Your Motorcycle Guide to La Guajira
Cabo de la Vela the entry point for almost all tourists and travellers visiting the desert of la Guajira. The first foreigners to land in the area and attempt to settle were actually lead by a German, Nikolaus Federmann in the 1530´s while out searching for the legendary lost city of El Dorado, but he was quickly made to leave by the local indigenous people called Arawaks (ancestors of the current indigenous population, the Wayuu), and moved his settlement down to Riohacha.
How to get there from Riohacha
There are 2 ways to head north once you leave our office in Riohacha. You can take the coastal route, which is a mix of single track, off road trails and gravel roads that will take you up along the coast past Mayapo beach, through Manaure, then inland to Uribia (2.5 hours), or you can follow the main highway south-east, then take the north-east highway from Cuatro Vias to Uribia (1.5 hours).
From Uribia, you will continue for approximately 1-hour on a gravel road, until you see the turnoff for Cabo de la Vela. The turnoff has a sign, and a new asphalt road that runs for around 2 kilometres before it ends and you start riding through desert sands. There is no signage once you are in the desert, but if you are arriving in the early-mid afternoon there will be cars and trucks coming back from Cabo de la Vela to Uribia which you can use to highlight the direction you should ride to reach the town.
If in the rare case that there are no vehicles around, keep the ocean in sight on the left hand side, drive north along the trail that looks most used, and it will be very obvious when you find your destination. The drive from the turnoff from the gravel road to Cabo de la Vela should take around 1-hour with no stops.
We recommend leaving Riohacha before 10 am and taking the coastal route north. It takes a little longer, but the ride is much more interesting, and you get to pass through Manaure, where you can find a local guide to show you around the nearby indigenous salt flats (10.000 COP per moto).
The highway route can be a little boring, but it is very straightforward to navigate if you are worried about getting lost, and much quicker if you are running short on time.
How to navigate
Download the app maps.me, or another offline maps program on your phone, and combined with the map above, you should have more than enough information to make your way to Cabo.
Ask locals too. They will probably regard you with curiosity, especially in Manaure or another town rarely visited by tourists, but they will happily point you in the right direction.
What to See and Do
Riohacha and surrounds
Camarones: Small fishing village approximately 15km south of Riohacha. Pay a local guide 20.000 pesos for a 2-3 hour trip through the nature reserve containing 100’s of pink flamingos.
On the coast approximately 30 minutes north of Riohacha. Busy on weekends, almost empty weekdays. Seafood lunches and drinks available. Agree on a price before ordering (fresh fish with salad, rice, patacones approx. 20.000 COP)
On the coast, 1.5 hours north of Riohacha. Explore the Indigenous salt flats just south of the town with a local guide. 10.000 COP per bike, includes entry and a 1-hour tour of the area. Entry is not “officially” allowed without a guide. Flamingos are often found at the south-western end of the salt pools. Menu del dia available at restaurants on the main road in town, approximately 8.000 COP.
4 way intersection between the Riohacha-Maicao highway and the northern road to Uribia. A lot of street food (try the goat), and a place to buy cheap fuel.
Indigenous capital of La Guajira. Last stop for normal priced water, snacks, food and gas before entering the desert. Restaurante Donde Alvaro in the Plaza de Colombia is a good place for a decent menu del dia meal. Prices a little higher than normal, but still reasonable. Menu available in English.
Cabo de la Vela
El Faro lighthouse: 4km along the coast from El Cabo town. Beautiful sunset spot, fun riding tracks around the area.
Pilon de Azucar: Picturesque beach with sand dunes. Climb the hill for a great view of the area.
El Arcoiris: Just past Pilon de Azucar where the surging waves blow mist up through the rocks, creating a striking rainbow in the right conditions.
El ojo de agua: Rocky beach and with a freshwater pool next to the ocean. Connects with the sea at certain times of the year.
A 4-hour ride from Cabo de la Vela in the dry season, and up to 6-hours in the wet season due to the need to use a different road. This journey to the northernmost point of South America should not be attempted without an indigenous guide, and we have listed the names and contact phone numbers of our 3 trusted guys in the “safety” section of this handout.
Check out the Dunas de Taroa, Puerto Bolivar and Bahía Hondita. Spend the night in an indigenous hammock (chinchorro). They’re super comfortable. Hospedaje Luzmila is the number 1 place to stay in Punta Gallinas. Hammocks and private rooms are both available at a reasonable price.
experienced adventure riders that want to get way off the beaten track. If you are going to attempt the trek across the desert,
please use a local
guide. Although this area is less dangerous than it used to be, it is still VERY strongly recommended that foreigners do not try and travel in this region without the aid of a local, indigenous
Those that do make the trek however, will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular landscape in Colombia, and arguably the world. The park is a lush, green oasis in the middle of the desert, with a very large, orange sand dune splitting it down the centre. Those who make it here can claim to be one of the few people outside the area ever to visit.
What to see/do off the bike
Kitesurfing: Check out our friends at Kite Addicts, the longest running and best reputed company in Cabo de la Vela. They also have an office in Riohacha.
Jetski: Rent off of
the beach for around 100.000 COP per 30 minutes.
Buy Indigenous handcrafts: Mochila:
Small for 15-20.000 COP, large from 40.000 to 100.000 COP depending on quality/intricacy.
Bracelet: 1.000 COP.
Chinchorro Hammock: 500.000 to 1.500.000 depending on quality/intricacy.
Where to stay
Rancheria Utta: One of the nicest places to stay in Cabo de la Vela. Located approximately 5 minutes ride past the end of Cabo de la Vela town, on the beach. Private rooms for 80.000 COP, hammocks for 25.000 and have running water as well as electricity for a longer period of time than most other places in Cabo.
Jepira Inn: At the northern end of Cabo de la Vela. One of the last buildings on the right. Manager’s name is Jose, and will help you with just about anything you need in Cabo. Super friendly. Great lobster for a good price, but ask in advance. Indigenous style hammocks for 20-25.000 COP, or privates for 120.000 COP per room (3 beds). Fluctuates a little depending on the time of year.
What to eat/drink
Lobster/Langosta: Start at 25.000 for a small one and go up to 50.000 for a large (seriously, LARGE, like, serves 2 people).
“imported” from Venezuela. Only 250ml, but only 2.000 COP per beer. Great to sit and drink a few on the beach while watching the kitesurfers do their thing in the evenings.
Fish empanadas: Freely
available at most carts on the main road. 1-1.500 COP each.
Heading to Punta Gallinas or Nazareth?
Hire a guide. The desert routes between Cabo de la Vela, Punta Gallinas and Nazareth are very difficult to navigate without knowledge of the area, and there is still a real danger of running into the wrong people. You don’t need to do a guided/4-wheel drive tour unless you want to, however we strongly recommend contacting one of our 3 guides and arranging an escort across the desert the evening before you depart. They ride their own bikes while showing you the safest/quickest route and keeping you out of harm's way. Price will be 125.000COP one way, and doesn’t matter how many people are making the trip, so team up with others to keep costs down.
Luis: +57 313 774 9867 (The man the middle. Use him if possible)
Alexander & Jonnifer: 2 brothers, 1 number +57 312 607 4937
If all the guides are busy or unavailable, contact us and we’ll find you another.
Don’t ride after dark. Ever.
Make sure you plan to arrive in Cabo de la Vela well before sunset (4:30 pm at the latest), which means passing through Uribia no later than 3pm. The road is dotted with potholes and rubbish, and the complete lack of street lights in the surrounding areas makes it damn near impossible to see. The main road in Cabo is reasonably safe to walk around for several hours after sunset, but when the electricity shuts off (around 10:30 pm), most people will head back to their accommodation.
On the way to Cabo de la Vela, you will encounter groups of children (and sometimes adults) holding ropes across the road as makeshift toll points. The idea is to stop you and get money. You can often ride around these people and their ropes, or just be persistent and insist they lower it. If you see no other option, a bag of water, a snack, or a donation of 500 COP is enough to get them to lower it. You may see 1 or 2 or you may see 30 or 40 of these roadblocks, it just depends on the time of year. Approach with caution and don’t try and drive through the rope, as some of them are not rope, but metal chains. If you do need to stop, keep an eye out for children sneaking behind you on the bike to “inspect” your luggage. Make sure your bags are locked and everything is packed away.
Always park the bike in a safe and secure area, with the steering lock engaged. Our recommended accommodations both have a secure parking area for you, but if you choose to stay elsewhere, make sure there is a secure place to leave the bike. Very rarely does anything happen to people using the right amount of brains and caution.
Sand dunes in Punta Gallinas
Where to get help with the bike
Flat tires. In the centre
of Cabo de la Vela town there is a large tire repair place (llanteria). You will see 4-wheel drives, cars and motorcycles lined up to use their service. If the tire just needs to be patched, it
will cost you maximum 7.000 COP. If you need a new tube, there is a hardware store (ferreteria) about 100m south of the tire repair place. Rear tubes are 17 inch, and front tubes are 19 inches.
18 inch will work in emergency cases if you cannot find a 19 inch tube. The size is written on the packet, and they should cost around 20.000 COP.
If you run out of gas, the bikes have a reserve tank that will get you another 30-40km. The dial is a metal switch on the left side of the bike, underneath the gas tank. Point it down to access the reserve fuel.
If your chain comes off and doesn’t appear to be damaged in any way, place the chain on the rear sprocket (pointy disc on the back wheel), and roll the bike backwards. It should click back into place. Tighten the chain as soon as possible, or ask somebody to tighten it for you if you don’t know how.
If your clutch cable (the wire that keeps tension on the left lever for changing gears) snaps, replace it with the one we provided you with. If you already used it, another cable should cost around 1.000 COP from a hardware store, or a little more if somebody needs to bring it to you. If you don’t know how to replace it yourself, wave down a passing moto and tip them for the service. Almost all locals will know how to do it.
For other problems with the bike, the guys at the Cabo llantería are the first place to ask. They may be able to help, and they can definitely send people to Uribia to get you parts if it is not something we have provided with the rental. If it is something more specific, they always know somebody who will be able to help you.
Outside of Cabo de la Vela, Uribia has licenced Honda mechanics that will be able to help, or if in the unfortunate case of you getting stuck roadside, passing locals (tour trucks are the best) are usually very friendly to stranded foreigners.
IMPORTANT NOTES ON BREAKDOWNS
In the extremely rare case that you damage your bike to the point where you cannot ride it, or in the even rarer case of mechanical failure that results in you being unable to operate the bike, you are still responsible for bringing the bike back safely to us. DO NOT leave it unattended in the desert. Get in contact with us as soon as possible as we have the contact information for trusted people and mechanics in the desert.
If there was a mechanical problem with the bike, and it comes to the point where we need to truck the bike back, call us and we will organise the tow at no expense to you, and refund you any missed rental days once both you and the bike have safely returned to Riohacha.