Colombia is a nation full of natural beauty. But even in a nation home to the Amazon, Andes, and so much more, La Guajira stands out. The long peninsula is home to the northernmost lands in the country, with windswept sand dunes that stretch beyond the horizon and lagoons full of more flamingos and exotic birds than anyone could could. To experience the extremes of this harsh, relentless landscape is to feel like you’ve been taken away to another planet.
Photo: One of the seemingly never-ending sand dunes extending from the Caribbean Sea in La Guajira, Colombia. (Photo credit: Luis Pérez)
Of course, natural wonder is just one unique aspect of a place that continues to retain the cultural traditions of the Wayuu people and other indigenous communities that have lived on these lands for millennia. Known by all for their colorful handmade “mochila” bags that now adorn shoulders of Colombians throughout the world, the Wayuu heritage — and their ongoing struggle for land rights, equality, and cultural preservation — is embedded into daily life across the area.
While many Colombians — let alone foreign tourists — have yet to experience this unique and fascinating department, Zharick Alvear of local travel agency Solera Travels explains that visiting La Guajira is actually quite easy. And the payoff is more than worth the trip. “Everyone who comes to La Guajira falls in love with its culture and landscapes,” she said.
To share even more, the area expert sat down with Loren Moss, executive editor of Finance Colombia, to talk more about the area and make the case for why everyone should put La Guajira near the top of their Colombian bucket list.
Loren Moss: Colombia has been growing in tourism for years and there are now many people who visit Cartagena and Medellín every year. But what about La Guajira? Why should someone visiting Colombia know about and visit La Guajira?
Zharick Alvear: Visiting La Guajira is a fascinating experience. It’s different. It is a department that has all of the temperate levels.
La Guajira is divided into three zones — low (Baja), middle (Media), and high (Alta) — and each one has completely different characteristics. In La Guajira, you will find culture, nature, and also many activities, such as nautical sports and bird watching.
It truly is a little-known department that is worth knowing — and worth promoting! Because everyone who comes to La Guajira falls in love with its culture and landscapes.
That’s the invite to visit it.
Loren Moss: If someone goes to visit La Guajira, what are the recommendations when it comes to experiences, activities, and even lodging? I think some people worry because its small in terms of population and lesser-known — and maybe they just don’t want to get lost. What are you recommendations to have the best time?
Zharick Alvear: Well, the main thing is to travel with a travel agency because we really are the ones that know our region. We have the knowledge to tell people, “Look, don’t go to this area at this time of night.” We are the ones that can give those kinds of recommendations here in the territory.
Alta Guajira is Wayuu territory, which is made of “trochas” of roads, where there’s no pavement yet, so the ones that truly know the territory are the drivers, many of them from the Wayuu [indigenous community]. So you will go with someone that knows the roads, knows the area, and most of all can speak the dialect — the wayuunaiki tongue — with the people that you will come across in Alta Guajira.
But, in general, the capital Riohacha and La Guajira are very well connected. You can get there by air, with Avianca, and now we have connections with Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. As far as land routes, Santa Marta is only two-and-a-half to three hours away. Barranquilla is four hours, and Valledupar is three hours away. So we are very well connected to visit through all these ways.
Loren Moss: Yeah, I think my first time, many years ago, I went in a small bus from Santa Marta. We went to see nature with some Wayuu friends who were very well-known, so we didn’t have any problems because there was a connection with the community. It was a really nice time. You’re from the region yourself, too, right?
Zharick Alvear: Yes, I’m from La Guajira. I’m Riohachera. My name, Zharick, is Arab from the Maicao mosque, because even in Media Guajira we have a lot of Arabian influence and culture. So my name comes from the mosque, and it’s a pretty interesting cultural mix because even my parents aren’t from La Guajira as such. They come from Cesar and Bolivar.
Loren Moss Moss: How can people get in touch with you or your agency if they want to come and see the beauty and culture of La Guajira for themselves?
Zharick Alvear: My agency is Solera Travels, and the website is SoleraTravels.com. You can find us on our Instagram @soleratravels and the same at Facebook.com/soleratravels. Or you can even reach out at the contact number +57 (316) 525-1301.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.