day tours to Cabo de la Vela, Punta Gallinas and Macuira Park.
  • Pay local prices at no extra cost.
See her profile How to pick your tour
Easy, quick and risk-free (Talk first. Book later)
Book with locals
Kitesurfing in La Guajira with Etto & Paula
4.8

Since 2015, Tomplanmytrip (us) looks for the best local agencies in Colombia and put you in direct contact with them.

Pros:
  • Excellent bilingual guides.
  • Kitesurfing trips to Punta Gallinas.
See their profile Our guide

WHAT TO READ NEXT

Here are some popular articles about La Guajira:

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I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

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