Your complete motorcycle guide to enjoying La Guajira and its surroundings!
Background Information 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 led 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 on weekdays. Seafood lunches and drinks are 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 southwestern 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 are a little higher than normal, but still reasonable. Menu is available in English.
Kite surfing sunsets in Cabo de la Vela
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.
Only for 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 guide. 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 100.000 for a large (seriously, LARGE, like, serves 2 people).
Polarcítas: Beer “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. Seriously. 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. The 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: (Please contact us for up to date contact info)
Alexander & Jonnifer: 2 brothers, 1 number - (Please contact us for up to date contact info)
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 3 pm. 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. Rope kids.
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.