Guajira province sits right at the top end of Colombia and the peninsular juts out into the Caribbean. If you are imagining idyllic beaches and swaying palm trees, you’d only be half right. Instead of top end resorts, travel here is basic and rustic. The continent peters out in an almost savage landscape of desert and dunes. The Wayuu people call this home and they lead an impoverished yet independent existence based on fishing, handicrafts and tourism.
It’s quite difficult to travel here by public transport, so I opted for an organised tour in a jeep with five other tourists. I organised it through a company in Santa Marta, although they were just the agents for Kai Ecotravel in Riohacha, where the tour actually began. I took a three hour bus journey to Riohacha and stayed overnight.
The next day I met my travelling companions and guide and we set off to our first destination, the salt mines at Manaure, which were a surreal sight. Then we headed to Cabo de la Vela where we were to spend the night. Accommodation is strung along the only road which runs parallel to to the beach. You sleep in hammocks, or the locally designed chinchorros which have blankets at the side. There are basic rooms available as well.
Cabo de la Vela has a bit of a frontier feel to it with sandy unpaved roads. We climbed the local hill, called Pilón de Azúcar, which has great views over the surrounding area, then swam in the beach below, before watching a spectacular sunset.
The following day we continued our journey north to arrive at Playa Taroa, a beach which you access by sliding down sand dunes. A bit further to the west is the lighthouse at Punta Gallinas which marks the northernmost point of the continent. It’s wild and rugged, yet tropical at the same time. Our jeep got stuck in the sand dunes and we spent a hour or so digging out the wheels and pushing.
For much of the trip you are travelling off-road, across barren desert landscapes, but occasionally you pass along dirt tracks through Wayuu settlements. The kids and some adults operate a toll system, in which they pull ropes across the roads and only allow you to continue if you contribute gifts, such as water, rice, coffee and biscuits. It’s quite a sad sight. The Wayuu protect their independence fiercely, but in return they get little help from the government. Like indigenous groups all over the world, they are at the bottom rung of the ladder in society.
The third day was basically the drive back to Riohacha, but we began with a pleasant if short boat trip across the Bahia Honda. On the whole it was a great trip, but like many organised tours too much time was spent travelling in the jeep. If you are in a group and can share costs, it’s also possible to go independently. It’s not an easy experience, but it’s definitely a real adventure.