Cabo De La Vela: Where The Desert Meets The Caribbean Sea

Cabo De La Vela: Where The Desert Meets The Caribbean Sea
Jule
Jule
Updated

Cabo is a wild west town, Colombian style. Located in the Guajira province of Colombia, close to the Venezuelan border, it’s essentially a collection of hammock shacks spread along a kilometre long half moon bay. A dusty track separates the beach from a single row of driftwood buildings, and the desert extends endlessly out behind them. There’s little vegetation except cacti - cacti fences, cacti houses, cacti gardens.

Dreadlocked surfers wander the beach and dusty road, beer in hand, impressive abdominals exposed, and wide grins on their faces. Colourful kites dot the horizon as locals and visitors alike make use of the unfailingly perfect late afternoon winds that make this a top destination for kite surfers. The conditions are apparently perfect: shallow and calm waters, steady offshore winds, and air temperatures that make wetsuits a joke.

Getting there (and back again)

The 4am departure to leave Cabo is not great, but sunrise in the desert from the top of a local ‘bus’ is an unforgettable experience.

Cabo’s isolation is what makes it unique, but it also makes it challenging to get to. The few tourists who make the journey often base themselves in Santa Marta, leaving most of their belongings there, and only taking the bare necessities to Cabo (swimming gear, a towel, something warmer for nights, lots and lots of water, and plenty of cash as the nearest ATM is in Uribia).

To get to Cabo, you have to take a bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha, where you hop on another bus to Uribia, and finally track down one of the local jeeps which travel between Uribia and Cabo several times a week (the days and times on which the jeeps travel change, so ask at the bus station in Riohacha when you’re there). It is possible to make the journey in a single day, but spending a night in Riohacha makes the travel times more manageable. To leave, catch a jeep from anywhere along Cabo’s main road at 4am back to Uribia, and after which the itinerary is the same as getting to Cabo. Of course, the easiest way to get there is by tour, but that limits your time in Cabo itself and means your activities there will be dictated by a tour group. I would recommend going independently. If you can, do try to find a local willing to help you plan your journey, as there are many (unreliable) buses to find and catch - and the last stretch is very difficult to manage without some local guidance and a basic grasp of Spanish.

The journey (there and back) should cost you no more than 160,000 COP (60 USD), if you’re taking public buses and local transport.

What to do in Cabo

One of the stunning local bays, perfect for swimming.

Part of why I am such a strong advocate of visiting the village independently, is because Cabo is for living the slow life. Something Colombians - surfers in particular - have down pat is the concept of hammock time. In the province of La Guajira, hammocks are called chinchorros. It’s not just the name that makes them different.

They’re made by Wayuu women - the indigenous tribe of La Guajira Peninsula, Colombia - as an expression of their skill, creativity and wisdom. They take up to 6 months to make, and are famously the most comfortable hammocks in the world. You will never sleep so well. If you are visiting independently, you can laze in these luxurious hammocks for hours on end, taking an occasional dip in the bay, and sipping Venezuelan beer.

Evenings can be spent on the beach, gazing at the professional kite surfers as they soar across the lilac sky, their kites silhouetted against the setting sun. So, what to do in Cabo? Nothing. Glorious, blissful, nothing.

The active side of Cabo

 A common sight in Cabo - sunset sky filled with kites.

However, if you’re after a more active holiday, Cabo has as many opportunities for you as for the beach bums. Obviously kite surfing is the most popular activity - check out kiteaddict.colombia for lessons for beginners and gear rentals. The owners and the surf instructors are very welcoming and helpful, and extremely good at what they do. If kite surfing seems a bit far out of your comfort zone, or just not your cup of tea, you can rent motorcycles and make a day of visiting all the local sights.

There are gorgeous bays you’ll have all to yourself, hills to clamber up for spectacular views, and Wayuu markets (set up for the tourists) to buy beautiful hand-crafted artesania. From the top of the hill known as el Pilon de Azucar, you can get a feeling for the vastness of the landscape. The expansive golden desert meets the endless azure ocean - two wild, desolate landscapes intersecting. Watching the sunset from up there is a whole other experience, equally glorious, and highly recommended.

How long you want to stay will depend on how much you enjoy lazing on the beach. A week is a good amount of time in which to balance activities with beach time. If you’re taking kite surfing lessons a week is also long enough to get a grip of the basics.

Where to sleep

Typical housing in the Guajira desert

The village exists because of tourism, so there is plenty of accommodation. The entire bay is dotted with very simple ‘hospedajes’, most of which will provide options of cabins, hammocks, and tent sites. Rodrigo’s (Hospedaje Ballena) is located at the very end of the bay, if you are arriving from Uribia and I can highly recommend his establishment. Rodrigo rents hammocks at very reasonable prices (15,000 COP / 5.60 USD), also provides the option of a double room or a tent site, runs a restaurant and a shop, and will provide you with all the beer and aguardiente (local sugarcane liquor) you could ever desire. The best part is that along with your hammock, you’ll get an ocean view to wake up to, and a little shack in which to shelter from the sun during the day.

A note on what to expect

Cabo is very isolated, and surrounded by Wayuu villages. Poverty and issues associated with it are very evident, so whilst the landscape and people are beautiful, you will encounter some challenging scenes. This also means that even for tourists, the facilities are very basic. Hot showers are unheard of (also unnecessary, you’re in a desert after all!), and even the higher end accommodation is simple - small beds in what is essentially a shack. Electricity comes from a generator, which is turned off at 10pm on most nights. Be prepared for all this, be open and understanding and patient, and Cabo will be one of the most unique places you ever have the pleasure of experiencing.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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I am a twenty-something writer and photographer with a wandering soul and a deep connection to the ocean. I lead a double life, as I also study Geography at Otago University in New Zealand, work as...Read more

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