My experience in Punta Gallinas, Colombia
This post is also available in: Español
Traveling to Colombia is an adventure that you definitely have to experience if you decide to visit Latin America. This country offers places so different from each other that if you want different experiences, one close to the other, this is where you have to go.
Let me tell you about my experience in the most northern point of Colombia and South America. Let me tell you about what to do in Punta Gallinas. A place that seems out of this world and one of the many wonders of Colombia.
To understand the context… a few years ago I left Colombia without really knowing what the country I grew up at, was like. Without knowing more than its huge capital, Bogotá, and some places close by.
I guess like many, I always thought that being there and having everything close by, I could visit it later. However, I only decided to really get to know it until I missed it.
I returned to Colombia for a vacation after being in Europe for almost two years. I decided to get to know the country in depth not only to learn more about my heritage but also to know what I was talking about when I was asked about it.
To know that I’m being objective, I will be telling you about the cons and pros, although I assure you that the cons didn’t really mean much in comparison to all the good experiences we had.
Road to the desert
To get to Punta Gallinas we had to walk a long way. We traveled by plane from Bogota to Santa Marta, a city from where other tours to the Tayrona National Park and Ciudad Perdida take place (which I also highly recommend you visit). We stayed in Santa Marta for one night left very early to Riohacha. On the way we picked up a Dutch and a German girl, who were staying in hostels further away from the city, so at the end there were four of us, together with my Italian friend.
Once in Riohacha we met other groups, had breakfast and went to Manaure to see the salt collection process, which was really is worthwhile. Afterwards we were taken to a small village to buy water, since it is not non-potable there. After buying it, in addition to some snacks, we went into the desert.
Between the excitement, they way we were dressed and the landscapes around us, we felt like we were on an Indiana Jones type of adventure. It was incredible to see how the vegetation transformed so many times and how drastically it did so. We had just been in a salt flat, then a road surrounded by trees and bushes and suddenly, a huge desert. Just like that, out of nowhere.
I was happy and very excited. Jumping into the 4×4 truck, which left a trail of dirt and sand in its wake, while my friend, exhausted from getting up so early and the amount of things we had already done, let his neck move to the rhythm of the truck while he slept (although he’s the type of person who can even sleep while standing up, I don’t know how he didn’t suffer from a torticollis that day…)
We arrived at the Wayuu posada or what they call “ranchería“, the place we would stay. It was right in front of the sea, with a view of the kitesurfers I never imagined would be there. It had some little cabins and just the basics we needed.
Upon arrival we were served a very generous plate of typical food from La Guajira: fish, rice (which is never missing from a Colombian plate) and patacones. These last ones, made with pieces of green banana that is flattened and then fried, amazing!
The best sunsets
After lunch we went to the Pilón de Azúcar, a very nice beach nearby. I remember that the water shined with the sun and that, once inside, my friend screamed in fear because he had felt something touch his feet. A Wayuu boy, expert swimmer of course, dived in to tickle the tourists feet. He came out of the water laughing and we laughed with him.
At the end of the afternoon we went up to a viewpoint near our “ranchería”. We sat and watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, with the whole Atlantic Ocean right in front of us. We were at Cabo de La Vela.
We had dinner and went to bed because we had to get up early the next day, but wait!… because, here comes one of my favorite parts… we slept in “chinchorros”!
Better known as hammocks, there is a whole art to know how to sleep well in one of them without moving too much. The best thing you can do is not to sleep lengthwise but rather diagonally, to keep it as straight as possible. It wasn’t bad! With the tiredness we had we slept very well, at night it is not cold and the truth is that being wrapped inside it you actually sleep very well.
The way to Punta Gallinas
On the way to Punta Gallinas there were many things that struck me. One of them was that, even though we were going at great speed, we had to be very alert because everytime we passed near a rancheria, the families would put up something like a toll. Two people would hold a rope, one on each side, so that the car would have to stop and buy gas or give them something. Anything.
The drivers knew that we had bought some snacks at the store in the beginning. Some of them told us something about it but we didn’t really understand what they meant, since there was no real explanation. My friend and I had bought several packages of cookies, so we just gave them every time the car stopped.
I would have preferred that someone had told us about this before, so that perhaps we would have been more prepared. That’s why I think it’s important for you to know. It is normal for tourists to buy candy or things like that, but maybe it is better to buy other things. Food that is a little more nutritious, water… I don’t know. Try to understand what they may actually need. It’s very important to try to be responsible tourists and leave the minimum negative impact on the places we visit.
Another thing that also caught our attention was to see how the Wayuu’s moved around the desert on bicycles, traveling what seemed like infinite distances. Many times two or even three per bike. They greeted us, always with a smile.
One of the best moments of the trip was when we arrived at the Taroa Dunes without knowing it. After parking and getting out of the cars in the middle of nowhere, the drivers just told us to “walk up”. We were in a desert where the only thing there was, was sand dunes. We climbed the highest dune to be able to see everything from above and without imagining it, once we were up there, we found the sea. It was very impressive to see the unexpected contrast and that infinite blue ocean.
Finally we visited the Punta Gallinas Lighthouse, “the most northern point of Colombia and South America”. There was a small construction that had that same phrase painted on it, and several stones piled on top of each other, that other travelers had left along the beach.
Our last stop would be at our second “ranchería”, located very close to the “Los Flamencos” Reserve, which we also visited. A paradise full of flamingos and shells, the kind you are supposed to hear the sea with.
What we Learned from the trip
We couldn’t believe it was out last day, we had done so many things and even though we had felt quite sick during the night (yes, it is quite possible that it can happen), we didn’t want to leave. As we moved away from the desert we felt more and more nostalgic. We promised not to forget what we felt when we saw the incredible landscapes, what we felt when we shared with the Wayuu community. We learned that living with only the basics is also possible and that despite living in the big cities, there is a whole world to discover.
Traveling to Punta Gallinas has been one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. It is a magical place and out of the ordinary. A place that presents an impressive variety of landscapes, a community that despite being so different opens its arms and teaches you about itself, and a space for self-reflection.
I enjoyed being close to such a hospitable and friendly community that, despite living in conditions so different from my own, showed its traditions and culture with pride. And I believe that experiences like this one make for very valuable cultural exchanges and that, especially in my case, they contribute to the balance and identity of a country as large and varied as Colombia. A country that unfortunately continues to struggle against its negative image and that seeks to show the world and its own citizens all that it has to offer.
How about you, do you want to visit Punta Gallinas now?