People have written and talked a lot about kiting in Cartagena on the Northern Caribbean coast of Colombia. Cartagena is not only a great kiting destination, it offers lots of cultural and touristic attractions. The old town displays amazing colonial architecture and the beautiful beaches of Bocachica and Boca Grande offer high-end apartments, hotel towers, and shopping attractions.
What is less known to the tourists is that Colombia has many other kiting destinations to offer. One that I found particularly interesting was the village of Cabo De la Vela in the North Eastern province of La Guajira. La Guajira is home to indigenous Wayuu people who also spread over to Venezuela. The Colombian friends I had met on a previous kiting trip to Lago Calima (now that place requires its own article!) had told me that Cabo de la Vela was remote, very poor, and very “tranquilo”! But that it had 365 days of wind and amazing flat water. In April 2011 I decided to return to Colombia and visit Cabo de la Vela.
When you arrive in Cabo de la Vela you will get surprised, disappointed, scared, or intrigued! In other words, you will have a strong reaction one way or another! For me, it was a combination of all. I knew that they were not going to have electricity and running water, so I was ready for those, but what surprised me was the fact that I was the only kitesurfer in the village! There were no kite schools and it looked like the villagers had never seen kiters either! I had to teach the little boy in my pousada how to launch and land my kite and thank god he found a pump in their storage, because I don't normally travel with my pump!
Wayuu women making and selling hand-made art work
Oh, but don't let that discourage you. For the water and the wind are amazing! Great consistent high teens to mid-twenties side-shore wind, which starts late morning, and amazingly flat water, with no chops. Paradise for freestylers! The desert and the natural beauty of La Guajira is breathtaking, and the culture of the indigenous Wayuu people is worth getting to know. From the top of a nearby mountain called “Pillon de Azucar” you get a nice 360 view of the area and are left amazed at how people live in these beautiful but difficult conditions.
View of the desert in la Guajira
Cabo de la Vela is poor... It is probably the poorest village I have ever traveled to. The electrical grid passes through, but the village only gets power between 6:00 pm and 10:30 pm. There is no running water either. So be ready to take showers using a bucket. For sleeping you have the option of the local woven huge and comfortable hammock strong in a dorm style room, or beds in two-person private rooms.
Pousada Pujuru - The main and best pousada in the village
The Cabanas with hamocks or private rooms
Now I have traveled to enough third world countries and seen enough 42 inch TVs in old wooden cabins where a family of 7 live to not be surprised by the big TV in the living room. What did surprise me though were the zillion direct TV channels and the latest iPhone and blackberry models my host owned! The Internet Cafe in the village did not have a working connection and everyday I asked they said it would be fixed “mañana”! So, the 4G connection on the smart phones was very useful.
Locals mainly eat plantains, yucas, or potatoes. For the tourists they provide fried fish and the occasional fried beef or chicken accompanied by carrots, onions and cabbage. Not very healthy but oh so delicious :-) Ahh... I miss that deep friend fish, the fried rice, and the fried plantains!
A typical meal! Oh so deliscious after a kite session!
The mobile butcher shop during the Easter weekend!
I was lucky that my trip overlapped with Easter holidays. So for a few days over one weekend while I was in Cabo many holiday makers from other cities in Colombia arrived and changed the face and mood of the village. All of a sudden there were street vendors with fruits, there was ice cream and frozen yogurt and there was music every where. More importantly, there came other kitesurfers! Some people I had met at Lago Calima arrived, my friend from Bogota and a few instructors from Barranquilla and Cartagena came and the pousada was filled! After a week of quiet nights, there suddenly was loud music pumping from car stereos till the morning! Nothing short of your typical South American party scene!
Colombian kiters during the Easter weekend
Bellow I provide some detailed information on how to get to Cabo de la Vela and where to stay. The entire La Guajira coast is amazingly beautiful and well traveled by back packers. If you are adventurous and like to rough it up once in a while, I definitely recommend Cabo. Just fly to Riohacha, take a taxi from there to Uribia, and then hop on a camion that takes the locals to Cabo – a fun 80 minute ride in the desert.
The market in Uribia
To get to Cabo de la vela, you need to fly into Riohacha (the capital of the province of La Guajira) airport. There are daily flights from Bogota on Avianca. At the time of my trip in 2011 the air fair was $150 USD round trip. I started my trip in Cartagena so I took a different route. I took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta, and one from Santa Marta to Riohacha. Each leg was around 4 hours.
Cartagena to Santa Marta to Riohacha
Mar Sol is the best bus company between Cartagena and Santa Marta. They run timely trips on their 8-passenger Mercedes Benz vans that pick you up from your hotel. Their buses are comfortable and equipped with AC. They make a few stops on the way for people to eat or use the bathroom. Santa Marta is a great touristy city with beautiful beaches and the famous Park Tayrona so if you have time, stay in Santa Marta and explore.
In Santa Marta, a taxi took me to the main bus terminal where I took the second bus to Riohacha. My big kite bag made the taxi driver cringe a bit and ask for a higher fair, but I managed to convince him that the kite bag was lighter than a human being and would not increase his gas consumption! The bus departed around 3 pm. It made many stops on the coastal road, transporting people between the villages. It was a great way to learn about the culture and talk to the locals.
I stayed in Riohacha for a night at hotel “Castillo del Mar”. It cost about $15/night and was nice and clean.
Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela
Going from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela is not an easy task. Transportation systems in La Guajira peninsula are not much developed so getting around is a bit difficult. The best option I think is to get in touch with Yelys at “Cabo de la Vela Tours” company. Their office is on the main beach front road and taxi drivers will know it and will take you there. This company runs daily trips at 8:00 am from Riohacha to Cabo de la Vela, making stops along the way and showing you the main tourist attractions. Make sure you call and make reservations the night before as there are no other departures for the day.You will ride in an air conditioned 4x4 and it only costs about $25.
Salt fields in Manaure, on the way to Cabo de la Vela
The more adventurous way for getting to Cabo de la Vela is to take a taxi to where buses for Uribia depart. Uribia is the indigenous capital of la Guajira and definitely worth checking out. The market is filled with Wayuu people (mostly women) selling the fresh catch of the day, as well as lots of other goods. In Uribia you need to get on the back of a comion that is the main transportation method for the Wayuus. It is a further 80 minute trip to Cabo de la Vela from there.
Renting a car
Renting a car in Riohacha and driving along the unpaved road to Cabo de la Vela is a possibility as well, as long as you do not travel at night or after rain as even with a 4x4 you will sink in and won't be able to get out! If you plan to travel deeper into La Guajira (for example to Nazareth) it is almost certain that you will get completely lost in the desert! The Wayuu locals have removed all the sign posts to maintain greater control over the region. Following the tracks on the ground is not an option either as there are tracks all over the place. So, be careful and preferrably take a guide with yourself.
With a Wayuu family in La Guajira