I fully expected us to get stuck on the muddy, rutty riverbed road into La Guajira Peninsula.
We were 3 hours northeast of Santa Marta, and an hour or so beyond the coastal city of Riohacha.
The further north we pushed into Colombia’s very own desert, the lower the green foliage stood. Eventually, we’d see nothing more than scrubby bushes, and small brittle trees.
Maybe it goes back to the images of Romancing the Stone I grew up with, but my picture of Colombia was always the opposite: lush, wet, jungle.
But like the safety situation, the geographic diversity of this South American country has a way of breaking stereotypes.
La Guajira Peninsula is the northernmost region of Colombia, and the whole South American continent.
Despite an apparent lack of life, this barren desert is home to the indigenous Wayuu people, of which there are approximately 144,000 across 4,000 square miles.
The Wayuu are renowned throughout Colombia for their weaving skills. Mochilas are woven bags that are commonly carried by both men and women, and those made by the Wayuu can easily fetch 2-3 times the regular rate in the big cities like Medellin and Bogota.
Ornately designed, handmade hammocks are also available for several hundred dollars apiece.
Blessed with miles of empty beaches overlooking turquoise waters, La Guajira attracts tourists looking to escape the crowds of Parque Tayrona. Potentially strong winds also attract kiteboarders.
Walking up Cerro Kamachi, a hill along the coast with sacred meaning to the local Wayuu, offers 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.
The short but steep walk can be done in flip-flops, albeit more slowly than if you bring a pair of sneakers.
There’s also a nearby beach that’s perfect for swimming, as it’s easy to work up a sweat under the intense sun.
La Guajira Peninsula lacks infrastructure, which is part of its appeal.
There are no roads per se, but rather commonly driven routes from one destination to the next. Many are barely visible in the shifting sands.
At times, driving along the beaches may be required. At night, only a guide familiar with the region should be driving as it is easy to get disoriented.
Cell phone connections may or may not work. Comcel tends to have better connections in rural areas. I was using Tigo and had no coverage.
How to Get There
Single or multi-day tours can be booked through several companies with offices in central Santa Marta and Taganga. I booked a 2-day trip through Magic Tour Taganga, which also has an office in Santa Marta, near the Cathedral (Calle 16, 4-41. Tel: 421-5820). The cost was $215, and included all transport, 2 nights accommodation in a hammock at a ranch outside Cabo de la Vela, and 7 meals.
Alcohol costs extra, so bring your own if you want to save a few bucks. Fresh lobster costs an additional 15,000 pesos ($8) and was subject to availability. When booking a 2+ night trip, ensure your second night is at Punta Gallinas, a small village at the northernmost point of La Guajira, and requiring a boat ride to reach. Single day trips are not recommended, as it takes at least 6 hours to reach La Guajira from Santa Marta or Taganga.