Colombia, a country that never ceases to amaze me, has the highest level of biodiversity per square meter in the world. In addition to the huge amount of exotic flora and fauna, there is also a great variety of environs and climates. It was cold in Bogota, and hot and humid almost everywhere on the coast. I've hiked up mountains, seen rain forests and sublime white sand beaches, and swam in crystal clear turquoise water. After all this, it was time to go to... a desert! La Guajira is a department in northern Colombia, almost deserted and full of contrasts between sea, sand, coal, salt, cactus, and small green oasis. The region is characterised by the Wayuu culture, an indigenous people known for their craftwork of hammocks, bags and clothing.
The 3 days/2 nights tour with Alta Guajira Tours (440000COP/130€ accommodation and food included) had 4 main stops: Cabo de la Vela beach, South America's northernmost point Punta Gallinas, Guajira's indigenous capital Uribia, and a place called Camarones, where we could see pink flamingos. This time, almost no walking but the trip was still quite tiring because we had to sit in a car for long hours and sleep in a different place every night.
After Ciudad Perdida we came with K back to Santa Marta and the wonderful hostel called Mango Tree. So embarrassing, our clothes were so dirty and smelly after the hike that the poor laundry service guy had to wash them twice... A real shower, a real bed, less mosquitos, it is incredible how nice all that felt. And what did I eat for dinner when I finally had the choice? An avocado of course. :) The next day we traveled from Santa Marta to a town called Riohacha, where we started the tour from. I must praise the service at the Santa Marta bus station: 1. I got out of the taxi and an employee was greeting me at the entrance, took my luggage and asked where I wanted to go. 2. I said Riohacha so he found the right person in charge and told me that his colleague would take care of me. 3. This guy told me that a company called Super Directo had a bus leaving in 10 minutes. It would be 20000COP/6€ and go (super) directly from Santa Marta to Riohacha. 4. I said I would take it, paid for my ticket and he told me to sit down and wait so he would come pick me up. 5. A bought some water and sat down, two minutes later he came back, took my luggage again, and walked me to the right bus. A great example of Colombian friendliness and how easy things can be then when they are easy. Happy.
In Riohacha, I had booked again a great hostel, Bona Vida, for the usual price, 30000COP/9€ breakfast included. A young Colombian-Austrian couple had started their hostel business only 5 months ago, they were both extremely nice and welcoming, and passionate about their project. The only bad side was that it was way too hot to sleep, I'm going to write to them and tell them that they have to put air-conditioning in the rooms. Then it will be perfect.
Riohacha, the capital of the Guajira region was small and nothing special. K, who had visited a friend in Tayrona, joined me at the hostel, as did L, a Colombian guy from our Ciudad Perdida group. With them and one more girl from our room, we went for dinner and walk on the beach boulevard. When we saw Wauyy bags and other accessories everywhere, we could be sure that we had arrived to Guajira.
After the rice in Ciudad Perdida and before the rice on the next tour, this pizza couldn't have tasted better (and yes, even if I ate that, I still lost weight during my holidays). A funny remark, in pizzerias all over Colombia you can always choose two different pizzas and they make it half and half for you.
Next morning, from Riohacha direction Uribia, Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. Me and K got company of a Colombian woman traveling with her 13-year-old son and 10-year-old nephew, all very nice. As you will see in these pictures, the places where completely different from what I had seen here before.
First stop: salt mountains in Manaure, next to turquoise water.
We made a quick stop at Uribia, the indigenous capital, to buy snacks and water, and then drove to a beautiful beach town called Cabo de la Vela.
Here stopping at a "gas station":
Flashback Oman from last year: hot hot hot and sand flying everywhere. Our guide told us beforehand that it was going to be so hot that we had to have something to protect our heads. So I bought a very stylish scarf but with the wind, it didn't really work out... But everything was beautiful.
One activity written on the plan was "watch the sunset". Ok, we did.
We slept one night in Cabo de la Vela, in hammocks and this time I slept very well and was not cold. There was a kite surf event in Cabo so the beach was crowded. At the guesthouse they run out of water (right before me and K's shower turn) and we had to wait two hours for the food. But whatever, things happen. Both lunch and dinner were tasty but breakfast as complicated as always (eggs and arepa con queso). I had to ask million times to get some fruits and was already getting a bit annoyed (we are in Colombia and you say you don't have fruits!) but later I realised that maybe on a desert it's not that simple... But in the end I got fruits and the other morning too so no complaints.
On the second day we drove to Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of continental South America. The deserts and beaches were even prettier than in Cabo and the contrast between yellow sand and turquoise water was really something you don't see every day. It's funny, for some reason my dream holiday destination has always been the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) - I can't believe how close I was! One day I'll go there, hopefully. It is also funny that when you get closer, your perspective changes. A while ago when I was spending time at S's swimming pool I spoke with Venezuelan man who had lived in Colombia for ages and who travels often to Aruba and Curacao. For him they are just ordinary nearby holiday destinations, nothing special. But traveling to Europe is a very big deal. I though about the same thing in April when I flew from Sao Paulo back to Cartagena and had connections in Lima and Bogota. At both airports I was about to miss my flight (in Bogota they even called my name!) and there I was, casually running around at airports in big South American capitals. It felt so normal, nothing too exciting. And yet, before I went to Asia a little bit more than a year ago, I had only traveled in Europe and once been to New York.
Anyway, our time in Punta Gallinas was perfectly relaxing. The only thing that bothered me and made me really sad was seeing everywhere kids begging for money and food. The families live on the desert in very humble conditions and what the kids do (especially now during summer holidays) is to stand on the "road" where tour cars pass by and hope to get water, biscuits or anything. Luckily we had been warned in advance so in Uribia we had bought plenty of small bags of water to give away. That's all we could do to help, so we tried not to think too much about the misery, and enjoyed the beaches. There are few things that I like more than the combination sun-sea-sand, had to make the most of it while I still could.
Views from were we stayed the night:
And seeing the official northernmost point of Colombia and the whole South America:
Evening program: sunset, beach acrobatics and Aquardiente shot(s) with L from our Ciudad Perdida group.
On the third and last day of the Guajira tour, our schedule said that we would leave early in the morning and take a ferry, lancha, to a place where we could see pink flamingos, typical for the region. However, our guide (who was mostly just a driver, not really a guide because he never explained anything) just decided that we would not go there. I didn't get what the reason was (if there was one), he just said that no, that was not in his schedule and that I would have to sort out the problem with his boss when we get back to Riohacha (like if we could drive back to Punta Gallinas then, of course not). Me and K were very pissed and I was not happy to have to start fighting with him. Besides, there was no phone reception so I couldn't call his boss who had sold me the tour. In the end, when we got back to Riohacha, I was tired and could not have cared less about the flamingos but I had paid for it and I would not accept that they just skip a part of the tour. So I called the other guy and he was surprisingly comprehensive. The others didn't want to go but me and K were taken to a place near Riohacha, called Camarones where we did a leisurely tour on a boat. The flamingos were exotic and pretty, and it was lovely to spend the afternoon by the lake, after having been in the car for so long.
Because of the flamingo episode we finished our Guajira tour 3 hours later than planned and then went directly to the bus station to see if we could still get somewhere that night. K decided to spend one night in Santa Marta before heading to Barichara and Bogota, and I thought of going to Mompox or Barranquilla for one day. But I was getting so tired of traveling, packing and unpacking (the very few things I had with me) and sleeping at a new place every night so when they told me that there was one last bus going directly to Cartagena, I didn't hesitate for a second but hopped in (even if I arrived here at 2am and didn't have keys to my apartment). I loved touring around the north coast of Colombia and exploring new places, but Cartagena is home and where I wanted to spend my last Colombian days.
Read the next story here.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!