The Guajira

The Guajira

The capital of the department of the Guajira is Riohacha. Administratively, the department is made up of 15 municipalities, 142 population centers including townships, police stations and hamlets; it is divided into three geographic sub-regions, differentiated by climate, vegetation type and economy: Alta, Media and Baja Guajira.

• High Guajira: Maicao, Uribia y Manaure.

• Half Guajira: Dibulla y Riohacha.

• Down Guajira: Albania, Hatonuevo, Barrancas, Distracción, Fonseca, San Juan del Cesar, El Molino, Villanueva, Urumita, La Jagua del Pilar.

La Guajira stands out for having all the thermal floors of the intertropical zone with average temperatures between 35°C and 40°C. The department has a variety of terrestrial ecosystems, such as the desert, the dry forest and the humid mountain area. In its hydrological characteristics, it has water deposits such as aquifer wells and lagoons or ponds that supply water for the consumption of the communities; the main rivers are the Ranchería River and the César River, other shorter ones such as the Jerez River, Ancho River and Palomino River, and streams such as the Carraipía and Paraguachón also flow through its territory (Gobernación de La Guajira, 2013).

The topography of the department is varied; its geography is divided into three areas: the high, middle and low Guajira. The low Guajira goes from Riohacha to the Montes de Oca, on the border with Venezuela to the limits with the departments of Magdalena and Cesar. The highest altitudes of the Guajira territory are found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Perijá mountain range. In La Media Guajira, north of Baja Guajira up to the Cabo de la Vela-Cerro de la Teta line, the area is flat. The Alta Guajira has limits in the Caribbean Sea and with Venezuela. It has some low-lying mountain ranges such as the Macuira, which has a unique ecosystem in the world because it has a cloud forest in the middle of the desert (Meisel, 2007).

Most of the territory of La Guajira is arid or semi-arid, and in some areas there is no vegetation and water is scarce; they are desert. Precipitation in the three areas is different: in Alta Guajira it is less than 200 millimeters, mm, and in Media it is less than 400 mm. In Riohacha, the annual rainfall is 548 mm, concentrated in three months from September to November, when it is 382 mm; in the dry period, from December to April, the rainfall of 22 mm is very low. The low rainfall can be explained by the trade winds coming from the northeast. High temperatures, no cloud cover and high luminosity lead to very low humidity and little vegetation (Meisel, 2007).

Low soil moisture in the middle and lower parts of La Guajira directly impacts agricultural productivity. Most of the agricultural and livestock production in La Guajira occurs in the lower part, in the valleys of the rivers that originate in the Sierra Nevada de San Marta, such as the Ranchería and the Cesar. However, the climate in this region is semi-arid and makes it difficult to obtain better productivity records (Meisel, 2007); (DANE, 2015).

Demographically,The Guajira has an area of 20,848 km2 and is made up of 15 municipalities, 44 corregimientos and 26 indigenous reserves. It has an estimated population of 1,093,671 inhabitants (2020) and a population density of 46.32 inhabitants/km2 (2020), reflecting a 33.5% growth in the last decade. The department can be recognized as a territory with a relatively young and mostly economically active population, with a higher female participation of 552,207 women, compared to 541,464 men.

It is estimated that 49% of the Guajira population resides in the urban area and 51% in the rural area, and that it is composed of 51.69% of the ethnic population, identified as indigenous 44.82%, black, mulatto or Afro-Colombian population 6.84% and Raizal, Roma and Palenquera population 0.02%.

In terms of municipalities, Riohacha, the capital of Guajira, has an area of 3,171 km2 and 201,839 inhabitants, of which 73% are located in the urban area, 40.42% are ethnic population and there are 8 indigenous reserves. In the same order are municipalities such as Uribia, which is the largest, followed by Maicao, Dibulla and Manaure.

Economically in the Guajira, the municipalities of Baja Guajira are mainly engaged in mining and quarrying, agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fishing. The middle municipalities have economic activities related to electricity, gas, commerce, transportation, activities related to tourism: lodging, food services, transportation, among other economic activities. The main economic activity in Alta Guajira is tourism and handicrafts.

The tourism sector is one of the fastest growing sectors going from 2017 to 2020 from 3115 tourism companies to 3,915 companies due to the great potential of tourism offer that the department has.

According to figures from the Colombian Tourism Information Center CITUR-MINCIT, La Guajira is positioned as one of the main destinations preferred by international travelers, going from receiving 8,310 foreign visitors in 2013 to 66,485 in 2018.

The department of La Guajira has one of the largest wind energy potentials in South America. This is due to the fact that the department has the highest trade wind regimes in the country, with speeds of nine meters per second, and it is estimated that the department has a wind energy generation potential of 18 gigawatts, which is 1.2 times the generation capacity installed by the National Interconnected System (UPME, 2015). For now, UPME has a record of companies that have constituted guarantees for wind energy generation projects for 1 gigawatt.

Alta Guajira has an average maximum wind speed between 30 and 36 meters per second (m/s) during the year; additionally, the intensity and persistence of the winds in La Guajira reach a range between 5 m/s and 11 m/s throughout the year, which makes the department have a great potential for wind energy generation.


The Wayuu people are one of the Arawak peoples who, as a large migratory stream, move both through the Amazon and to the Antilles, where they arrived 10 BC.

Part of their ancestral customs were fishing, hunting, as well as horticulture, housing was communal in the form of maloca.

The Wayuu indigenous people are spread throughout the countries of Colombia and Venezuela and are currently the largest indigenous people inhabiting these two territories. Historically settled in the territory of the Peninsula of La Guajira or Jepira, in Wayunaki means land of the dead guajiros. In this ancestral territory we can find 21 indigenous reserves, the main ones are the largest territorially, which are the reserves of Alta and Baja Guajira (1,067,505 hectares) and 8 more reserves located in the south and middle Guajira and in the Carraipía reserve. Their settlements can be found in the municipalities of Barrancas, Distracción, Fonseca, Maicao, Uribia, Manaure and Riohacha among others, as well as in the Venezuelan state of Zulia.

These indigenous Wayúu populations live in predominantly arid areas, and move through the same territory according to the rainy season.

Según el censo nacional del 2018 hay 380.460 individuos auto reconocidos como población indígena Wayuu.

The Wayuú are mostly bilingual, although a fraction of them, Media and Alta Guajira, are monilingual. Their native language of the Arawak linguistic family has two dialectal forms that do not impede communication between them, the Wayuunaiki “arribero” or Alta Guajra and the “abajero” of the Baja Guajira.

Wayuu society has a matrilineal structure, with about 30 clans, each with its own territory. Within the extended family, the maximum authority corresponds to the maternal uncle, who intervenes in all family and domestic problems. Within the nuclear family, the children are practically directed by the mother’s brother and not by the biological father.

Wayuú women are active and independent, have an important role as leaders and organizers of the clan, and are politically active in their society. Marriage is contracted with a person from another clan, and the man’s parents pay a dowry to the woman’s parents.


In 1974 the Arhuaca Reserve was created, which later became a Resguardo, with an area of approximately 196,000 hectares, located in the departments of Cesar (municipalities of Valledupar and Pueblo Bello) and Magdalena (municipalities of Fundación and Aracataca). In 1980 the national government created the Kogi-Malayo Resguardo in the departments of Magdalena and La Guajira, with an initial area of 364,840 hectares, which was later expanded by 19,200 hectares, between the Palomino and Don Diego rivers, giving it access to the sea.

In short, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a great “water star” that produces some 10 billion cubic meters of water per year, of which a large percentage runs directly into the Caribbean Sea, the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta or the Ciénaga de Zapatosa.

The Ika, Iku, or Bintukua, commonly called Arhuacos, are an Amerindian people who speak a language of the Chibcha family, and inhabit the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In 2018, 34,711 people were registered as speaking their own language.

All the peoples of the Sierra are considered descendants of the first “fathers” and are therefore the “older brothers”. The four groups present patrilineal and matrilineal lineages, that is to say, the sons belong to the paternal lineage and the daughters to the maternal lineage.

The dress worn by the Arhuaca Indians is authentic, made by themselves. They wear a crossed blanket made of sheep’s wool, which is adorned with backpacks woven by the Indians. The woman also wears colorful necklaces and a thin sash around her waist.

Its main economic activity is agriculture and livestock, commerce and the sale of services.

Its main economic activity is agriculture and livestock, commerce and the sale of services.

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