11 Epic Reasons You Must Visit the Surreal Colombian Coastal Deserts of La Guajira at Least Once

The Guajira Desert
The Guajira Desert | © Chris Bell 
The surreal northern deserts of Colombia’s La Guajira department are unlike anything else in South America: a wild desert region on the Caribbean coast, where giant sand dunes roll down into sparkling blue waters, and pink flamingos fly over bright-red salt lakes. La Guajira defies expectation and is easily one of Colombia’s most stunning regions. Here are 12 epic reasons why you shouldn’t miss out on a trip.

You’ll never experience anywhere else like it

There really is no other part of Colombia that is anything like La Guajira: the region’s unique combination of desert, Caribbean Sea and coastal scrub forest make it unlike any other region in the country. You could travel throughout Colombia’s other 31 departmental regions and never experience anywhere like La Guajira –and that probably goes for the rest of South America as well.

Beach in La Guajira © Chris Bell

You can visit the beginning (or end) of a continent

Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point of La Guajira, is also the most northerly point of South America. Standing underneath the lighthouse which marks the most northern point, you can truly say that you have arrived at the start (or end, depending on your perspective) of the vast continent.

You can roll down giant sand dunes into the Caribbean

Where else can you roll down a giant sand dune right into the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea? You can do just that in La Guajira, specifically at the Taroa Dunes, a breathtaking series of dune formations near Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point of South America. The dunes are gigantic and you may get a tad dizzy rolling down them, but it’s worth it for the unique experience.

The giant dunes of La Guajira © Chris Bell

Burrowing owls and pink flamingos

Even the wildlife is surreal in La Guajira, and the birds especially so. From bright-pink flamingoes at the Los Flamencos Sanctuary in Camarones, to tiny little owls that live in burrows in the desert, the remarkable and unique biodiversity of the region is yet another great reason to visit.

The surreal deserts are a photographer’s dream

If you enjoy taking photographs and experimenting with filters and colour, La Guajira may just be your dream destination (and you might just find that those filters are unnecessary here). The surreal sand dunes, bizarrely coloured lakes and salt flats and vast open skies make for some truly immense shots.

A red salt lake in La Guajira  © Chris Bell

You can learn about one of South America’s most resilient indigenous peoples

The Wayuu people of La Guajira are Colombia’s largest indigenous group and have lived in these harsh deserts for hundreds of years. They were never conquered by the Spanish and have developed a unique and resilient culture in response to their tough desert surroundings. You can visit a Rancheria hotel in La Guajira to learn more about their remarkable culture.

Wayuu people  © Tanenhaus / Flickr

The sunsets will blow your mind

The sunsets in La Guajira are some of the best in Colombia, and perhaps in South America, and they are easily one of the most compelling reasons to visit this desert peninsula. The best can be seen from the tourism capital of Cabo de La Vela which, with its westerly facing location and calm Caribbean waters, never fails to produce a mind-blowing sunset.

It’s still a real adventure

Travelling in La Guajira (although you can now visit with a package tour) remains a true traveller’s experience and one of the most adventurous trips you can take in Colombia. Travelling through the region on local public transport remains a truly authentic travel experience, and there’s nothing quite like exploring the deserts of Cabo de La Vela on the back of a local’s motorbike.

Travelling in La Guajira, Colombia © Chris Bell

You can sample the world’s cheapest and tastiest lobster

The food is La Guajira is generally either goat meat or fish, but one real highlight is the chance to enjoy fresh lobster for a fraction of the price you’ll pay anywhere else. Not only is the lobster cheap, it’s also amazingly fresh and delicious. If you’re feeling really fancy, you could literally order lobster every day (and it’s so good that you probably wouldn’t get bored, either).

Cabo de La Vela Beach  © Chris Bell

There’s nowhere better to kitesurf than Cabo de La Vela

The one-street town of Cabo de La Vela has become the touristic capital of La Guajira in recent years, thanks to its excellent kitesurfing, proximity to gorgeous natural landscapes and the fact that the stunning beach runs along the entire front of the town. You can literally step out of your hammock, walk a few feet and throw yourself into that azure blue water.

The bay of Cabo de La Vela (meaning ‘Cape of the Sail’, which probably explains the quality of the water sports here) is arguably the best spot in South America to practice kitesurfing. There are dedicated kitesurfing hostels where you can sign up for classes or just take a one-off lesson, and the winds blow almost 365 days a year, making for some epic windsurfing as well.

You can sleep in a hammock under the desert sky

Even the accommodation in La Guajira is epic! While there are places that offer a basic bed for the night, most travellers in La Guajira opt to sleep in chinchorros, giant, locally woven hammocks that are so big that you can sleep diagonally in them and cover yourself with the edges. Sleeping wrapped in a hammock under the desert sky and thousands of stars is an unforgettable Colombian travel experience.

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