I had read about Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas and how they are among those few remaining places that are still a bit of an untouched paradise. I was instantly hooked. Plus, Punta Gallinas is the northern-most point of the South American continent and I love collecting those kinds of stats. I mean, I climbed a stupid mountain for the main goal of being the furthest terrestrial human from the center of the Earth, so a bit of overland and boat travel up the coast to get to the northern tip of South America is MUCH more in my wheelhouse. However, it’s definitely not the easiest place to travel. It’s possible to get to Cabo de la Vela by yourself and then hire a 4×4 to get to Punta Gallinas, as I met some folks who did this, but I didn’t have a group of four (which is necessary for the Cabo-Punta Gallinas section unless you want to pay a substantial premium), so I decided to go with a tour. Plus, the benefits of the tour include drivers that know how to navigate the roads (which are extremely poor) and the general ins and outs of the area. The route takes you right along the Venezuela border, which isn’t the safest spot for those who a. don’t know the area well or b. don’t speak fluent Spanish or c. (me) both. Colombians also told me that along the border are gas mafias, since the gasoline in Venezuela is cheaper than water and it’s smuggled into Colombia.
My tour consisted of four-days and three-nights, with two of those nights spent in Punta Gallinas. At first, I was more on board with the three-day, two-night tour, but that one got cancelled and I’m actually glad. It may be quiet, but there’s more to see in Punta Gallinas than one day would allow. Not to mention, the boat is two and a half hours to get there (a 4×4 on the road is around six or seven; during the rainy season September-November, it’s only possible to reach Punta Gallinas by boat), so it’s nice to have that extra downtime. Punta Gallinas was by far my favorite part of the tour and I’m glad we spent the extra time exploring.
(we stopped to see how the make salt from the ocean; driving through the La Guajira desert)
Our first stop was Cabo de la Vela. I had heard that it was pretty from some local Colombians who had visited the area on previous vacations. The drive from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela is about four-five hours. We arrived just in time for my favorite coastal Colombian meal; patacones, arroz de coco and fish! After lunch, we spent a bit of time relaxing on the beach and set off to see the area. We lucked out and there was a kite surfing competition going on that day, which was fun to watch. Then we headed to more coastal view points for a pretty stunning sunset. We slept that night in hammocks that came with a magical view of the Caribbean ocean.
To get to the boat for Punta Gallinas, we had to get up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am. Boats to Punta Gallinas take around 2.5 hours there (1.5 return) for the 35km ride. Since I didn’t want have a repeat Providencia boat ride, I took a motion sickness pill. The boat ride was not the most fun. For the first half, I was in a drug-induced fog and almost fell asleep sitting up (apparently, my Spanish seasickness pills were the drowsy kind) and barely caught myself before falling sideways, dangerously close to the boat edge. For the whole ride, I was sprayed heavily with ocean water. At one point it was so bad, I wished I was wearing my scuba mask. About 3/4 of the trip in, the fog lifted and I was fully aware of how un-fun the boat ride was, as the ocean spray was mixing with my contacts and burning like hell.
When we arrived, I realized that our (significant) efforts were rewarded. Punta Gallinas is a strikingly beautiful and unique landscape. It is literally is where the desert meets the ocean. The stark contrast between the two is incredible. Our first excursion on the island was to las dunas, a massive sand dune that slides right into the ocean. As you can see in one of the photos below, it looks like I’m smack in the middle of a Middle-Eastern desert, but then a few steps later, you can see the Caribbean. The only downside of las dunas is trying to relax on the beach on a windy day; it’s pretty much non-stop pelting by sand.
Punta Gallinas is a Matriarchal society comprised of 101 clans for a total of 498 people. There are three options for accommodations on rancharitas in Punta Gallinas and our tour put us at the second largest, Hospedaje Alexandra (run by the friendly & hospitable Ignacio and named after his daughter, the MOST adorable little girl). To give a reference of the number of travelers to Punta Gallinas, during 2012, there were a total of 857 guests that traveled through Hospedaje Alexandra. So it’s still very much an untouched location by way of tourism. Sleeping was done in a hammock (for an additional fee, you could upgrade to a select few dorm rooms) and the meals consisted of fish, rice and patacones (for breakfast, eggs and arepas). All of which are a-okay by me. All of the hammocks are hand sewn cotton made by the local Guajira women and are the most comfortable hammocks EVER. I was going to buy one, but unfortunately, they are 250-300+ pesos (~$125-175+) and that is slightly out of justification range for me on a hammock. At least now. If I go back, it’s happening for sure. The main industry in Punta Gallinas is fish but they are working to create a handicraft business in order to more widely distribute the Guajira handicrafts (hammocks, bags, shoes, etc). Ignacio was really proud (and rightfully so!) of the sea turtle rescue project they set up not too far from his rancharita, which is 10km of sea front that they walk during the night to collect the eggs to protect them so they can then release the new baby turtles back into the sea.
Other activities included a sunset at the actual northern-most point of the South American continent, walking the local area to get to another beach and a boat ride to see the pink flamingos, which resulted in sinking thigh deep in mud as we tried to exit the boat to get a closer look (I was actually holding my Nikon D-90 before I realized I was going to sink…thankfully one of our guides was able to grab it so it didn’t get in the mud but talk about my initial panic!!). There was also daily reading and naptime (which made me fall deeper in love with my hammock) and running around with the local kids. They were the cutest and I had such a good time playing with them.
On our final day, we woke up again far too early and boated back to Cabo de la Vela. Thankfully the boat ride back was SIGNIFICANTLY calmer, although I still got pretty wet. We visited another area of Cabo and spent some time relaxing on the beach. Of course, all of this concluded with another fish, patacones and arroz de coco lunch! I made it back to my home base in Santa Marta by early evening after four wonderful days exploring the northern-most part of Colombia and the continent. Punta Gallinas made me love Colombia all that much more!