If you're looking to travel to Cabo de la Vela without a tour then get yourself ready for an adventure!
Located in the remote northern state of La Guajira, a trip to Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas feels like proper old school off-the-beaten-track travel. And whilst they take a little effort to reach, they are definitely worth your time and are simple enough to get to independently. The roads can be bumpy, the van will be cramped and you may share your personal space with a couple of goats but, as we and countless other travellers have found, the journey there is half the adventure.
Here's our guide which gives you the quickest and most convenient route from Santa Marta to Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira.
Santa Marta to Cabo de la Vela
#1 bus from santa marta to cuatro vias
From Santa Marta's terminal, there are at least a couple of companies travelling this route - all charging 25,000 COP per person. Find a bus which is heading to Maicao and request a ticket to Cuatro Vias. We went with Brasilia as they had a buseta which wouldn't stop every 10 minutes along the way to pick up.
Make sure your driver knows where you want to get off so he can let you know when you arrive, as it isn't a fixed stop on the route.
Note, if you want to travel to Cabo de la Vela from Tayrona, then you can catch this bus from outside the park entrance.
Time | 4 hours
Cost | 25,000 COP per person
Tip | Read our guide to the best things to do in Santa Marta next.
#2 jeep to from cuatro vias to uribia
Cuatro Vias is essentially a large crossroads which has evolved into an unofficial terminal. Here you'll find snack stands and little shops in amongst goats, contraband petrol cannisters and people waiting for a connection to Riohacha, Venezuela or Cabo de la Vela.
You need to get to Uribia and the standard fare is 8,000 COP in a pleasant 4WD. As soon as you're off the bus, you'll probably be surrounded by people trying to get you on their vehicle.
Vehicles leave once full.
Time | 30 minutes
Cost | 8,000 COP per person
#3 truck from uribia to cabo de la vela
In Uribia, you'll be dropped off next to a number of 4x4 trucks packed to the brim with boxes of food and drink, cheap petrol smuggled from Venezuela and maybe the odd goat. These are your ticket to bring you across the dusty roads of La Guajira to Cabo for 15,000 COP.
Your backpacks will stacked on top of the roof (probably on another 5ft of cargo) and you'll take your place on one of the benches in the back of the truck alongside a number of locals; make sure you've got plenty of water and stay in the shade as this will be a hot, sweaty and cramped ride.
This was the best part of the journey for us, firstly driving along a highway running parallel to the train tracks, stopping at some of the side roads to let off villagers before heading off-road through cactus patches, small settlements, desert and then finally to the coast.
It's a really unique ride and thankfully not as bumpy/rough as we were expecting. Enjoy it!
Once you arrive in Cabo de la Vela, the guys who work on the truck will probably drop you off at a hostel (if you haven't already told them a specific one to go to). Don't feel obligated to stay where they drop you off, all the hostels in Cabo de La Vela are within a five minute walk of each other.
Time | 2-3 hours
Cost | 15,000 COP per person
This makes the total travel time by jeep and bus from Santa Marta to Cabo de la Vela 7 - 8 hours, and the total cost 48,000 COP (£11.5 / $15) per person.
If you've come this far, we highly recommend spending at least two nights in Cabo de la Vela and also making the extra effort to reach Punta Gallinas. Unfortunately, Punta Gallinas cannot be done independently and you will need to organise to join one of the regular tours that leave Cabo de la Vela each day.
The approximate cost per person for transport to and from Punta, including an afternoon tour of the highlights, is 150,000 COP. We asked around a few places, and this genuinely does seem to be the going rate - feel free to haggle, but unless you are a large group, they are unlikely to drop their prices by much.
Note that accommodation and food whilst there is extra.