blog article - travel experience

Discovering Indigenous Colombian Culture: A Journey to Meet the Wiwa Tribe

Our travels around the world have taken us to many extraordinary places, but few experiences have been as profound and eye-opening as our visit to the Wiwa tribe in Colombia. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this indigenous community opened its doors and hearts to us, offering a rare glimpse into their ancient way of life. 

Who Are the Wiwa?

The Wiwa are one of the four indigenous tribes that inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a unique mountain range on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Alongside the Kogi, Arhuaco, and Kankuamo, the Wiwa are descendants of the Tayrona civilization and have lived in this region for centuries. They maintain a deep spiritual connection with their land, which they believe to be the “heart of the world.”

The Wiwa live a simple, community-driven life as protectors of Mother Nature. They hold a shared belief about the creation of the universe by a universal mother, who initially gave rise to the indigenous people and later created the individuals of the other societies, which is why they are the first “older brothers” (hermanos mayores) and the other Western cultures are the “little brothers” (hermanos menores). Despite the pressures of colonization and modernization, the Wiwa have managed to preserve their customs and traditions, making them a living testament to Colombia’s indigenous heritage.

The Wiwa are one of the four indigenous tribes that inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a unique mountain range on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Why We Decided to Visit the
Wiwa Tribe

Our decision to visit the Wiwa tribe was driven by our desire to understand and respect indigenous cultures. We believe that these communities hold invaluable wisdom about living in harmony with nature, something that is increasingly relevant in today’s world. By immersing ourselves in their way of life, we hoped to learn from their sustainable practices and gain a deeper appreciation for their culture and spirituality.

 isabela and diogo with daniel, an indegenous wiwa inhabitant – photo by @wearecrazyenough

journey to sierra nevada

Our journey began with a drive from Santa Marta, a bustling city on the Caribbean coast, to the remote mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The landscape changed dramatically as we ascended from sea level to the lush, green hills of the Wiwa territory. The air grew cooler and the surroundings more serene, setting the stage for our encounter with the Wiwa.

Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the Wiwa community. The camp, situated in a tranquil valley, was a cluster of traditional thatched-roof huts made from local materials. The simplicity and harmony of the setting immediately put us at ease.

Daniel, our host and the first of his family to speak Spanish, greeted us with smiles and open arms. His ability to bridge the gap between the Wiwa and Spanish-speaking visitors made our stay even more meaningful. He introduced us to the camp and explained the significance of various aspects of their daily life.

 wiwa family – photo by @wearecrazyenough

 interacting with wiwa kids – photo by @wearecrazyenough

living with the wiwa: a day in the life

During our two-day stay, we immersed ourselves in the daily activities of the Wiwa tribe. Our schedule included:

  • Morning Rituals: We started each day with a traditional ritual to honor the spirits of nature. The Wiwa believe that maintaining balance with the environment is crucial for their well-being.

  • Learning Traditional Crafts: We spent time with the women of the tribe, learning to weave intricate patterns into their traditional bags, known as mochilas. These bags are not only beautiful but also hold cultural significance, representing the wisdom of their ancestors.

  • Nature Walks and Swimming: Daniel took us on walks through the surrounding forest, teaching us about the medicinal plants and sustainable farming practices that sustain their community. We also swam with Daniel in a secret waterfall, an experience that highlighted the sacredness of the natural world for the Wiwa.

  • Community Meals: We shared meals with the Wiwa, enjoying simple yet delicious dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. Meals were communal, fostering a strong sense of togetherness and community.

  • Evening Bonfire and Rituals: At night, the community gathered around a bonfire. We participated in a magical ritual guided by their Mamo, the spiritual leader. This ceremony was a profound experience, connecting us to the deep spirituality and traditions of the Wiwa.

  • Sleeping in a traditional Wiwa hut: We slept in hammocks, lulled by the sounds of the forest. The clear, star-studded sky was a breathtaking sight, free from the light pollution of modern cities. We drifted off to sleep with a profound sense of peace and connection to the natural world.

daniel in the sacred waterfall – photo by @wearecrazyenough

We Are Crazy Enough movement with Wiwa – photo by @wearecrazyenough

 wiwa child inside wiwa camp – photo by @wearecrazyenough

wiwa mamo ritual – photo by @wearecrazyenough

lessons we learned

Our time with the Wiwa tribe was transformative. We left with a deeper understanding of:

  • Harmony with Nature: The Wiwa’s way of life is a testament to the importance of living in balance with the environment. Their sustainable practices offer valuable lessons for a world grappling with ecological crises.

  • Cultural Preservation: Despite external pressures, the Wiwa have managed to preserve their cultural heritage. Their resilience and commitment to their traditions are inspiring.

  • Community and Togetherness: The Wiwa’s strong sense of community and mutual support reminded us of the importance of human connection and cooperation.

  • Respect and Humility: The Wiwa’s respectful and humble approach to life taught us to appreciate the small things and to be grateful for what we have.

Reflections on the Experience

The simplicity of the Wiwa’s life and their humble approach to existence taught us to appreciate the small things. The warmth with which they welcomed us, the stories they shared, and the lessons they imparted filled us with gratitude. Their humility was a stark contrast to the often frantic pace of modern life, reminding us to slow down, be present, and cherish every moment.

The Wiwa’s profound respect for nature was also palpable in every aspect of their daily life. Living in harmony with the environment is not just a concept for them; it is a way of being. This connection reminded us of the importance of taking care of our planet and appreciating the natural world. The time we spent in the pristine landscapes of the Sierra Nevada, swimming in hidden waterfalls, and walking through lush forests has left an indelible mark on our hearts.

A Promise to Return

One of the most touching moments of our visit was making a promise to Daniel to return when he becomes a Mamo, a process that takes about 20 years of learning alongside the current Mamos. This commitment underscores the deep connection we felt with the Wiwa and our desire to maintain and nurture that relationship over time.

diogo and isabela

we are crazy enough

 wiwa child inside the wiwa camp – photo by @wearecrazyenough

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