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In this area of magic and reality, on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, lies Riohacha, the capital of La Guajira.
There, on the southwestern coast of the peninsula, the city remains perfumed by a combined aroma of salt and iodine.
From the air, it is an enchanting landscape: calm coasts adorned by coconut trees, boats going or coming from fishing, and flocks of pelicans, herons and seagulls that brighten up the place. The Muelle de los enamorados (Lover’s Wharf), which lies from the beach to the sea, also stands out. Next to it, the mouth of a creek that has been a silent witness of all the history of the city.
Seaport on the Caribbean, reveals at a glance that the impact of the modern economy has reached there. The construction of tall buildings overlooking the sea, wide avenues that meet the highways leading to Santa Marta, Barrancas, Valledupar and the border market of Maicao with Venezuela.
Characteristics of Riohacha
Located on the Caribbean coast, the Colombian city of Riohacha is the capital of the department of La Guajira.
A fertile pearl region long coveted and attacked by pirates, Riohacha is nowadays an excellent starting point for exploring the surrounding areas.
With a vast white sandy beach and beautiful buildings that bear witness to the Spanish colonial era, Riohacha attracts many visitors every year.
Number of Inhabitants
Riohacha has just over 167,800 inhabitants (2005 estimate).
The territory was populated by Indian ethnic groups before its discovery by Christopher Columbus.
The conquistador Alonso de Ojeda reached the current location of Ríohacha in 1498, and the city of Ríohacha was built by Juan de la Cosa in 1535.
The Spanish royalty grants the status of autonomous city to Ríohacha in 1547.
It was attacked by the English freebooter Francis Drake in search of pearls and gold in 1596, and on May 2, 1769, in the midst of a revolt, the Waryyu attacked it.
Ríohacha carried out commercial transactions with Holland, the West Indies, England, New York and Panama during the 19th century.
On July 1, 1965, the Guajira Department was created and Ríohacha was designated as its capital.
At present Ríohacha is a cornerstone city in the growth of ecotourism and national cultural tourism.
The city of Riohacha is located in the northern part of Colombia, in the centre of the Guajira department.
It has a port and an area of 3120 km².
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How to get around Riohacha ?
The city of Riohacha has Buses or Taxis as its main means of transportation.
Taxis are the ideal means of transport for getting around the city and tourist areas quickly.
Count a minimum of 3,000 COP for a ride in the city centre.
Buses: There are two networks, the Transmilenio and the secondary network, which includes busetas, colectivos or ejecutivos (denomination attributed differently according to the size of the vehicles).
The Transmilenio makes it easier for visitors to get around.
What to see in Riohacha ?
The city of Riohacha has some tourist sites to discover.
Visitors will mainly go to the Riohacha Cathedral (Nuestra Senora de los Remedios), the Paseo de la Marina, the bronze statue of Francisco Rodríguez known as El Hombre (the father of vallenato music) and the large Municipal Market.
Government site of the city of Riohacha (in Spanish)
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What to do in Riohacha ?
Relax on the beaches that line the city and enjoy their glowing sunsets.
Stroll along the Paseo de la Marina.
Visit the traditional Wayuu handicraft market.
Taste local specialties in one of the many restaurants along the seafront.
Have fun in the bars and discos in the pedestrian street of Calleron de las Brisas.
Mochilas, bufandas, ruana (Colombian pancho), Indian pottery, leather goods, beautiful blankets, gold jewelry.
Gastronomy and local recipe(s)
The dishes: the “cuy” (roasted guinea pig); mote (corn cooked with spices); poleada soup; locro (stew made with beans, corn and squash)
Desserts: quimbolitos (typical biscuits); dulce de Chilacuan; paila ice cream; almendras de leche (made with milk and cinnamon); alfajores.
Beverages: champus (made with panela honey, corn and fruit); hervidos (hot drink made with fruit juice and liquor); canelazo (cinnamon hervido).
Best things to see in Riohacha
Around the city of Riohacha, there are various sights to see.
Maicao, a city in the central eastern part of the department nicknamed the “commercial showcase of Colombia”; Cabo de la Vela, its fishing village and magnificent Pilon de Azucar beach; the Manaure saltworks; the Jepirach ecological park; Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America.
Paseo de la Marina
Constituted by the urban beaches and its articulation with the Tourist Pier and the Camellón on the coastal strip of Avenida La Marina, it was designed to walk enjoying the landscape of the Caribbean Sea. It has twelve interpretive columns of the landscape and culture of La Guajira. The PIT (Tourist Information Point) is located there.
Built in 1937, it is approximately 700 meters long. Entering the pier allows you to appreciate a great panoramic view of downtown Riohacha.
The pilgrimage of the Virgen de los Remedios – La Vieja Mello – is held at the pier every May 14, a ceremony known as El Día del Milagro (Miracle Day).
Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
It is located in front of Almirante Padilla Park. In addition to the careful architecture of this temple of the XVI century, it is necessary to know the image and the history of the Virgin taken to Riohacha from Cabo de la Vela, when the port was assaulted by the English who were looking for pearls.
The cathedral is part of Colombia’s national heritage because the remains of the famous Guajira hero, Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, lie in it.
To the northeast and on 1st Street is the Riito Bridge over the mouth of the Ranchería River. It is interesting to observe the artisanal and indigenous fishermen preparing their nets and other gear for their daily work. It is a very appropriate place to appreciate the sunset. It takes its name from the large number of crabs that can be observed. A little further north, a short distance away is a popular beach resort known as Valle de los Cangrejos (Valley of the Crabs).
The Plaza de Padilla is considered the center of the city and the meeting place and gathering place of the riohacheros. It is adorned by the statue of Admiral José Prudencio Padilla. It is very well preserved and framed by a beautiful architecture – Municipal Palace, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Remedies and modern buildings.
It is the largest body of water in the capital of the department. It is home to a large number of migratory and native birds.
Nicolás de Federmán Park
It is located at the end of La Marina Street or First Avenue. It is surrounded by cannons that recall the defense of the city. The monument to the conqueror Nicolás de Federmán stands out.
Monument to Francisco el Hombre
Notable point at the traffic circle at Calle 15 and Carrera 7.
Return of the fishermen
It is very interesting to appreciate the return to the city of the artisanal fishermen, between three and five o’clock in the afternoon, with their fish caught at sea.
Departmental Cultural Center and Public Library Casa de la Cultura
This important building is considered one of the most valuable architectural heritages in Riohacha. Its round structure, elevated from ground level, stands at the end of Avenida de La Marina. It hosts economic forums, cultural events and offers workshops and courses.
Bordering the structure, at street level, a true work of urban art can be detailed. An impressive mural painted by several local artists represents many elements of La Guajira, such as the Wayúu handicrafts, the vallenato, the deserts and the embarradores (a group of people who are dedicated by tradition, on Carnival Sunday, to embarradores the attendees).
Riohacha’s main attraction is its six beaches (Marbella, Del Guapo, Del Muelle, Gimaura La Boca, De los Cangrejos and La Raya), all with white sands lined with coconut palms and the Tourist Pier since 1937.
It is preferable for those who wish to travel to Colombia to seek advice from their doctor and to subscribe to a medical evacuation insurance.
The local authorities do not require any prior vaccination, however, it is recommended that you are protected against typhoid fever, rabies, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria-tetanus-polio, and yellow fever.
Only clinics in Colombia’s major cities are sufficiently equipped medically to deal adequately with all conditions.
In principle, medical treatment is payable in advance before the patient is treated.
The regional hospital Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and four other facilities are available in Ríohacha.
The Paris timetable is 7 hours ahead of the Ríohacha timetable throughout the year.
- Pop. 220,754.
- 28 oC3
- Latitude 10o 23′ and 12o 28′ north and 71o 06′ and 73o 39′ west.
How to Get to Riohacha ?
The Almirante Padilla airport, located five minutes from the town, is served daily by a national airline and twice a week by an international airline.
The Terminal de Transporte Terrestre is the arrival and departure point for four large interdepartmental transportation companies and three intermunicipal companies for minor routes. It is advisable to use the door-to-door transportation service for small vehicles from Maicao and the departmental capitals bordering La Guajira.
The Terminal is located on 15th Street between Carreras 11 and 12, where several transportation companies are located, such as Expreso Brasilia, Copetran, Expreso Wayuu, among others.
From Valledupar, Riohacha is reached by a paved and well signposted road.
Roads: Valledupar, La Paz, Varas Blancas, La Jagua del Pilar, Urumita, Villanueva, San Juan del Cesar, Buena Vista, Distracción,
Fonseca, Barrancas, Papayal, Hatonuevo, Cuestecitas, Villamartin (Machobayo), Mongui, Riohacha.
Santa Marta to Riohacha
To make this route, the traveler must take the Caribbean trunk road, heading north, passing the bridge over the Palomino River, from where the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta can be seen and where the departmental boundary of Magdalena and La Guajira is located. The road is well paved, well signposted and in perfect safety conditions.
On both sides of the road, there are gas stations, food stops, hotels, restaurants and several small houses ideal to stock up on supplies for the next trip.
Transportation on Riohacha’s main roads is provided by collective service cabs, which are either shared fares or pay-per-stand fares. In addition, individual cabs are inexpensive because of the short distances involved.
Weather in Riohacha
The climate, especially on the peninsula, is dry and with high temperatures (27 oC to 35 oC), cooled by the sea breeze and the northeast trade winds that blow during most of the year. Rainfall is scarce and generally occurs in the months of September, October and November.
History of Riohacha
The foundation of Riohacha is the result of two migratory transplants from the island of Cubagua, located near Margarita, to Cabo de la Vela, and from there to the site currently occupied by the capital of Guajira. On March 21, 1538, King Charles I of Spain signed a Royal Decree in Toledo authorizing the transfer of the Cubaguenses to Cabo de la Vela. The migrants settled there with their families and all the prerogatives, titles and coats of arms transferred from the population of origin, as stipulated in the aforementioned royal decree.
The settlement, baptized Santa María de los Remedios, was founded in accordance with the relevant laws and lived off the pearl trade, but in 1545 its inhabitants sought a new settlement further west because of the permanent siege by pirates and sometimes by the natives themselves.
Led by Francisco de Castellanos, they migrated and reached the Gayúa pass, one league from the mouth of the river.
They called Ranchería, and the town they established was named Nuestra Señora de los Remedios del Río de la Hacha (Our Lady of the Remedies of the River of the Axe). This name obeys, according to tradition, to the fact that the newcomers, thirsty and desperate, promised an axe to an Indian they found on the road, as long as he showed them a source of drinking water.
In time, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios del Ríohacha became a flourishing port, by virtue of the copious banks of mother-of-pearl at the mouth of the tutelary river. In the beginning, the town belonged to the Royal Audience of Santo Domingo, and later to the jurisdiction of Santa Marta, whose government built three forts to defend it from the attacks of buccaneers and guajiros.
Subsequently, it was erected as a Governorate, because in the belief of the metropolis, there would be better mechanisms to protect it from enemies from land and sea; but even so, the territory was martyred, plundered and sometimes reduced to ashes.
During the republican life, Riohacha belonged to the department of Magdalena, but with the promulgation of Decree 1824 of June 13, 1954 it became the capital of the Intendencia de La Guajira, and later the law established it as the capital of the department of La Guajira.
Culture and traditions
Every year, Riohacha hosts various cultural events such as theater, storytelling, dance, poetry, bolero and vallenata music festivals. Recently, events of high national and international impact have been added to its agenda, such as the Hay Festival Riohacha (chapter of the Hay Festival of Literature And The Arts) and the Francisco el Hombre National and International Festival of contemporary vallenata music.
It is important to know that Riohacha has an outstanding architectural heritage that deserves to be known and valued. Its urban memory is nourished with buildings of marked republican style, such as the Municipal Palace and some hotels; well preserved temples of traditional religious style such as the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, the church of San Francisco de Asís, the chapel of the Divina Pastora and the church of San Judas Tadeo. Its tradition
The urban structure is also structured with old Caribbean-style buildings that evoke its legendary past and serve as living testimonies of its historical past.
There are small restaurants and inns for all tastes, easily located in the center of the city, especially on or near Avenida de la Marina.
Towards the end of Avenida Primera and Carrera II, there are small kiosks and establishments selling very fresh cebiches and seafood cocktails.
An important part of the economy is livestock: cattle, pigs, goats and sheep. Fishing, especially for shellfish, turtles and pearls, is carried out in an artisanal way. Indigo, mahogany, cedar, guayacán, oak, and totumo are also important forestry products.
In the city there are hotel establishments of different categories and rates. Some are located near 12th Street or Avenida de la Marina and others are scattered throughout the city, but mostly near the historic center and others on the outskirts. There are also guesthouses and some finca-hotels near the urban area.
Along the Avenida de la Marina and in the vicinity of the hotels, as well as in the public market, the Wayúu Indians exhibit and sell handicrafts, bags, backpacks, chinchorros, handles, bracelets, hats and blankets. There are also some specialized stores that buy these products directly from the artisans.
Riohacha has several hospital establishments, such as private clinics and first aid centers, which treat private patients or those of health entities. Among them are: Clínica Riohacha, Cades, Renacer and Clínicas de la Península. Public health services are provided by Nuestra Señora de los Remedios Hospital.
On Avenida de La Marina are the main entertainment establishments, which begin their services in the afternoon hours and conclude at the end of the night.
Scattered throughout the city and easily accessible, there are Internet sites that offer their services at low costs and remain open continuously from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
ATMs of all banks that accept national and international cards are available to customers. They are easy to find in the center of the city and in the Suchimma Shopping Center.
Commercial establishments are usually open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sundays and holidays until 4 p.m.