Punta Gallinas, a place I’ve never heard of but one I’ll never forget. Traveling to the northern most point of South America is no easy feat. But now having done it, it’s not as bad as it may seem. Just be ready for an incredible eye-opening desert adventure.
Read about the latest travel tales + some helpful tips for getting to Punta Gallinas, where to stay, and what to do there.
How to Get to Punta Gallinas
We woke up with the Milky Way still shining bright. It was time to pack our things and head north. Our guide was waiting for us and all the backpackers in Cabo de la Vela met to scram into 4x4s.
Traveler’s Tip: Getting to Punta Gallinas is easier than it used to be as tourism increases. Once in Cabo, you will be offered tours to Punta Gallinas. If you’re a bigger group you may get a “discount.” We asked around to find the average price. As we were seven, we paid around 110,000 COP for the transport there/back (we went back to Uribia instead of Cabo), and a guided tour of the amazing Taroa sand dunes once in Punta Gallinas. If you are traveling solo or as a couple, you can expect to pay around 150,000 for the tour. Tour price does not include accommodation or food.
Once the guides marked down everyone’s passport numbers and settled payments (we paid half at the beginning), we were ready to head off. Not too far past cacti and desert roads did our 4×4 come to a complete stop. We just broke down… Great. As they called for another truck to come rescue us, we all took the opportunity to explore and take pictures of the area.
The ride took approximately 4 hours. The further we went the more hot and arid the landscape became. Sometimes you could only see desert, a complete 360 degrees. Distant mountains appeared in the background, with old 4×4 tire tracks seemingly leading to nowhere.
An Unforgiving Desert Childhood
Occasionally you would see a child on a bike, or a mother and her child walking across the desert. For how long they had been walking already, it’s hard to tell. Where they were going? It’s hard to tell. But for most who cross the desert, it’s in order to find some kind of help. Whether it’s in search of water from a far-away well, or for medical treatment for their sick child.
For most, the nearest hospital is a 5 hour walk across the desert. More than 5,000 children have died in the past decade from malnutrition which is further compounded by harsh living conditions, next to lack of basic medical care.
All of this became very apparent to me as we crossed the sweltering desert in our comfortable air-conditioned 4×4.
When Life Deals Unfairly
As an attempt to earn money, whether in cash or in goods, the Wayuu families who live remotely in the middle of nowhere set up makeshift “tolls.” In order to pass, you need to give some kind of goodie to the kid guarding the post. After you give a piece of candy, water, an orange, or whatever, the young boy or girl will lower the rope.
It’s easy to smile at the notion. But behind my smile lingered this horrible feeling of guilt. How can we just toss a sugary sucker out the window in pretense that that would satisfy their desperation? What childhood consists of guarding a post, tirelessly waiting for tourists to pass in order to receive some kind of nourishment or income? My heart broke as one boy came hurdling down the hill in order to reach his post in time for our passing car. His desperate cry for us to wait (so that he could get a treat of some kind) went unheard, and his outreached hand was left empty.
Once in Punta Gallinas
After several more hours of bumpy desert plains, we took a small motor-powered canoe boat across vivid green water to reach our final destination, Hospedaje Alexandra — (the only place really to sleep in Punta Gallinas).
Traveler’s Tip: Hammocks will cost 15,000 COP/night, while chinchorros (large Wayuu-style hammocks) will cost 20,000 COP. Make sure you ask for a blanket. The desert winds at night can become quite chilly!
Extra tip: If you like to look at the Milky Way in all it’s glory before you sleep, choose a hammock on the edge of the shelter instead of in the middle – the wind might be stronger (as you’re not protected by the other hammocks) but the views are just magical!
As the tour doesn’t include neither accommodation or food, you’ll want to order breakfast upon arrival (you’ll be hungry)! You can expect food prices to be about the same or a little more expensive than in Cabo de la Vela. Dinner costs between 12,000-20,000 COP. There is also a little store where you can buy snacks.
There isn’t any cell service, so your entertainment relies on your willingness to talk to other travelers or invite them over to play cards.
El Faro Punta Gallinas (Lighthouse)
After eating a quick yet tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, arepa, and coffee, everyone squeezed back in the 4×4’s to head to the lighthouse that marks the northern most point of South America and to tour the incredible Taroa sand dunes. I wasn’t thrilled about having to sit sideways in the back of a 4×4 as the driver navigates the often uneven desert terrain.
On the way, you’ll stop at an impressive and dusty overlook – el mirador. Your next stop will then officially be the northern most point of South America. Here, everyone will have a break to explore the area, take some pictures among the piled zen rocks, and stick their feet in the sea.
Taroa Sand Dunes
Finally, we headed to the massive sand dunes of Taroa; where steep desert slopes clash into the Caribbean sea. Like I said before, it’s a place I’ve never seen before but one I’ll never forget!
The amateur photographer inside me was just screaming to get out and start exploring. But as soon as I did, I was blind-sighted by the stinging sand that whirled around in the hot wind.
Traveler’s Tip: The Taroa sand dunes are very picturesque. With that being said, I would definitely say to take your camera, but come prepared with a Ziploc bag and a sand-proof bag to keep it in. You’ll want to take a dip in the sea too, so don’t forget a clean towel or you’ll be sand-caked before you reach the car again.
Catching the Sunset
Once you’re back and are able to get in a much-need afternoon nap, make sure to spare some energy to go catch the sunset. It is well-worth the walk (about 30 minutes) and you’ll discover beautiful desert landscapes.
Just head past the hostel and the little snack store, and just keep walking. You’ll pass dry, cracked earth filled with seashells, goats and donkeys that belong to the 5 or 6 Wayuu families that inhabit the remote area.
Traveler’s Tip: After the sun sets, you’ll have to walk back in the near darkness – take a small flashlight or save some battery on your phone, just in case. You wouldn’t want to step on a prickly cactus!
Punta Gallinas: Is the Trip Worth It?
While it’s true that Punta Gallinas takes a lot of effort (mostly transport time), anyone who loves adventure should try to go here.
It’s not your typical touristic destination, which is exactly contributes to its uniqueness. Otherwise, if you’re tight on time, staying in Cabo de la Vela will most definitely satisfy your thirst for discovering La Guajira desert.
But if you’re simply just on the fence about whether or not to go for it, I’d definitely say just go. You won’t regret it!