Colombia’s La Guajira Desert is a unique coastal desert that is covered in sand dunes, arid landscapes, and exquisite beaches. Getting here can be somewhat of a challenge, making this region's one of the least visited areas frequented by tourists—but the wild landscapes and endless desert landscapes are highly rewarding.
To get to La Guajira, most travel to Ríohacha, which is the largest city and main gateway to the region. Ríohacha is about 107 miles (172 km) northeast of Santa Marta. From Ríohacha, you can visit further into the desert from the smaller town of Uribia.
Travel is done via jeeps or trucks since there no scheduled buses that make it to deeper into the desert. The roads can be long, dusty, and bumpy due to the isolated environment and lack of infrastructure in the area. If you are up for a challenge, you can continue traveling north from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallinas. Punta Gallinas is the most northern point found in South America.
In general, public transportation in this part of Colombia can be unreliable and inconsistent. If you don’t want the added worry about travel logistics, try this 12-day tour—besides a visit to La Guajira, highlights include Cartagena, fishing in the remote fishing village of La Boquilla, and tubing down the Don Diego River.
From Santa Marta to Riohacha
Duration: 4 hours
The journey from Riohacha from Santa Marta is a short four-hour bus ride from the Santa Marta terminal or by flagging down an eastbound bus on the road.
From Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela
Duration: 2.5 to 3 hours
If you want to go deeper into the desert, the route gets a bit more complicated. From Riohacha, you will need to take a shared taxi to Uribia which takes about an hour and a half. Upon arrival in Uribia, you will have to switch to a jeep for Cabo de la Vela.
This trip takes another hour and a half before arriving in Cabo de la Vela. Shared jeeps and taxis can take a while before departing, as they wait before leaving until they are completely full of people or goods, so patience is key. We recommend starting early in the morning because most transportation stops in the afternoon.
Duration: 1 hour and 40 minutes to 26 hours
You can fly directly to Riohacha, which is the capital of the Guajira Department. But Riohacha’s small Almirante Padilla Airport (RCH) has flights available from Bogotá’s El Dorado Airport (BOG) via Viva Air and Avianca Airlines. Nonstop flights take one hour and 40 minutes.
There are also buses that depart from Bogotá's Terminal Salitre Terminal headed for Riohacha offered by different companies.They all have different timetables for this route, varying from 19 to 26 hours. This route is not recommended due to the distance alone and is not recommended for the faint of heart.