The Guajira Peninsula

The Guajira (Wajirra in the language of the Wayuu) was once considered nothing more than a no-man’s land replete with smugglers and outlaws. Due to its isolation, this barren corner of the earth was said to be populated by hostile Indians—a place too dangerous to travel to alone. But after embarking on a journey to this far northeastern region of Colombia, you will soon discover a different face. Welcome to the Land of Dreams and Death, as the Wayuu call their homeland.

The Guajira is divided into three parts, each distinguished by vegetation. Baja Guajira is the southernmost, with lands reaching toward the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and with an economy based on agriculture and cattle raising. The world’s largest coal mine, El Cerrejón, is also here. Media Guajira, which includes Riohacha Maicao and Manaure, is a hot region, but with moderate temperatures and low-desert flora. Alta Guajira—Uribia, northward to Cabo de Vela and Nazareth—is what we most often think of as Wajirra: desolate deserts. In the eastern midst of this is the oasis of the Macuira mountain range. Much of this area is difficult to reach with public transport. A sliver of the peninsula belongs to Venezuela, though for the Wayuu, this border does not exist.

The Wayuu (Guajiro) community is a very traditional matrilineal society. Many are willing—after the ice is broken—to teach you about their culture. It is said you make a Wayuu friend for life; even if you return 10 years later, you will be welcomed into the home. Also in the Guajira are significant communities of Afro-Colombians, descendents of Maroons.

Fresh water is scarce in the Media and Alta Guajira, thus affecting the price of every commodity. Hotels may have limited supplies, comidas corrientes (specials of the day) often don’t include a drink, and transport is more expensive. Have your budget prepared and practice conservation measures.

Access to Guajira is accessible from the Troncal del Caribe highway, as well as from Valledupar in the south. When making travel plans, be aware the southern highway is closed and heavily patrolled from dusk to dawn. The United States have talked about establishing a controversial military base in the peninsula, but it has yet to be done.