Riohacha, Rio Hacha or Rio de la Hacha (River of the Axe - Wayuu: Süchiimma), is a city and municipality in the northern Caribbean Region of Colombia by the mouth of the Ranchería River and the Caribbean sea, capital city of the Department of La Guajira. Founded by Conqueror Nikolaus Federmann in 1535, Riohacha was named after a local legend "The legend of the Axe". The area is mostly desertic and inhabited by Amerindians, predominantly by members of the Wayuu ethnic group. During colonial times Riohacha was a very important port due to findings of vast amounts of pearls. In recent years the city became one of Colombia's medium importance maritime commercial ports as well as a multicultural center for the Department. It is mentioned several times in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, and seven times in the novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, both written by Gabriel García Márquez.
The Municipality is located in the southwestern part of La Guajira Department and is bordered by the municipality of Dibulla to the west, the Caribbean sea to the northwest, the municipality of Manaure to the north, the Municipalities of Maicao and Albania to the east, the municipalities of Hatonuevo, Barrancas, Distracción, Fonseca to the southeast and San Juan del Cesar to the south.
The Riohacha area was inhabited by American Indians of the Wayuu culture, part of the larger Arawak group. The territory was "discovered" by Spanish sailor Alonso de Ojeda in 1498, though he never landed. A short time later, Juan de la Cosa, another Spanish explorer, landed on what is today called Cabo de la Vela (Cape of the Sail, so called because of its shape). In 1535, the German explorer Nikolaus Federmann founded a city with the name Nuestra Señora Santa Maria de los Remedios del Cabo de la Vela (Our Lady Saint Mary of the Remedies of the Cape of the Sail) at the place de la Cosa landed.
The Spanish discovered a vast amount of pearls in the city's area, which made the city a constant target for pirates. After the city was destroyed by a pirate raid, the city government relocated the city to the mouth of the Rancheria River, in order to confuse the pirates, and hopefully give the city time to rebuild before the next attack. The new city, named Nuestra Señora de los Remedios del Río de la Hacha (Our Lady of the Remedies of the Ax River), expanded peacefully for a short time in its new location, but pirate attacks soon resumed. The next major attack, led by the famous English pirate Francis Drake, took place in 1596, when Drake pillaged the city searching for gold and pearls.
During its period of independence from Spain, the port of Riohacha served many vessels fighting the Spanish for Colombian and Venezuelan independence. Many Riohachans also served in the revolutionary navy, most notably Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, who would come to be considered a hero in the revolutions of Colombia and Venezuela.
In 1954, Riohacha City acquired municipality status, and in 1964 was declared capital of the new La Guajira Department.