At the northernmost tip of Colombia is a vast, untamed desert that juts into the Atlantic Ocean. I spent a week traveling through the area — here's what it's like.

Lisa Marion Smith for Business Insider

We flew Avianca Airlines from Colombia's cosmopolitan capital into Riohacha, the largest city in La Guajira. A small coastal town, Riohacha has major bank branches, hotels and grocery stores, but none of Bogota's hipster sheen. First stop: Purchase drinking water.
  • La Guajira is a Colombian department comprised of a desert peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • In January, my mother and I took a week-long journey through the area.
  • Our journey took us through rocky desert trails, sand dunes that ran straight into the sea, and beach towns full of hostels and backpackers.
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Flamingos in the wild, sand dunes in the desert that run into the sea, the crafts and culture of the Wayuu indigenous people all at the northern most tip of South America. This is La Guajira, a Colombian department comprised of a desert peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean.

It sounded idyllic. My mother and I were planning to go to Colombia in January 2020 to visit family. A cousin of ours suggested we take a week-long trip to this magical part of the country, unknown to all of us. First, there would be bird watching at the beach. Then, on to rocky trails through the desert in a Toyota Land Cruiser, staying in hostels, sleeping in hammocks like the locals.

But this is not for those in need of creature comforts, our cousin warned us. Water is scarce. Poverty is endemic. Cell phone reception, spotty. Electricity and showers are not a given.

We said yes.

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