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Where Desert and the Caribbean Sea Meet – Indigenous tourism in La Guajira

Responsible Tourism

Colombia

 

Last time, Elena shared with us her stunning pictures of a whale-watching trip to the Pacific Ocean in Colombia. We are now moving to La Guajira, the driest region of the country, where Elena submerged herself in a different culture and way of living. Central to her experience was indigenous tourism in La Guajira – and the Wayuu are protagonists of her story:

 

‘Why are you going to the desert whilst in Colombia?’ Yes, that’s the question many friends and family asked when I mentioned my next destination. If you think about this country, what comes to mind is the lush vegetation, tropical landscapes, coastlines and jungle Colombia has to offer.

This is one of the great charms of La Guajira: the thought that only a few kilometres away from typical tropical landscapes, you can admire the most arid lands in the country. Inhabited by the Wayuu indigenous people and other ethnic groups, simplicity is one of the main characteristics of this land. They are able to live without running water and eat what they can obtain from the sea and from the only domestic animals adapted to this environment: goats. In the houses of most of the Wayuu, hammocks are the sleeping arrangement of choice.

Roads, surrounded by cacti and underbrush, give way to large clearings of barren land where only those who know the area are able to find their way. As we continue, the landscape turns into beaches of white sand and finishes with vast areas of dunes, which gives one the feeling of being the first to explore this desert.

I had heard that the best sunsets are those that can be seen in deserts, not only because of the array colours but also because of the absence of noise. That feeling of peace and serenity is inexplicable and, although there are other people in the area, it is easy to find remote places where your own thoughts are all that can be heard. As I am accustomed to leaving the group in order to find good places to take pictures, I also got to enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings during this particular trip.

If instead travellers prefer a little more hustle and bustle, they can go to the lighthouse located in Cabo de la Vela to enjoy a drink and a sunset with friends.

Getting to Punta Gallinas – the northernmost point of South America – involves at least a 3-day round trip, in order to fully appreciate the journey and the surroundings. This trip has several highlights you shouldn’t miss: climb the Pilón de Azúcar, watch a sunset along the beach of Cabo de la Vela, sleep in hammocks at a rancheria (small rural settlement), visit a salt flat, see flamingos, stroll through the dunes, and make it to Punta Gallinas.

Each of these experiences has its own magic, and it is good to make the most out of all of them. There are few things nicer than being the first to rise (for the late risers, you can always go back to bed later!) and see the beach alone, with the red colours of the morning, and watch the fishermen start their daily routine.

In the saline pits, local workers are usually very friendly and always happy to give you explanations about their work. We helped them out with a cold drink to cope with the heat and they were very grateful.

Watching how the Wayuu bags are created is hypnotic, and you can always find women weaving bags at the rancherias. And trying some local food is also a must! I always like to try the local cuisine wherever I go, as for me it enriches the trip. Here both goat and seafood feature on the menu.

La Guajira is, at least for me, a place underrated compared to other places in Colombia, but as rich in landscapes as any other. Not only are the wildlife and vegetation completely different, but also the way of living, and the sense of peace that this place provides. I recommend it to anyone who wants to see a different side of Colombia, and hopefully, one day, I will get the chance to return.

 

All pictures by Elena Muñoz López Viejo. See more on her blog El Encuadre Torcido.

Stay tuned, as next time Elena will share her pictures of the beautiful Amazon rainforest in Colombia.

Important note: Sadly, the levels of poverty and malnutrition in La Guajira, specially among children, are high. We try to use community-based tourism as a way of reducing poverty, creating decent jobs for the locals, as well as an additional source of income.

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