La Guajira is part of the group of departments that comprise the Colombian Caribbean, jutting out into the Caribbean Sea. It covers an area of 20,848 km2 and is 1,121 km north of Bogotá and 220 km northeast of Barranquilla. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta isolates the territory of La Guajira from the rest of the country. It creates its own drainage basin (the Gulf of Venezuela) and it determines the natural and cultural divisions of the peninsula into three subregions.
It comprises 15 municipalities with a population of 818,695 inhabitants as of 2010. Since the 1970s, it has been the landing point for population movement and immigration from the Middle East, which has produced a galloping population increase that has also created a wealth of demographic diversity. The territory contains three nature reserves and a large Muslim community that has had a pivotal role in its economy.
It offers a variety of terrestrial ecosystems, dominated by the desert (Guajiro desert), dry forest, and the mountainous wet forest. The main rivers are the Ranchería and the Cesar, while lesser ones include the Jerez, Ancho, and Palomino. Innumerable streams also cross the territory, such as the Carraipía and Paraguanchón. Water reserves also include aquifer wells and small lakes (jagüeyes in the local language) that supply water to many rural communities.