Visiting Cabo de la Vela, Colombia: Practical Guide For Adventurers

Cabo de la Vela is one of those less crowded and more withdrawn places on the Colombian Caribbean coast, but if you have a sense of adventure and a spirit of an explorer, you should definitely give it a shot.

The region of Guajira is culturally distinct from the rest of Colombia and the desert makes for a whole different experience than the rest of the Caribbean coast. The village has an easygoing vibe that captured me in spite of lack of luxuries such as a shower (sweet water is precious) or internet. (No, wait, I actually enjoy not having internet.)

While Guajira in the 90´s was one of the most violent regions according to the statistics, it can nowadays be visited without any trouble and you will easily get by just using your common sense.

I believe you should visit Cabo de la Vela without a tour agency (unless you directly hire someone local) and spend your money locally, where it is needed the most – in this article, I will elaborately describe how to go about it.

This Cabo de la Vela guide will explain to you:

  1. How to get to Cabo de la Vela without a tour agency (Whew! Adventure!)
  2. Getting around over there and finally
  3. Why Cabo de la Vela is worth the trip.

Ready Freddy? Let´s go.

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Cabo de la Vela is a small Wayuu village in the desert of Guajira, Colombia

Read more: A detailed guide to Bogotá, Colombia

How to get to Cabo de la Vela (Colombia) without a tour agency

Cabo de la Vela is a village in the desert of Guajira; in order to get there, you will need at least a basic knowledge of Spanish (or a good cheat sheet / google translator in your phone – then again, careful about flashing that fancy iPhone of yours in the streets of Colombia! Safety first.) and around 30.000 pesos.

If you arrived to Riohacha in the afternoon or evening, you might want to spend a night here and continue in the morning as it is a long way and you might be too late to find some transportation after dark.

Read more: How to avoid dengue fever when you travel

Please note that the prices I mention may vary – I traveled in a group of five people so the especially price for the jeep divided among all of us. As for the (mini)buses, the price should be more or less the same. Details below:

First step: Riohacha to Cuatro Vías de Maicao

First of all, get your royal self to the town of Riohacha. There are even flights coming here from Bogota (that´s how I got there), but maybe you will come with a bus from Santa Marta, Palomino or another village on the Caribbean coast. Once in Riohacha, find a bus that will take you to Quatro Vías de Maicao (finding a bus shouldn’t be too much of an issue since they are all happily honking together in the downtown – finding the right bus is where you´ll use your impeccable knowledge of Spanish vocab)  – don´t sweat it though, if you manage to look stupid er, I mean lost enough, some local mamita will just take you by the elbow and lead you where it´s at.

The price from Riohacha to Cuatro Vías will be about 4000 COP (summer 2015 price).

Second step: Cuatro Vías de Maicao to Uribia

You should try to get to Cuatro Vías during the daylight hours so that you can still find some transportation available. Obviously, when we got there, it was already dark, but a local police officer helped us out – after a bit of talking, somebody called their cousin who agreed to come pick us up and bring us all the way to Cabo de la Vela. (*virtual high five!*)

Price from Cuatro Vías to Uribia: 4000COP (in 2015, but shouldn’t vary too much)

Third step: Uribia to Cabo de la Vela (weee, finally!)

Now, Uribia is a small village and it is not really that lively after dark. (It is also THE best spot to buy a locally hand made mochila – a colorful handbag – when it comes to variety; just sayin´. That is because it is the capital indígena of the region.) However, you can find a jeep or a 4×4 (they call them willy in Colombia) to cross the desert and get to the village. This will take about two hours.

Price: 20.000COP (2015)

I know all of this sounds a bit complicated, but don´t worry – listen to the Colombian advice and keep tranquilo. Everything will sort itself out if you just relax and go with the flow.

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Home of a family

Getting around in Cabo de la Vela

Before you set on the journey to Cabo, you should know that it is a teeny tiny village. Since it is in the desert and only accessible by the willys, everything is slightly more expensive over there – except for fish, of course. And lobster.

Cabo de la Vela checklist:

  • Bring a lot of water (buy a 5L bag in Riohacha and bring your bottle to refill)(okay, it´s not that big of a tragedy – 5L water bag in Cabo de la Vela costs 5000COP which is double of the normal price, but it won´t kill you either.)
  • Bring some food (very important if you don´t want to eat fried potatoes and co. all the time. There are not much veggies or fruits in Cabo de la Vela – if you have a food allergy and such, prepare accordingly as fresh food will cost you around double of the usual price.)
  • Sunscreen. It´s in the desert.
  • Hammock / light summer tent: if you are a stingy witch like me, or simply like the fresh air, bring your own stuff to sleep. There are roofs to hang your hammock or set your tent on the beach, which is great for the shadow – it only rains like once in five years, so that shouldn´t worry you. Bringing your own hammock will save you a couple pesos.
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Simple accommodation

Where to stay

In the village (that actually consists of one street) you can rent a hammock for about 7000COP. A room will be a little more pricey, but I would nevertheless opt for the hammock as it is a lot more fresh. Or is it just me who find guesthouse rooms in deserts suffocating?

My personal biased tip is to ask around for a guy named Sierra – he has a house a little bit outside of the village. He will let you camp or hang your hammock under his roof, but he is also a great person and you can support his cute family this way.

Read more: Chasing waterfalls in Putumayo, Colombia

Sierra can take you for a trip in his boat, make you fried fish for the best price (although you mostly pay 20.000COP for fried fish on the Caribbean coast, we were paying about 7000COP in Cabo de la Vela) and give you local tips about the place. He can also help you buy water for a cheaper price – 1500COP a gallon – it is filtered water that they bring from Uribia that the locals drink; we drank it and we were all fine, but if you want, use a water filter.

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Trip in a boat with Sierra and his two sons was one of the highlights of my time in Cabo.

Why you should visit and stuff to do in Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela is a small village on the Caribbean coast in Colombia, almost on the border with Venezuela. This region is called Guajira and the locals that have never been conquered and colonized by the Spanish, are called Wayuus. In fact, they don´t identify themselves as Colombians.

Local culture

is a reason enough to come here – the people here speak their own language and live by their own rules. Before visiting, you might want to look at some documentaries about their beliefs and lifestyle that you can find on Youtube. (…in Spanish.)

Stargazing in the desert

is another reason – it is a unique natural setting and the night sky is the most beautiful I have ever witnessed. In the night, go out to the desert, lay on a blanket and watch the falling stars. I visited in July and I swear there´s been tens, if not hundreds, of them falling at night! (And it´s not because I was high, mind you.) If you love staring at the Milky Way, this is the right place for you.

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Houses are made of the “heart of cactus”

Simple life

You should know that the water is scarce in the desert and behave accordingly – since a company has taken away the flow of the local river for industrial purposes, many people have been dying of thirst. Please be respectful of that and don´t waste water.

I urge you to travel to Cabo de la Vela without a tour agency because that way you can make sure that your money goes to the local people and not to the pocket of those big, rich multinational guys that have started taking over the Colombian tourism. I assure you Wayuu people do need those resources.

There is no electricity in the desert, except for that of a generator that has been installed in the past few years.

Lack of a paved road means that the village is hard to access and therefore calm and not visited by many. You will be able to enjoy the natural rhythm of life, silence and stunning natural scenery with the sun rising and setting over a land of completely flat soft sand.

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Pilón de azúcar

Swim by the Pilón de Azúcar

An hour of a walk under the scorching sun (5 km), or a short ride away (5000COP) is the Pilón de Azúcar (Sugar Column) with a bay perfect for a swim. The water has exactly that famous clear, transparent, turquoise color you know from the catalog your favorite travel blog – it is here that I got convinced that those photos were actually not photo-shopped! Or at least, not as heavily as I thought.

Don´t be lazy and get your ass up the hill when you are already there – the view is beauuutiful. (*heavy Slavic accent on*)

In July when I visited, it was the season of the aguamalas (jelly fish) which were faking innocence along all the coast in the village, but by the Pilón de Azúcar it was okay to swim.

(When you get burned by an aguamala, be sure to wash the hurt skin with pee as it is neutralizing the venom. Not kidding, just do it. Otherwise, you risk a lot of itching and burning and in the worst case, even fever and a hospital!)

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Sunset at the land of the dead
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Land of the dead

Sunset at the Land of dead

This is not a name of a zombie movie; according to the Wayuu people, walking towards the west outside from the village, you will soon walk into the land of the dead. I can see why they say that – the sand is full of broken shells and little bones that turn white and grey at the dusk.

Do yourself the favor and go see the sunset over there – you will probably have to ask for the way as you will be walking across somebody´s garden half of the time. (Tierra de los muertos in Spanish.)

Read more: Why you can not travel for free?

After a while of walking (it is not too far, maybe a half an hour, one hour) you will reach the coast where you can see an impressive sunset. You should also take your time and see the sunrise which is amazing in the desert.

Nearby is also a cave called Cueva del Indio – I believe you can get there swimming or by boat. Ask around.

Natural lifestyle

All of the buildings here are made of el corazón del cactus – the heart of the cactus – although it looks like bamboo, in reality, this hollow wood must be cleaned from its nasty sharp spikes before anyone can use it. It is also the only material available in this natural setting of Guajira.

The goats chew scarce bushes, while kids run around and women in long flowing dresses and with nets protecting their hair from the wind sit in front of their simple houses, watching you pass by and gossiping.

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Wayuu woman frying fish

Fried fish, fried potatoes, fried everything

Veggies and fruits are whether absent at the shop, or excruciatingly expensive (well…not if you are on a westerner budget, but I´m a penny peso pincher, remember?) , but hey, who would complain about that when it is actually the perfect reason to devour your weight in freshly fished food? I think I must say no more!

You can get some of the Colombian fried delights such as salchipapa and empanadas for a fair price in the shops – and you have the satisfying excuse to indulge in this unhealthy diet as there is little else to eat.

Buy local products and get to know Wayuu culture

The original population of Colombian coast retains many of its traditions; one of the typical signs, widely adopted by most of modern Colombians too, is using a mochila. Mochila is a handmade bag; every tribe has their own typical colors and patterns by which you can recognize them.

The typical mochilas of Wayuus are wildly colorful. Traditionally, they were made with a string produced with goat hair, but nowadays you can also find a cheaper variation made with normal cotton.

According to the customs, a Wayuu wife makes a mochila for her husband during the first year of marriage – she uses the best, thinnest goat hair string and so it takes ages to finish it. This mochila is the best quality you can imagine – you can carry boiling hot stones in it and it still won´t break. A mochila like this should last you a lifetime.

Read more: The amazing secret island of Pantelleria – a hitchhiker´s guide

Although the Wayuu did not sell their mochilas to outsiders before, you can buy them nowadays. If you want to support the local community, you will do the best if you buy yours directly from them. I bought mine in Cabo de la Vela for around 35.000COP – the prices vary depending on the size, quality of string and how complicated is the pattern. A best, original goat hair mochila will cost you around 200.000COP which is not so much considering the time, effort and complications to produce the material.

As for the quality, my mochila is still fit after one and a half year of heavy use – it is starting to wear off at the shoulder belt where it rubs with my backpack strap. I use it daily so I am rather surprised it still has no holes in it!

You can also buy clothes, handmade jewelry and other souvenirs here.

You might want to check out the coral stones that are believed to protect from the “bad eye” and that you can see on children’s wrists most often.

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The sea at Cabo de la Vela has a beautiful color

Try kite surfing

It is always windy around here which makes Cabo a popular kite surfing spot. I haven´t tried it myself, but supposedly, prices vary around 80 – 100.000COP for one hour of a lesson.

Visiting Cabo de la Vela

Guajira in general is an area of Colombia I wish to explore more in the future; its unique culture, serious and fair locals and rough life conditions have charmed me and I do hope to go back for a longer time when I am back in Colombia.

Guajira actually spreads on both sides of the Colombian – Venezuelan border, although due to the current political situation I doubt I will explore Venezuela any time soon.

I hope this post helped you to figure out how to get to Cabo de la Vela and inspired you to actually undertake the somewhat complicated journey – I promise it is worth all the effort!

Remember to bring enough water (and cash as there is no ATM) and when you are back, let me how you liked it.

Have you visited Cabo de la Vela? Share your experience! Got more tips? Enlighten me and the other readers in the comments section. You know I read and answer every single comment, so don´t be shy!

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29 Comments

  1. Each time I read this piece I love it more! Sounds like such an adventure – one I’ll definitely be copying on my next trip to Colombia. I didn’t even know about the Wayuu people (and their bags) – thanks for the great post x

    • Oh, thank you so much for the praise, Julianna! Wayuu people managed to preserve their culture for a long time, but sadly, the government is not doing anything to stop companies from damaging their life beyond any measure…I do hope you get to visit Cabo as it is such a lovely place! 🙂

  2. Sky

    This is one of the best guides to any destination that I’ve ever seen! Thank you for all of the time and effort you put into this. Colombia isn’t on my radar until next year but I would definitely love to visit Cabo de la Vela. Learning about local cultures is important to me as I travel and I would love to learn about the Wayuu.

  3. This looks like a great off the beaten path adventure. I love the picture with the land of the dead…and the one with the woman frying the fish. I think you managed to capture the soul of the place. We hope to get to Columbia one day!

  4. Okay I’ve gotta say this right off the bat… water is sold in bags?! What?! That’s crazy!! Also I can’t even begin to imagine what a culturally dense trip this was. It sounds like chicken soup for the soul!

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