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The Flamencos Sanctuary is located near the little town of Camarones on the road from Santa Marta to Riohacha (capital of Guajira). Here you can enjoy some of the best birdwatching on the Caribbean coast (see below), but the main draw here is the large resident population of colourful pink American Flamingos. You can sail out to see them with a local guide (no motors, so as not to disturb the birds) and to enjoy one of the natural world’s most beautiful sites.
Los Flamencos Nature Sanctuary, Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia +57 310 2771745
Guajira encompasses everything from the jungles and crystalline rivers of Palomino to the arid deserts of Punta Gallinas; from the paradise beaches of Cabo de La Vela to the forgotten cloud forests of Macuira. At first glance, La Guajira may seem like a bleak and even forbidding place, but the diversity and contrasts that abound there make for a truly unique travel experience.
The Wayuu people are one of the most unique and numerous of Colombia’s Indigenous peoples. Never conquered by the Spanish, they live hard lives in the extreme heat and drought of the Guajira deserts. However, they possess a unique and fascinating culture, one which you can learn all about by staying at a Rancheria (like an authentic Wayuu hotel). The best of these is Rancheria Utta near Cabo de La Vela, where you can sample authentic food, and learn local dances and music.
Cabo de la Vela, Guajira, Uribia, La Guajira, Colombia +57 313 8178076
The waters around Cabo de La Vela in La Guajira are famous for having some of the best – and most consistent – kitesurfing in the world. The flat bay facing the town has year-round winds, perfect for practising the extreme sport, and for windsurfing as well. There are a couple of kitesurfing schools and hostels, so whatever your level, you can enjoy the activity.
The Wayuu are especially famous for their stunning, handmade mochilas or shoulder bags. These bags, with their bright colourful patterns and geometric shapes (all informed by the myths and legends of the Wayuu), have become quite the fashion accessory all around the world in recent years, and La Guajira is the best place to pick one up at a good price. However, avoid haggling too much: many Wayuu are very poor and need the money that souvenir shopping brings.
Macuira National Natural Park is one of Colombia’s 40+ national parks and is also one of the least well-known and most underrated. Like an oasis in the otherwise bone-dry deserts of Guajira, Macuira is home to epic sand dunes, waterfalls, and even elfin cloud forest in the heart of the desert. It can be tricky to get there, but it’s worth it if you want to explore a truly wild and beautiful corner of the country.
There really is nowhere else in Colombia where you can experience desert as you can in La Guajira. The other famous Colombian ‘desert’ is Tatacoa, but that is officially classified as a ‘semi-arid area’ and is nothing like the wild vastness of the Guajira deserts. The fact that these vast expanses of sand are located on the Caribbean coast makes for some truly unique places: the huge Taroa Dunes and Macuira National Park being two good examples.
Punta Gallinas is famously known as the most northern point on the South American continent. It’s a wild and isolated place, where huge sand dunes crash into the Caribbean and flamingos live on turquoise bays. The exact most northerly point is a lighthouse which can be visited as part of any Punta Gallinas tour. It’s quite something standing at this point and knowing that there is no more north to visit in South America!
It might not seem that such dry desert could support much wildlife, but the scrubby forest surrounding Camarones is one of the best birding sites in Colombia. Apart from the aforementioned Flamingos, the area supports populations of Guajira endemic species such as the stunning Vermillion Cardinal, the elusive Tocuyo Sparrow, and the lovely Buffy Hummingbird.
The beaches of the Guajira are unlike any others in Colombia, and beach-lovers will have an amazing time exploring the paradise sands of Cabo de La Vela, Punta Gallinas, Camarones, and Mayapo. They might not be the white-sand and palm trees image of the classic Caribbean beach, but spots like Taroa, Playa del Pilon, and Mayapo beach are as stunning as any others you will see.
Travelling to La Guajira is far from the easy backpacking circuit further along the coast in Santa Marta and Cartagena. There’s no Wi-Fi, no hot water (showers are taken from a bucket), and travelling involves long and dusty drives in jeeps and open-backed trucks. It might not appeal to the flashpacker demographic, but those looking for a real travel adventure in Colombia should look no further than La Guajira.