The northern tip of South America – La Guajira

desierto-de-la-guajira-8After a two day, bumpy journey through barren lands with only cacti and occasional coastlines, you arrive in the north of La Guajira. Your brain cannot keep up with your eyes and all you can do is take in every single moment grateful that you are getting to experience one of the most magical but isolated places in the world. After my 13 months traveling through South America, if I had to pick the single most amazing place I got to experience (and yes, I was in Patagonia and Macchu Picchu), it is this indigenous land in the north of Colombia – no contest.

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The journey commences in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, near the tourist playground of Santa Marta. From here, you take a local bus up to Riohacha – a good place to buy artistic Colombian handicrafts such as hammocks and handbags. In Riohacha, your best option is to find a tour agency offering a trip to La Guajira… normally these are 3 or 4 day all inclusive tours starting at about US $300.

Your tour begins in a 4WD that can seat 4 and you are introduced to your driver/ guide for the first section of the journey. Hopefully someone in your group speaks good Spanish because the Caribbean dialect is incredibly hard to decipher and it is going to be a long trip. Your driver takes you to a little store and tells you to stock up on candy. You are bewildered and curious but arrive back at the car with a nice supply of sweets.

364678As the journey out of Riohacha begins, the paved roads end and eventually you are actually driving through (for a lack of better word) terrain. There are no roads, no signs, just a lot of cacti, rocks and bumps. For a very long time. Now, the reason I recommend a tour is because La Guajira is the territory of the Wayuu Indians – it means normal Colombian laws do not apply here. When on a tour, your driver will be a local… he will know the area, the people, the language and you will end up in places doing things that you could never begin to plan as an independent traveler.

After a few hours, you will start to see some houses amongst the cacti. All of a sudden the car pulls to a halt. You stick your head out the window to see what is happening and realise that there are children on either side of the car holding a rope across the front. The driver instructs you to pull out the candy and hand it to the kids. You do, they giggle and drop the rope and onwards continues the journey. This happens repeatedly.

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The next few days are spent sleeping in the most beautifully crafted hammocks, eating fresh fish and lobster caught in front of you, frolicking in the bluest oceans, playing with countless sheep, running through endless sand dunes, experiencing the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets, doing handstands with local children on tiny little sand islands in the middle of the Caribbean Sea – all the while never seeing a single soul who isn’t in your group or with the Wayuu Indians who are hosting you for the night. You are well and truly off the beaten track and it is worth every single second, penny and bump.

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How to get to Montanita

f0000018Oh Montanita. If you are on the South American backpacking trail, there is no doubt that you will hear tales of this mystical land. And let me tell you, everything is true. Really. And it is actually even better than that.

Great waves, spectacular sunsets, friendly locals and a party scene that makes the Thai full moon fiesta seem like a pizza party – this tiny surf village on the west coast of Ecuador is the stuff that dreams are made of. But how do you get there?

Your trusty English language guidebook will probably tell you that there are 3 buses a day from the bus terminal in Guayaquil. What I have seen most tourists (including myself) do is plan the entire journey to make one of those 3 bus connections, thinking that if they were missed you will get stuck in Guayaquil for the night. Ignore your guidebook completely.

DSC01428The truth is that you are in Ecuador and everything is possible, always. There are 3 direct buses a day from Guayaquil to Montanita but loads and loads of indirect buses leaving all the time. When you find yourself in the bus terminal in Guayaquil, buy a ticket on any bus to Santa Elena or Salinas. Santa Elena is a small little town abut 1h 45min away, the bus driver will announce loudly when the bus stops there. As soon are you are off the bus, loads of locals will be trying to hoard you towards Montanita.

If you are there during the day time, you can get on a local bus to Montanita (the locals will point you to the stop where more than likely loads of other gringos are waiting). If you arrive late at night, you will get pointed to a collectivo or a shared mini-bus taxi where you pay $4 for your seat to Montanita. A private taxi from Santa Elena is about $15.

Next stop, Montanita. Enjoy. I’m jealous.

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