Punta Gallinas lies at the end of desert at the northern most point of Colombia and all of South America. The area offers stunning views of a largely untouched landscape with the desert and hills running into the ocean. Although remote, it is doable to visit Punta Gallinas even without a tour, and even on a budget. It is definitely worth taking the time to travel to Punta Gallinas. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, read on for a complete travel guide to Punta Gallinas without a tour, where you will learn how to get there, available accommodations, and what to do while there, along with an example budget.
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Why You Should Visit Punta Gallinas
Punta Gallinas lies at the end of the desert on northern Colombia’s La Guajira Peninsula. There are no marked roads, and the desert is sparsely populated by the indigenous Wayuú people.
However, don’t let fear of the harsh desert intimidate you. You can visit Punta Gallinas with a tour, and if you’re limited on time or don’t speak any Spanish, that might be an option. However, a tour to Punta Gallinas isn’t necessary and you’ll save some pesos in adiiton to having more freedom if you travel to Punta Gallinas independently.
Visiting Punta Gallinas without a tour is extremely doable, and there were quite a few other travelers making the trek with us when we went. Going to Punta Gallinas without a tour also gave us the advantage of not being on a tightly planned itinerary, and we ended up spending an extra day in Cabo de la Vela on the way and making stops in Palomino and Taganga on the way back to Cartagena.
While it wasn’t the most comfortable, it appears the trip has become quite common and (mostly) well organized. Therefore, while certainly not on the beaten path, it’s not overgrown either. Plus taking the road at least slightly less traveled is why you decided to visit Colombia anyway.
Visiting Punta Gallinas is a trip I had wanted to do since I read about Che Guevara visiting it in his diary Back on the Road (a continuation of the more well known Motorcycle Diaries) during my first year in Colombia in 2011. The thought of being at the very end of a continent and seeing a desert give way to the ocean captured my imagination and just sounded adventurous and like something worth seeing.
I finally got around to visiting Punta Gallinas with my wife Susana in July of 2018, and I was not disappointed. The trip is a bit of a long one and you will have to devote a minimum of three days to it (with much of 2 of those days spent traveling). However, if you can manage to fit it into your schedule and budget, you should without a doubt do so.
Most people (well nearly all people) only stay one night in Punta Gallinas. We actually stayed an extra night, which I would suggest you at least consider doing as well. If time permits, you will get a more complete experience, plus that bit about taking the road slightly less traveled.
Below, I will give you a run down of our trip. In this travel guide to Punta Gallinas, you will learn how to get there, available accommodations, and what to do along with an example budget.
How to Get to Punta Gallinas
The jumping off point for visiting Punta Gallinas is the town of Cabo de la Vela. Tours to Punta Gallinas leave Cabo de la Vela early in the morning, so you should plan on spending a night there.
We spent a day exploring in Cabo de la Vela and definitely thought it was worth it. So, if you have the time to spend an extra night either on the way in or out, you should consider it. However, if you must choose between it and Punta Gallinas, choose Punta Gallinas. If you do decide to do Cabo, check out our Guide to Cabo de la Vela here.
To arrive to Cabo de la Vela from Colombia’s Caribbean coast you will need to take a bus to the city of Riohacha first.
Getting to Riohacha
- From Cartagena a Brasilia bus leaving from the bus terminal cost 49,000 pesos and should take between 7 and 8 hours to get to Riohacha. We took the 5:45 am bus and were able to make it all the way to Cabo de la Vela in one day even with a 2 hour delay in Barranquilla.
- Buses can also be taken from the terminals in Barranquilla and Santa Marta which should take about 6 and 4 hours, respectively. You can get an idea on prices by looking at Brasilia’s website.
- You can also take the bus that runs along the road in front of Palomino to Riohacaha.
Getting to Cabo de la Vela from Riohacha
- You will need to take a collective taxi 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.
- From Uribia, you will need to take a 4×4 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 (and presumably the same or a bit more in Punta Gallinas itself, we didn’t buy any there).
Getting to Punta Gallinas from Cabo de la Vela
- Once in Cabo de la Vela, let your hostel know you want to go to Punta Gallinas so they can arrange transportation for you.
- You’ll be most likely be packed in tight to a 4×4 for the trek across the desert which takes about 2 hours.
- The cost of transportation is 150,000 pesos a person and includes the return trip.
- You will leave Cabo around 5 am and return the next day to Cabo or to Uribia (there were some people who did a day trip, but I’m not sure what the cost of that is and imagine it must be specially arranged). You can also choose to stay more than one night in Punta Gallinas (as we did) and they will bring you back on the day of your choice.
- The cost of transportation should include a tour of the main sites at Punta Gallinas as well.
A note on transportation, Mochilleros People seem to be the largest and most used operator. Our experience with them was mixed. I’m pretty sure the driver forgot we were staying an extra night which left us packed in even tighter than normal, and then didn’t coordinate a change of cars well (as in the other car didn’t actually meet us), which left us still packed in and 2 hours delayed. It’s possible we just had bad luck with the day and/or driver, and I’m not sure if there are even any reliable alternatives. However, be ready for a tight, bumpy ride and the possibility of delays.
Accommodations in Punta Gallinas
After the trek across the desert, you will take a short boat ride to where you will be staying. We stayed at Hospedaje Alexandra in Punta Gallinas. There are apparently a few other hostels, but it is the largest and most well known and we were really pleased with it (in Mochilleros People’s favor, they appear to always take people there).
It definitely is a well oiled machine at Alexandra, and the two women who run it Georgette and Sheri are on top of it. When you arrive they will come around with a clipboard and ask if you’d like to order breakfast, what you would like for lunch, and what accommodations you would like (see below for a summary of options and prices). After breakfast, they will herd you onto the 4x4s for the tour and have lunch ready for you when you come back, at which time they will ask you for your dinner order.
While at first I found it a bit impersonal for Colombia, the truth is over-organization is better than under-organization, and they were attending 30-50 people, the overwhelming number of which stay for only one night. Also, Georgette in particular gave us some friendly suggestions on things to do our second day and was nice enough to take care of getting us lobster for lunch our second day (and 2 each at that, an argument in favor of staying a 2nd night).
Also, for the remoteness of the location, the accommodations at Hospedaje Alexandra are quite comfortable. In fact, we found them nicer than where we stayed in Cabo. There’s electricity from solar panels in the day and a generator at night, and even flushable toilets and showers (with salt water, but still it is in the middle of the desert where there is no running water). There was even a TV with DirectTv in the cafeteria (which fortunately was only on for the news and the workers’ favorite soap operas in the evening).
Overall, we found Hospedaje Alexandra to be great. Honestly, I’m not sure you could ask for much more from a place where you will be sleeping in hammocks in the middle of the desert.
Below you can see a short summary of the costs for accommodations and food in Punta Gallinas.
Costs for Accommodation in Punta Gallinas at Hospedaje Alexandra
- 15,000 pesos for a hammock.
- 20,000 pesos for a chinchorro. A chinchorro is a larger hammock where you can stretch a little more and even use the decorative sides to cover yourself with when it gets chilly at night. That’s what we did and they were well worth the extra 5,000.
- 35,000 pesos a person for private rooms.
Costs for Food in Punta Gallinas at Hospedaje Alexandra
- 6,000 pesos for breakfast (arepa and egg with coffee).
- 15,000 for standard fish, chicken, or goat with rice, a patacón, and salad. Try the goat, it’s good.
- 20,000 for a big fish with the above sides (depending on availability and size).
- 40,000 for a huge plate of 2 delicious lobsters (depending on availability and size).
- 2-4,000 pesos for beer, soda, and water, depending on size and brand.
What to Do in Punta Gallinas
The main attraction in Punta Gallinas are the stunning views of the surrounding landscape. There’s something spectacular and a little eerie about walking through the desert with few or no other people in sight. It really makes you feel small. Taking some time to wander around on your own is definitely worth it (and yet another reason to stay a 2nd night).
The standard tour that is included with transportation is also great and takes you to the must see sites when you visit Punta Gallinas. The tour takes about 3 and a half hours and stops at 3 places: El Faro lighthouse marking the most northern point of the continent, a lookout over Bahia Hondíta, and the Taroa Dunes and adjacent beach.
El Faro de Punta Gallinas
The actual lighthouse itself isn’t all that much, just a tower and a small building next to it with a sign marking the spot. However, there’s still something really cool about knowing your as far north as north goes.
There was one daredevil in our group who actually climbed to the top of the lighthouse. I’m sure he got a spectacular view but it’s not something I’d recommend unless you’re uber confident in your climbing skills (remember you are several hours away, across a desert, from the nearest hospital).
Expect the tour to stop at El Faro for about 15 minutes for people to take pictures. There are also stacks of rocks that people constructed to mark their visit, which you could do to pass the time after you’ve gotten your pictures and put your feet in the water at the edge of the continent.
Mirador de Casares
The lookout here gives a breathtaking view from atop a ridge over the bay known as Bahía Hondíta. The landscape is really one of the more impressive I’ve seen anywhere and pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.
Again expect to stop for about 15 minutes here before once again piling into the truck to take you to the final stop on the tour.
The last stop is the Taroa dunes, which are also a stunning sight. On the other side of the dune is a gorgeous windblown beach perfect for a swim to cool off from the hot midday desert sun.
Definitely take the time to explore a bit on the dunes, and if you’re looking for a challenge, or just a workout for your hamstrings, try hiking up the dune at its highest point from the beach. Seriously, once you start sinking shin deep in the sand, it gets tough.
When you get to the top you can take your Rocky victory picture and then run and/or roll back down to the beach (yes you will feel a bit foolish purposefully rolling down, and you will get a face/hair/bathing suit full of sand doing it, but it’s fun).
Once you’re good and hot and sandy from exploring the dunes, take a dip in the ocean to cool off and relax on the beach, taking it all in before preparing to hike back over the dunes (going the longer way around the edges is easier if you’ve already worn yourself out) to meet your driver to head back to the hostel.
Expect to have about an hour and a half at the dunes after which time your driver will pick you up for about a 40 minute drive back to the hostel where lunch should be waiting on you.
Optional Afternoon Tour
The hostel offered an optional afternoon tour from 3:30-6:30 that visited 3 other places on a boat. It stopped by an island where a flock of flamingoes gather, a key just off the coast where you can make a short 5 minute hike to a look out point, and the nearby beach called La Boquita to watch the sunset before returning to the hostel.
The optional tour costs either 15,000 or 20,000 pesos depending on how many people go. The first two stops are pretty meh, the flamingoes are pretty and the view on they key is cool, but you’ve already seen better. However, the sunset from La Boquita beach was definitely beautiful. I’m not sure if there is a way to get there by foot as it is across the little inlet, so it alone makes the tour worth it if you’re up for it after the busy morning.
Other Things to Do in Punta Gallinas
If you decide not to do the optional tour, then you definitely should do yourself the favor of going to watch the sunset from one of the beaches. Playa Aguja is about a 45 minute walk away if you head out following the path straight from the main entrance to Hospedaje Alexandra. It’s also worth asking if you can get to La Boquita by foot if you didn’t go there on the tour.
Georgette at the hostel also told us about two other beaches: Playa Tortugas and Playa Bonita. At Playa Tortugas, you may be able to catch a glimpse of turtles if there is an active nest (there wasn’t when visited, so we didn’t make it there). To get there, you need to walk along the path heading right out of the main entrance to the hostel.
Playa Bonita is supposedly somewhere beyond Playa Aguja, although we couldn’t find the path there and just decided to stay at Playa Aguja.
For practically everyone that is the end of their time in Punta Gallinas. They get in, do the tour, have lunch, do the afternoon tour or not, see the sunset, and then at 8 am the next morning.
Why You Should Consider Staying Two Nights at Punta Gallinas
However, if you choose to stay an extra night you will get a chance to chill out a bit more on the nearby beaches and see a bit more of the landscape. Alternatively, you could choose to chill out the first afternoon then do the optional tour the second day.
Our second day, we walked to Playa Aguja and hung out for a while. The walk through the desert is worth it alone as you’re unlikely to see much of anyone except for where you pass a handful of homes of the Wayuú and a few goats wandering around. While not as nice the beach by the dunes, it’s still pretty decent, and there’s the remains of an abandoned hostel/restaurant to provide some shade. We saw like 5 other people there.
After taking a dip and relaxing a bit on the beach, we walked back to the hostel for lunch, then just took it easy all afternoon. The combination of full bellies from our massive plates of lobster and being on the go all day touring Cabo de la Vela and then Punta Gallinas the previous two days had left us pooped. Susana took a nap and I read for a while before we went and watched the sunset over the desert (we were too lazy to walk back to the beach, but if you’re only here for one night, then do yourself the favor of going to the beach).
However, if you’re less lazy than us, you can check out the other beaches you haven’t seen yet and there is apparently a workshop on the indigenous Wayuú artisan crafts in the nearby town (the Wayuú are most well known for their beautiful and elaborate mochilas). The ladies at the hostel acted like it wasn’t much to see, but it may be worth checking out if you want a break from beaching it.
Example Budget for a Trip to Punta Gallinas
- Bus from departure city to Riohacha: 10,000-50,000 pesos (depending on where you are coming from).
- Colectivo from Riohacha to Uribia: 15,00 pesos one way.
- 4×4 from Uribia to Cabo de la Vela: 20,000 pesos one way. *Note our return transportation dropped us at Uribia, so you may save on the return trip, but it’s probably best to double check).
- Lunch somewhere on the road or after you arrive: 15-20,000 pesos.
- Night in Cabo de la Vela: `15-30,000 pesos depending on hostel (add or subtract a bit if want a private room or if you settle for a standard hammock over a chinchorro).
- Dinner in Cabo: 15-30,000 pesos.
- Cost of water and snacks: 10-15,000 pesos.
- Transportation and tour to Punta Gallinas: 150,000 pesos.
- Food and drink in Punta Gallinas: 50-80,000 pesos (6 for breakfast, 15 each for standard lunch and dinner with some room for water/soda/beers and possibly splurging on a bigger fish or lobster if they’re available).
- 1 night in Punta Gallinas: 15-35,000 pesos (hammock for 15, chinchorro for 20, private for 35).
- Bus from Riohacha to destination city: 10,000-50,000 pesos.
- *Optional 2nd night in Punta Gallinas with food and drink: 65-100,000 pesos.
Total Budget: 340,000-630,000 pesos (if you stay a second night, are coming from Cartagena, and go just about all out on food and drink).
While not cheap, it’s a small price to pay for the experience if you can fit it into your schedule and budget. Plus, you’re likely to spend just as much if not more if you stay in Palomino, Santa Marta, or Cartagena longer (be honest with yourself, despite even your best peso pinching intentions you will end up going out partying and/or splurging on the fancier fare available in those places).
In conclusion, you should absolutely do your best to make a visit to Punta Gallinas part of your travels in Colombia and consider staying a second night as well. If you do decide to go, I hope you find this guide useful in planning your trip.
Interested in learning more about visiting Punta Gallinas?
- Check out our Guide to Cabo de la Vela if you are considering spending time there (I’d encourage you to do so).
- The See Colombia Travel Blog has a great Punta Gallinas Travel Guide, which was the main resource we used in planning our own trip.
- Medellín Guru also has a great write up on what to see in La Guajira.