Cabo de la Vela is a small indigenous village in the desert of La Gaujira Peninsula in the far northern part of Colombia. It is also the main jumping off point for a visit to Punta Gallinas. However, the gorgeous landscapes in the immediate vicinity make it worth the time to visit Cabo de la Vela itself as well. Read on for a travel guide to Cabo de la Vela including how to get there, accommodations, and what to do when you visit.
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Why You Should Visit Cabo de la Vela
Cabo de la Vela (Spanish for Cape of Sails) itself is not much. It’s a small fishing village inhabited primarily by the Wayuú indigenous people with a handful of hostels and restaurants. It’s the surrounding area that is the main attraction. You can visit several beaches and see the beautiful scenery of the desert when you visit Cabo de la Vela.
For that reason, the town has become a popular ecotourism destination. It has also become a prime kite surfing location, with several schools where you can learn to kite surf set up towards the end of town. It is also where you can arrange transportation to Punta Gallinas, the farthest point north in Colombia and all of South America.
My wife and I visited Cabo de la Vela in July 2018 while en route to Punta Gallinas. By the way, if you are coming this far north, you really should consider taking at least one extra night to make the trip to Punta Gallinas. You can learn more about doing so by reading my travel guide to Punta Gallinas.
Even if, like us, you’re only stopping in Cabo to head to Punta Gallinas, it’s still worth spending a day exploring the area.
Below I’ll give you a run down of our stay. In this travel guide to Cabo de la Vela, you will learn how to get there, accommodations, and what to do when you visit Cabo de la Vela.
How to Get to Cabo de la Vela
To arrive to Cabo de la Vela from Colombia’s Caribbean coast you will need to get to the city of Riohacha first.
Please note all prices listed here are from our experience in July 2018. Prices may have risen slightly depending on when you go, but this should give you a good idea of the cost of transportation to Cabo de la Vela.
How to Get to Riohacha
- By bus-You should be able to take a bus to Riohacha from the main bus terminals in the cities along the coast. You should also be able to get them from most of Colombia’s major cities as well. If you can’t find a bus with a final destination to Riohacha, get one to Cartagena or Santa Marta, then get one to Riohacha. You can check the prices and even reserve online at www.redbus.co.
- If in Palomino, you can get a bus from Palomino to Riohacha from the main road just outside of town.
- By plane-Riohacha does have a small airport. You can check flights to Riohacha on Colombia’s flagship airline Avianca from other cities in Colombia.
How to Get to Cabo de la Vela from Cartagena
To get transportation from Cartagena to Cabo de la Vela, you will also need to get to Riohacaha first. We took a Brasilia bus leaving from the bus terminal cost 49,000 pesos. A bus from Cartagena to Riohacha should take between 7 and 8 hours to get to Riohacha from Cartagena. Again, you can check times and make reservations for buses traveling from Cartagena to Riohacha at www.redbus.co.
We took the 5:45 am bus to Riohacha from Cartagena and were able to make it all the way to Cabo de la Vela from Cartagena in one day even with a 2 hour delay in Barranquilla. However, if you plan on leaving Cartagena for Cabo de la Vela after say 7 am, you should probably plan to stay in Riohacha for the night.
Once, you are in Riohacha, follow the instructions below for how to get to Cabo de la Vela from Riohacha.
Getting to Cabo de la Vela from Riohacha
- You will need to take a collective taxi from Riohacha to Uribia. You can get the collective taxis from Round Point (a short taxi or moto ride from the terminal in Riohacha) to Uribia. The cost should be 15,000 pesos a person.
- You will need to take a 4×4 to from Uribia to Cabo de la Vela. Tell the driver from Riohacha you want to be left where you can get transportation to Cabo de la Vela. The cost should be 20,000 pesos a person.
- I’d strongly recommend stocking up on water and any thing else you will want in Uribia. A 6 L bottle of water cost just 6,000 pesos at the roadside store there, while it cost 12,000 in Cabo de la Vela.
Accommodations in Cabo de la Vela
There are a number of beach front hostels in Cabo de la Vela. In all of them, you should be able to stay in a hammock, a chinchorro (a larger hammock with more room and decorative sides you can wrap yourself in when it gets chilly at night), or a private room.
We stayed at El Caracol, where we were dropped by our driver from Uribia. Honestly, we weren’t very impressed. But it was cheap. We paid 15,000 pesos each for a chinchorro and were allowed to share a bucket for a shower. A hammock was 10,000 and a private 30,000 a person.
I get the sense, most of the hostels more or less offer the same. There was, however, a nicer looking one towards the end of town named Happiness Hostel that had fancier accommodations (including water tanks for showers) at a higher price. They are probably worth checking out if you’re not peso pinching or will feel uncomfortable without a proper shower.
What to Do in Cabo de la Vela
As stated above, the main attractions in Cabo de la Vela are the beaches and the desert landscape (and also kite surfing if you’re into it).
We did a tour offered by our hostel (the tour was basically having mototaxi drivers taking us to the main sites and returning to pick us up). You can also just get motos to where you would like to go (should be 5,000 pesos to any of the nearby sites, although you should arrange pickup as there were not motos waiting at any of the places). Most of the places are also within an hour or two’s walk, but we found the cost of the motos worth it since we were only planning on spending one day exploring.
The tour cost 30,000 pesos and included a morning leg with quick stops at the sand dunes outside of town and Playa Arcoíris before the drivers dropped us for a couple hours at El Pilón de Azucar. Then they picked us up and we had lunch and hung out a bit around town. Then the afternoon leg included them taking us to Playa Ojo de Agua where you can catch the sunset from El Faro nearby.
Our first stop was the sand dunes outside of town. It was neat to walk around on the sand and see the desert all around (although nothing like the majestic Taroa Dunes in Punta Gallinas). After a few minutes, we hopped back on our motos and headed to our second stop.
That second stop was Playa Arcoíris, where you can supposedly see rainbows in the spray from the waves hitting the rocks. We didn’t see any rainbows. A guy there said it is best to see them around 1 o’clock, but I can’t confirm that.
After a few minutes there, we headed on to El Pilón de Azucar, which was the highlight of the tour. The motos dropped us off and agreed to come back about 2 hours later. El Pilón de Azucar (Spanish for pile of sugar) is a hill on the coast that looks, well, sort of like a pile of sugar.
At the top of El Pilón you get a great view of the beach below with the ocean to one side and the desert to the other. It’s definitely worth the 15 minute hike up, and one of the must do activities in Cabo de la Vela.
Once you’ve enjoyed the view from atop El Pilón, head down the the adjacent beach, which is gorgeous. The water is relatively calm for swimming, and the sand is nice. Rather you end up doing a full tour like we did or arranging motos just to and from El Pilón, you should definitely plan to spend a couple hours here.
Note there’s not much shade to be had, so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen and water with you. There were a few vendors selling beers and other drinks at the entrance to the beach but you will have to return to town for lunch.
After spending a couple hours at the beach, our motos met us to take us back to the hostel for lunch. After lunch, we spent some time wandering around town and took a quick dip at the beach in town, where the water is extremely calm and shallow. You can wade out seemingly forever.
I also bought a mochila, a bag made by the indigenous Wayuú people. The one I bought not only has a cool design, but cost a fraction of the price that they go for in Cartagena or elsewhere.
There are quite a few mochila vendors, including some that can be a little pushy. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the area is one of the most impoverished in all of Colombia, and the Wayuú have largely been neglected by the Colombian government.
Street vendors can be frustrating at times in all of Colombia, but considering these bags are hand made and the larger ones can take up to a week to make, this probably isn’t the place to get over-annoyed or haggle excessively (agin, even with no haggling, the bag I bought cost a fraction of the price it would have cost elsewhere).
Later in the afternoon, our motos picked us up again to head to Playa Agua del Ojo. Honestly, we were not all that impressed by this beach after the much nicer one by El Pilón. However, the surrounding hills give some nice views.
At the top of one of those hills near Playa Agua del Ojo is El Faro, a small lighthouse. It is the prime sunset watching spot, so make sure you go up a bit early to get a good spot. Seeing the sunset from El Faro definitely is one of the can’t miss things to do in Cabo de la Vela.
After sunset we got picked up again by our motos and went back to the hostel, where we took our bucket showers before having dinner.
Rather than eat in the hostel the second night we went up to the restaurant Nomade and had a great fish filet for dinner. Word to the wise, if you would like them to get you lobster or shrimp ask them during the day as they buy it fresh everyday and don’t keep much extra on hand. We were very jealous of the people at the table across from us chowing down on some delicious looking lobster.
Nomade also had 2 for 1 cocktails at 10,000 pesos a piece. I tried the “Wayuú drink”, made with chirrinchi, a traditional liquor made by the Wayu´ú from sugarcane. The waiter also gave me a shot to try. He said it was strongly diluted and one shot of the real stuff is enough to put you on your butt. Needless to say, I’m now super curious to try the pure stuff sometime.
After dinner, we cozied up in our chinchorros and got a good night’s sleep before heading off to Punta Gallinas early the next day.
Practical Tips on a Visit to Cabo de la Vela
- Again, I’d highly recommend stocking up on water and any other drinks or snacks you might want at the roadside stop in Uribia. Prices are much cheaper there than in Cabo de la Vela itself. I’d recommend getting a large 6 L jug and filling up smaller bottles to take around. Better yet, take along one of these nifty, collapsable Nomader bottles, environmentally friendly and perfect for travel!
- Take plenty of sunscreen, and consider a good sun hat. Remember, you are in the middle of a desert.
- Take cash, as there are no ATMs in Cabo de la Vela. There is one in Uribia, but you’re best off taking out cash in Riohacha or before.
- Keep in mind, the Wayuú people have been largely neglected by the Colombian government, suffering from poor infrastructure, corruption and even famine in recent years. This isn’t the place to get over-annoyed with pushy vendors or children asking for a cookie or your drinks.
Overall, a visit to Cabo de la Vela is well worth it, and I’d encourage you to try to spend at least a day there if you’re on your way to Punta Gallinas or just wanting to see the desert north of La Guajira. If you do decide to visit Cabo de la Vela, I hope you found this guide useful in planning your trip.
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
Interested in learning more about Cabo de la Vela and La Guajira?
- If you are considering going on to Punta Gallinas (which you really should), check out our Visit Punta Gallinas Travel Guide.
- The See Colombia Travel Blog has a great guide to Cabo de la Vela as well, and it was a big help to us in planning our trip.
- Medellin Guru also has a great guide to all the places to see in La Guajira.
Ready to plan your trip to Cabo de la Vela?
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