Guajira Peninsula [gwaˈxiɾa, gwaˈhiɾa] (Spanish: Peninsula de La Guajira, also spelled Goajira, mainly in colonial period texts), is a peninsula in northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela in the Caribbean. It is the northernmost peninsula in South America and has an area of 25,000 km2 (9,700 sq mi) extending from the Manaure Bay (Colombia) to the Calabozo Ensenada in the Gulf of Venezuela (Venezuela), and from the Caribbean to the Serranía del Perijá mountains range. It was the subject of a dispute between Venezuela and Colombia in 1891, and on arbitration was awarded to the latter and joined to its Magdalena Department. Nowadays, most of the territory is part of Colombia, making it part of La Guajira Department, while the remaining strip pertains to the Venezuelan Zulia State. The northernmost part of the peninsula is called Punta Gallinas (12° 28´ N) and is also considered the northernmost part of mainland South America.[1]


The scenery of Guajira is very picturesque; the temperature in the plains is very high, but temperate in the mountains.

The region receives the flow of the trade winds from the northern hemisphere and forms along the northeastern coast of Venezuela and the Antilles, the Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub. The Trade winds cause a resurgence of the deep littoral waters and makes the sea more rich in living species on the western side of the peninsula. The northeastern flank of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range acts as a barrier that generates abundant rainfall in its steppes and originate the Ranchería River, the only major river in the area. Climate and vegetation varies from south to north, presenting a hyper humid jungle weather in the southern part (3000 mm a year) to the desertic areas in the north (300 mm a year).

In the northern area there is a small range of mountains called Macuira that reaches 900 m over sea level that trap some of the trade winds and cause mist. Most of the mountain range is a protected area called National Natural Park of Macuira. Nearby there is also the 80 km² Flamingos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary.



The peninsula is mainly inhabited by members of the native tribe of the Wayuus, who use the plains to raise cattle, sheep, goats and horses. The descendants of the Spanish colonists settled in the southeastern part of the peninsula (sometimes referred to as the Padilla Province), where the land is more fertile due to the proximity to other river basins, such as the Cesar river basin and is subject to large plantations of cotton, sorghum and cattle ranching.

Since the 1980s the central area of the peninsula was subject to the exploration and exploitation of coal and natural gas in the area of Cerrejón and of oil in the littoral. A popular ecotourism destination in the area is Cabo de la Vela.



English pirates, Dutch smugglers and Spanish pearl hunters have all tried to conquer the Guajira Peninsula – a vast swath of barren sea and sand that is Colombia's northernmost point – but none were able to overcome the indigenous Wayuu people, who wisely traded with, or waged war upon, the invaders. The Wayuu's complex and autonomous political and economic structures meant they were ready to mount a staunch defense of their lands – on horseback and with firearms.

Even today, this is a diesel-and-dust landscape with more than a whiff of Mad Max–like lawlessness. Sadly, the roadsides around the small towns in the west are littered with rubbish – indeed, the symbol of modern-day Guajira might well be a plastic bag caught in a leafless bush. Fortunately, as you head east the litter fades away until you fall upon the end-of-the-world paradise of Punta Gallinas, an immaculate collision of desert dunes and crashing waves.


Colombia’s northernmost point, Guajira Peninsula has a hostile desert climate that has kept it largely isolated since colonial times. As a result it’s one of those special places where independent travellers can still feel as if they’re leaving fresh tracks. Some 240km long and no more than 50km wide, the barren peninsula is empty except for the semi-nomadic Wayuu, a beguiling mix of desert and sea, a smugglers’ haven that English pirates once tried to conquer. More challenging to explore than the rest of the Caribbean coast, the Guajira Peninsula rewards those who make the effort with the end-of-the-world feel of Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. Cabo de la Vela is a remote Wayuu fishing village, 180km northwest of Riohacha, the capital of the Guajira Peninsula that in itself is 175km northeast of Santa Marta. On the journey to Cabo you pass through a landscape of sand, baked mud huts of the Wayuu and goats grazing under the sparse shade of the acacia trees.


Going to Punto di Gallina by boat Desert of Guajira Desert flats of Guajira on the road to Bahia Portete the flattest and easiest part of the journey Getting stuck in the desert

One of the strangest and most spectacular spots I’ve ever seen in South American is located at the northern most point of South American in the Guajira peninsula which is a reserve for the Wayuu – a Colombian indigenous tribe, which politically rules the entire peninsula. It’s one of most visually stunning places on earth where bare, desert landscape meets the blue turquoise of the Atlantic.

The trip is a must see if coming to Colombia, not an easy trip but well worth the sacrifice. This is not a trip to do alone but not impossible if you take it slow – jeep ride by jeep ride. But it is recommended one hire a tour guide from the Wayuu tribe. It’s cheaper to find a tour in the peninsula’s largest city and transport hub of Riohacha where for $165 one can find a three day tour of the Guajira all included with: a guide who only speaks Spanish and the local dialect of the Wayuu. The meals are all fish (excellent whole fish meals of red snapper, sea bass and lobster), and the lodging is hammocks under lean-to thatched roofs on desolate Atlantic beaches. One can book Guaijara tours in Santa Marta and Cartagena but it’s cheaper in Riohacha. A fact that doesn’t escape the local residents: more foreign tourists visit Guijira than Colombians, they report

The Landscape

Did I mention there are no roads on the peninsula, just Toyota four wheel jeeps banging across the dramatic desert landscape? They swear by Toyota’s here and after seeing the beating they put these vehicles through on a daily basis, I’ve become a supporter of the off-road vehicle. But the stops they make – in the middle of nowhere where the desert meets huge, empty, Atlantic beaches – no lights, no internet, no cell connection – just lizards, buzzards, grazing goats, flamingos, cactus and the Wayuu– mind blowing stuff. Kite surfing school in Cabo Sleeping in hammocks an overnight stop on the tour in Punto Gallinas Cabo de la Vela fishermen and kite surfers meet

In three days we saw the salt flats of Manaure where they pump ocean water over dessert flats creating salt from evaporating sea water. Fishermen hand flung fishing nets and fished for shrimp in still, beautiful bays.

One the first day we stopped for a swim at Pilon di Azuri a beautiful beach on a bluff with red dirt, white sands and volcanic rock. The second beach was Arcoinis or rainbow beach where a brisk hike up a wind swept mountain takes you to a statue of the Virgin Mary its peak.

Cabo de la Vela is the destination for the first day. It’s a little village on as beautiful still bay with a kite surfing school operating in the midst of the Wayuu fishermen. Here there are plenty of bars and restaurants and hostels where you can rent a hammock in thatched roof huts or under lean-tos on the beach for the night. The tours come all included with lodging and meals. There are one day or two day tours to Cabo which is actually not that hard to get to (a four hour trip from the capital – Uribia).

Beyond Cabo – Though most 2 day tours end at Cabo, the most scenic route is to continue up to the settlement Punta Gallinas via a three day tour. Here lies the most beautiful part of the peninsula: beautiful bays like Bahia Hondita, Azucar beach (Sugar Beach) and Arconis Rainbow beach.

The dunes of Toroa are a two hour jeep ride outside of Cabo. The jeeps drive up to the crest of the dunes and leave you off to explore the dunes which spill down to incredible beaches. Here you can swim and sun bathe and everyone in my tour group agreed, the dunes offer by far the most beautiful and remote beaches they had seen in all Colombia.

Punta Gallina Dunes of Toroa

We spent the night in Punta Gallina at the Hospedaje y Restaurant Luzmila where we would spend two nights. We were assigned our hammocks and treated to a wonderful fish and lobster dinner. And the last night before dinner we took off for the lighthouse to see the sunset. Dining room at Hospedaje y Restaurant Luzmila Dinner of fish of the day

The lighthouse at Bahia Hondita the northernmost part of South America A view from Acronis Acroinis – a statue of the Virgin Mary sits on top of the mountain Punta Gallinas

Punta Hondita

The lighthouse at Punta Hondita is the northernmost part of South America. This remote spot with its lighthouse on a bumpy knoll was where the Pablo Escobar’s planes would land. The lighthouse was the marker to find the primitive airstrip. The Wayuu were paid to see nothing. The Colombian airforce would occasionally get word of a contraband landing fly over and drop bombs on the drug running planes. Bomb craters along the road are now a tourist attractions.

Colombians have no authority on the peninsula. The Guajira remains a lawless reservation where contraband reins. The Wayuu, being a border tribe, have both Venezuelan and Colombian citizenship. They bring in cheap gasoline from Venezuela, whiskey from Panama and openly sell them on the peninsula. The police have border controls every 3-4 miles to stop every vehicle and control what they transport but they can’t control what they sell. Next to a police barricade the Wayuu Indians sell contraband gasoline at $.70 a gallon – Colombian price $2.50 a gallon. Cooking goat

A rustic desert kitchen at Hospedaje y Resturant Luzmila

Being a desert – water is at a premium here. But they know how to find wells in the desert. How? First someone in the village has a dream, then they go and dig for water at the spot he or she saw in the dream. Apparently dreams are more than just symbolic here. Then there are solar panels to power pumps that pull the water from the wells. The water is free for all in the tribe. People haul water around in the back of trucks and in plastic urns tied on the sides of donkeys

The Wayuu are physically small in stature the men only 5’ tall the women shorter. They are stoic – answer questions with grunts and like to watch your every move. There is no private property for the Wayuu. A matriarchal society, the women hold the political power, their families run the clans. If a family wants to move his or her house they go to the mother’s clan, get approval and just move their house to another spot. The mother’s clan is responsible for solving all conflicts. Mango groves

A Wayuu girl A woman selling bags in Cabo Wayuu women

Definitely a barren landscape reminding me of Carlos Castaneda books – the desserts of North Mexico or Sergio Leone spaghetti western flicks filmed in the desserts of Sicily. Don’t think I could live here long but there’s a stark peace to the arid landscapes and star filled skies – so simple, seemingly lifeless, infinite, and void. The people living here are poor but scratch out a living from their environment through fishing, tourism, weaving hand bags, goat farming, salt and coal mining and contraband. The Colombian government doesn’t seem to care about the Guajira reservation and the Wayuu seem happy living well outside the box – leaving things the way they are and for them the way they should be.

It was a long day trip back across the desert. It was a Saturday and there were kids all over putting ropes across the road to stop your car so they could come up and ask for money. We soon depleted our stash of candy and cookies to give them. Towards late afternoon we arrived at the town of Urbia, – the largest town and the indigenous capital city of Guijara and stopped at the market.


Caribbean Coast: Guajira Peninsula coast

The Guajira Peninsula (Fig. 2) is a main morphostructural element consisting of tectonically raised blocks of metamorphic, granitic, and sedimentary rocks (Jurassic to Tertiary in age), adjacent to sedimentary basins, and grabens filled with Tertiary limestones, cherts, and claystones (Robertson 1998). The Quaternary of the Guajira Peninsula is mainly represented by extensive colluvial-alluvial deposits, and recent sandy barriers and marine lagoons.


The Guajira Peninsula coastline from Castilletes (Gulf of Maracaibo) to Dibulla is about 280 km long (Fig. 3). Spits, bars, and lagoons predominate along the internal shore of the Gulf of Maracaibo, whereas narrow beaches and cliffs are dominant along the Bahia Honda-Cabo de la Vela shore (Fig. 4).

South of Cabo de La Vela, the Guajira Peninsula coast is dominated by narrow beaches, minor deltaic accumulations, and spit-lagoon segments near the mouths of the primary coastal rivers (Fig. 5). These coastal-plain deposits are located seaward of extensive erosional platforms cut into Tertiary mudstones.


Cabo de Vela

Walk to the Pilon De Azucar and its beautiful gold-sand beach (about 5km/1hour) or to the lighthouse El Faro (4km/1 hour) to catch the sunset.

In the village itself there is not much to do, apart from chilling out by the beach or kitesurfing. The strong wind during the day makes the heat tolerable and is a great spot for kitesurfers.


Why consider booking our Colombia National Parks Tour? Because for the same price, our tour gets you to ALL places for which Colombia is famous, and on top of that, you get to see 7 National Parks/Reserves accompanied by a naturalist guide. There is nothing similar on the market. As Colombia can be combined with other countries, we organize tours in modules: Bogota and surrounding Andes, Caribbean Coast and the Amazon of Ecuador; the latter for the Colombian Amazon still not being recommended for foreign visitors. Colombia is a very large country, so you need to fly. To do so at hardly any additional costs, you need to book both Bogota and Cartagena - and Quito if you want to include the Amazon module - in your international ticket.

Destinations Overview:  Bogota old town, Cartagena, Villa de Leyva Zipaguira Salt Mine Church, Chingaza Reserve, Iguaque National Park, Flamencos Reserve, Cienega Mangroves Reserve, Lake Fuquene, Tayrona National Park, Manaure Salt Flats.



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