The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range is located on the Caribbean Sea and is shared with the departments of Magdalena and Cesar.
Most of the hydrographic reserves in the Department of La Guajira originate in this mountain range, including the Ranchería River which flows through most of the department from south to north.
It occupies most of the Guajira Peninsula in the northeast region of the country, on the Caribbean Sea and bordering Venezuela, at the northernmost tip of South America. Various indigenous tribes populated the arid plains of the region prior to the Spanish arrival to the Americas.
In 1498, Alonso de Ojeda sailed around the peninsula of La Guajira, but the first to set foot in what is known today as La Guajira was the Spanish explorer Juan de la Cosa in 1499.
A popular tourist destination is Cabo de la Vela, a small fishing village located on the tip of the peninsula in the Guajira desert. The term was then expanded to define all the indigenous in the peninsula who seemed to be goat herders.
During the pre-Columbian era, present-day La Guajira was inhabited predominantly by indigenous tribes belonging, in the dry northern lowlands, mostly to the Wayuu (Guajiros, Macuiros, Anates, Caquetios, Wayunaiki, Cuanaos, Onotos and Eneales) and Cocina people, and, in the south, to the Kogui, Arhuaco, Guanebucan, and Chimila ethnic groups, among others. The northern indigenous peoples were nomads traveling the peninsula, hunting, fishing, and collecting fruit.
The indigenous groups in the south were semi-sedentary, practicing agriculture and exploiting coastal resources.
Between 16, the Spanish colonizers imported some 800 or more African slaves. In 1679, the Government of Santa Marta offered these palenques their freedom in exchange for their helping to protect the territory from English pirates and the government of Venezuela who coveted the Guajira Peninsula because of its pearls.
La Guajira was one of the territories in Colombia that endured a period of isolation during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, due to the resistance of the indigenous peoples, predominantly the Wayuu.
The Middle Guajira region is mostly flat, with hills in some areas, presenting also an arid environment.