From Santa Marta, the distance to Cabo de la Vela in La Guajira Desert is 215 miles (346 km). This journey should take a big chunk of your day, you should arrive between 7 to 8 hours. To get to the desert, the first thing you have to do is get to Riochacha the largest city near the desert before continuing on to Uribia to catch a 4x4 to the desert.
There are no direct flights from Santa Marta to Riohacha so going by public bus or colectivo are the best options for public transport. The route usually takes 7 to 8 hours via bus. Private transfers are recommended over self-driving, though it can be an expensive option at this distance, but this option will give you door to door service and the option to stop at attractions along the way.
Consider this 14-day itinerary—it includes beaches, sailing, hiking, and relaxation. You'll start off in the colonial city of Cartagena with a speedboat trip to Rosario Islands, and travel by 4x4 to the Guajira Peninsula. You’ll then spend time hiking in Tayrona National Park, surrounded by tropical rainforests and one of the few coral reefs in Colombia.
By Private Transfer
Duration: 5 to 6.5 hours, depending on stops
Transportation options in this region can be complicated, especially if your Spanish is limited. Because of this, you may wish to go for a Private Transfer to Uribía instead. If you go for this option, you may want to take full advantage of the stops and visit Los Flamencos, a protected Nature Sanctuary along the route where many flamingos call home.
By Public Bus or Colectivo
Duration: 6 to 7.5 hours
A public bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha should take about 3.5 hours. You can either catch a bus from the main terminal or even from the petrol station on the main highway outside of town, which also serves as an unofficial bus station. From Riohacha, you can take a colectivo or public bus to Uribia, which should take a little over an hour.
From Uribia, you can take a 4x4 truck to Cabo de la Vela, which should take between 1.5 to 2 hours. Times will vary because all methods require a full vehicle before they will continue on to the next destination.