AS A NATIVE OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, I grew up under the mistaken impression that if nature wasn’t green, a volcano had probably erupted on it. The desert seemed like a wasteland compared to the dense forests of the Cascades. So I wasn’t really expecting to like Punta Gallinas, the northernmost tip of South America that juts out from Colombia’s La Guajira desert. But a friend wanted to go during her last few days in Colombia, so I decided to keep her company.
Arriving at Punta Gallinas was like walking into a modern art museum for the first time, where the distinct lines of the sand dunes were an abstract painting, while I was used to the infinitely detailed realism of a Northwest pine forest. It took some getting used to, but by the end I’d gained a new appreciation for the landscape — and a new respect for the people who live there.
You can arrange an all-inclusive 2-night tour out of Santa Marta for about 600-650 thousand (mil) pesos* per person, which will take you through the departmental capital of Riohacha, the indigenous capital of Uribia, and the fishing village of Cabo de la Vela. Going without a tour, you can save upwards of 300 mil, but it won’t be quite as comfortable and you’ll likely have to waste time organizing transport.
From Santa Marta, the bus costs 18 mil to Riohacha, where you pretty much just have to ask around (hotel owners are usually helpful) and find a group taxi to Uribia for about 10-12 mil per person. Once you get out in Uribia, you’ll be overwhelmed by shouting truck drivers who’ll try to cram you into the back of their pickups for another 10-12 mil drive from Uribia to Cabo de la Vela.
In Cabo, you’ll need to ask a local to organize transport to the port — again, hostel owners are usually connected to these guides and can contact them for you. The ride to Puerto de la Media Luna and the final boat ride costs 150 mil for a round trip from Cabo, which includes a tour of the peninsula but not food or accommodations. Hammocks run 12 mil a night and the price of food varies, but don’t expect to eat anything but fish and scrambled eggs.
*10 mil is about US $5.60