La Guajira: Part 1

Ever since moving to Colombia, one of my goals was to visit the peninsula of La Guajira, often likened to Colombia’s Wild West. La Guajira lies at the northernmost point of the country and South American continent. I wanted to experience the extreme desert landscape and the culture of the indigenous Wayúu people that live there. I got that chance when I decided to go with my girlfriend Marisol.

Because it’s very difficult and time consuming to get around in La Guajira, we decided to book a four day Punta Gallinas tour through Magic Tour Colombia. The cost was COP$780,000 per person, including all transportation, meals, lodging, and a guide. It was a great decision. The tour was extremely well organized and Pedro was a phenomenal guide. He explained everything thoroughly and was always checking on us to make sure we were happy and comfortable.

The tour began when Pedro picked us up in our hotel in Santa Marta at 4:45AM. We were driven a few hours away to Riohacha, the gateway to and capital of La Guajira. We had breakfast and changed vehicles to a large pickup truck with our Wayúu driver.

We had a bit of time to wander around Riohacha and do some souvenir shopping. Riohacha doesn’t have much to see except for a decent beach with a historic pier.

Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia

Riohacha

There’s an interesting monument full of faces and bodies of political and military figures, but my favorite thing about it was that it was topped off with a guy in a sombrero playing an accordion.

Monument in Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia

Monument in Riohacha

The main road along the beach is lined with Wayúu people selling traditional crafts like colorful mochilas (bags) and other souvenirs. This is the best place to buy them in all of La Guajira and Colombia. We were able to get mochilas for between COP$38,000 and $45,000 depending on the design. In other parts of Colombia, the price can be double or more.

Mochila vendors in Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia

Mochila vendors in Riohacha

When we finished lunch, we jumped into the pickup and headed for the salt mines of Manaure. Along the way, the driver stopped to buy watermelon from a Wayúu fruit stand on the road in the middle of nowhere.

Fruit stand in La Guajira, Colombia

Fruit stand

We made a quick drive through the town of Manaure, passing by the church, Iglesia Santa Rita de Casia, and through the small town center.

Iglesia Santa Rita de Casia in Manaure, La Guajira, Colombia

Iglesia Santa Rita de Casia

Manaure, La Guajira, Colombia

Manaure

Just outside of town are the salt mines, which makes up the main economy in the area. We were shown the mines and the processing plant. Pedro gave us an explanation of how the salt was produced, purified, and exported.

Salt mine in Manaure, La Guajira, Colombia

Salt mine

Salt mine in Manaure, La Guajira, Colombia

Salt mine

Salt mine in Manaure, La Guajira, Colombia

Salt mine

We were also approached by several barefoot Wayúu children that appeared out of nowhere. They were pulling at our pockets and asking for money and water. It was a sad sight but they seemed like happy children and wanted to pose for photos with us.

Marisol with Wayúu children in Manaure, La Guajira, Colombia

Marisol with Wayúu children

Our next stop was Uribia, the indigenous capital of Colombia. It wasn’t a long stop and there didn’t seem to be much in town anyway.

Uribia, La Guajira, Colombia

Uribia

The most interesting thing for me were the men selling bootlegged gasoline from nearby Venezuela. Gas is much cheaper there than in Colombia and people bring it across the porous border for a profit. They sell it in plastic barrels and jugs and even one liter water bottles. This was a recurring theme all over La Guajira. We would drive past small huts with signs advertising gas for sale and liter bottles of water filled with gasoline hanging from trees in the hot desert sun.

Bootlegged gas in Uribia, La Guajira, Colombia

Bootlegged gas in Uribia

After our short stop in Uribia, we set off on a long and bumpy ride to Cabo de la Vela.

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