Backpacking to Cabo de la Vela can be easily done on your own. Cabo de la Vela is one of the most spectacular places of Alta Guajira. It offers various accommodations, beautiful beaches, and unique landscapes. You don’t need a travel agency for getting there. Actually, it is very easy and cheap to get from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela.
The itinerary looks as follows:
- Riohacha: Go to Mercado Viejo and take a shared taxi to Uribia. Tell the driver to drop you just outside Uribia at the crossroads called “4 Via de Uribia”.
- Uribia: As soon as you hop-off the taxi at 4 Via de Uribia locals will offer you transportation to Cabo de la Vela. Usually, transport is done by pick-up trucks. The driver might try to impress the foreigners with his driving skills.
- Cabo de la Vela: Just get off somewhere in the village. There are more than enough accommodations. The village consists of one long road.
- Cash: You have to bring all cash that you need for your stay north of Uribia. There are ATMs in Uribia, Maicao, and Riohacha.
- 4 Via: There are two crossroads called “4 Via”. 4 Via de Uribia is just outside Uribia while 4 Via de Uribia is in between Riohacha and Maicao. Make sure you don’t confuse both crossroads.
- Day Time: Traveling with shared taxis after 4pm can be more difficult as the cars might not fill-up. If you want to get around without problems leave early.
There is another article on Cabo de la Vela.
Many tourists traveling La Guajira like to buy Wayuu Bags, also called “Mochilas”. You can find many sellers at the seaside of Riohacha and at Cabo de la Vela. However, often the quality is not the best or the Wayuu sell the bags to a discount price that is not adequate to their good work.
The center for high-quality Wayuu bags of Alta Guajira is in Nazareth at a place called “Paraiso” (paradies). You can walk there in about 10-15min from the center of the village. Just ask the locals for “paraiso” and “mochila”. The bags are produced by a cooperative. There is another cooperative in Sipana. It is not uncommon that men also crochet Wayuu bags.
On his first trip to the Americas, Christopher Columbus took some notes where he describes for the first time the use of hammocks by Amerindians on Caribbean islands. As of today, on the entire La Guajira peninsula the use of hammocks is very wide-spread. The Wayuu call their hammocks “chinchorro”. The difference is that chinchorros are usually bigger more comfortable to sleep in as normal hammocks.
Alonso de Ojeda was the first one who sailed along the South American coast. During his expedition he also passed the La Guajira peninsula and Cabo de la Vela. That’s why Cabo de la Vela already appears on the first maps of South America.
During the 16th century, the early colonists discovered pearls along the coast between Cabo de la Vela and today’s Riohacha. In order to exploit those pearls the Spaniards founded a settlement at Cabo de la Vela, called Nuestra Señora Santa María de los Remedios del Cabo de la Vela. Due to continuous conflicts with the local indigenous Santa María got relocated to today’s Riohacha in 1544. As a result, Riohacha developed into a center for pearl trade.
Cabo de la Vela also plays a very important role in the mythology of the Wayuu amerindians. For them the hill Jepira is the place where the souls of the dead travel to after death. Jepira is also called Pan de Azucar in Spanish and is a famous tourist destination.
As of today, Cabo de la Vela is the most touristy place on the La Guajira peninsula. There are plenty of accommodations, you can do Kite surfing, visit the nearby lighthouse, and enjoy the beautiful beaches.
Less visited destinations are the salt pan close to Pan de Azucar and some beautiful sand dunes. It is worth to explore the region on your own. There is an article on how to travel to Cabo de la Vela.
The salt mines of Manaure are located at Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The big basins are operated by a Venezuelan company while the small ones are run by local Wayuu families. The salt water passes a chain of basins. In each basin it stays several months to increase the saturation. Finally, it reaches a basin where the salt crystalizes. The salt crystals grow about 4cm per year. It depends on the owner and the demand when it gets harvested. The size of the salt mine only gets visible from an elevated position.
Close to the salt mines is the protected area where you can see flamingos. The place is similar to Santuario de los Flamencos close to Camarones.
The La Guajira peninsula hosts many places of Wayuu mythology. One of the most important places is the rock of Aalas. It is said that Maleiwa (god) sent the wise man Uuta to gather the different Wayuu families at Aalas to assign each of them a symbol (casta) and an animal. A lightning hit the rock of Aalas and burned the different castas into its surface. For example, the symbols are used to mark animals.
The rock is located in the remote mountain range Serrania Jarara. The living conditions in this region are very difficult. Trucks only drive along the coast and don’t reach Aalas. There is a nearby Jagüey that provides water. If the Jagüey is exhausted there is only permanent spring with salty water. The figure below shows the spring “ojo de agua” at Aalas. Donkeys are used to transport the water to the homes.
Most travelers on the way to Cabo de la Vela or Punta Gallinas just rush through Uribia. This is a real pity since there are a lot of hidden gems and quaint stories to discover. For example, the white elephant of Uribia.
On of those places to discover is the so called “white elephant” of Uribia. The white elephant denotes a terminal for long distance buses that was build because there was some leftover money that had to be spent. Since the terminal has been built with money of the government it can only be used by officially registered transport companies.
Unfortunately, there is none in Uribia and the locals don’t want non-Wayuu run bus companies to service the terminal. So, the terminal is waiting for the day to officially open its gates. Meanwhile, a couple of locals are living in the terminal.
The terminal is just outside of Uribia close to the 4-Via crossroads. You can also cross the rails of the Cerrejon train.