Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Sonja Bricker.
Waterfalls and orchids. Coffee farms and hummingbirds. Colombia’s largest hammock and highly addictive chocolate bread. Welcome to Minca, population 1,000, elevation 650 meters (2,133 feet), located in the Sierra Nevada foothills just 30 minutes above Santa Marta.
After spending a blissful five days in Cartagena with a friend from Seattle, I decided to continue traveling along the Caribbean coast.
Although I love beaches, hiking is my true passion. Fortunately, Minca is a hiker’s paradise. It’s an independent hiker’s paradise. It’s also a place where a guide isn’t necessary if you stick to the main paths.
Note the above photo is a view of Santa Marta taken from the Sierra Nevada foothills where Minca is located (photo by Marfak Velez).
Getting to Minca
Getting there is relatively easy and affordable. From Cartagena I traveled directly to Santa Marta with MarSol, a bus line that primarily uses 15 passenger vans. There are several departures daily for $48,000 pesos ($16.55).
Unlike Antioquia, the coastal roads are flat, straight, and allow drivers to speed, pass frequently and arrive on time. My travel time between the two cities was four hours.
From the MarSol terminal on the outskirts of Santa Marta I took a private taxi directly to Minca for 40,000 pesos ($13.80). A low budget option would have been a local bus into downtown Santa Marta for 2,000 pesos. And then an 8,000 peso collectivo, or shared taxi, from the corner of Calle 11 with Carrera 12.
Motorcycle taxis are also available for 10,000 pesos from the Yucal tienda just after the train tracks on the outskirts of town.
Within minutes of beginning the uphill journey towards Minca I noticed the landscape began to change. Towering trees, tropical flowers, massive stands of guadua bamboo lined the two lane road. This was followed by wide open views of the mountains. Dry, dusty Santa Marta grew smaller and more picturesque with every curve.
Upon arrival at the transportation center of Minca – two taxis, one mini-van and half dozen motorcycle taxis (other than the main road into town all roads are dirt and heavily potholed making motorcycle taxis the preferred option) – I was greeted by a young man who asked if I needed help finding accommodation. I gratefully accepted his offer.
We walked first to Hostal Brisas de Minca, a modest two story hotel located behind a grocery store. I looked at a spacious, clean room with double bed, set of bunk beds and private bath for 40,000 pesos. We went next to Cocina de Campo, where I saw a dark, cramped room with double bed and shared bath for 60,000 pesos.
Finally, we checked out Casa Loma, a massive hilltop hostel with amazing views, a communal vibe and rustic forest huts lacking electricity or doors for 70-85,000 pesos, with shared bath, breakfast not included. Instead of continuing to look, I decided on Las Brisas.
Currently, Minca has 34 accommodation options on Booking.com, ranging from hammocks for 15,000 pesos to individual treehouses for 160,000 pesos. Or more traditional rooms are available with river views and cable television for 140,000 pesos.
Many are within walking distance from the town center, although others, like Casa Elemento (with Colombia’s largest hammock) are a 30 minute, 20,000 peso moto-taxi drive further into the hills.
It is worth noting that prices on Booking.com are not necessarily less than going directly through the hotel. So I recommend taking the time to compare.
Minca is one of the first regions in Colombia to produce traditional organic coffee. Besides a nascent eco-tourism industry, coffee production and agriculture are the main economic industries. There are two easily accessible coffee farms where you can see plants, go on a tour and buy local product.
The first, La Victoria, is a 60 minute walk from town or a 15,000 peso moto taxi ride. It was founded in 1892 and is still using the same equipment. Tours are available for 10,000 pesos and there is an excellent café onsite.
In addition, the Nevada Cervecería microbrewery, which was founded in 2014 and uses local spring water and imported German barley malt is located here. Besides that, a beautiful new hostel called Casas Viejas is a 15 minute uphill walk from the farm, with dorm beds available for 35,000 pesos and private rooms for 120,000 pesos.
The second coffee farm, La Candelaría, also grows cacao, offers tours for 20,000 pesos and has hammocks/camping for 20,000 pesos, dorm beds for 60,000 pesos or a private room for 120,000 pesos. It is a 45 minute uphill walk or 15,000 peso moto-taxi ride from Minca. The views are extraordinary and the atmosphere very homey and intimate.
What I didn’t realize the morning I set out for La Candelería, carrying only my purse and a bottle of water, was that I was about to embark on magnificent five-hour loop hike.
This hike ascended steeply, passed through the beautiful organic farm and hostal, Mundo Nuevo and dropped me into La Candelaría. It then continued descending to Pozo Azul, a gorgeous natural swimming pool and waterfall of the Minca River. The hike was a perfect mix of dirt roads and trails.
Entrance to Pozo Azul is free and numerous trails along the river will take intrepid hikers (and those wearing insect repellent) to more remote pools and falls. Walking to Pozo Azul from Minca is an easy 45 minute walk from town or quick moto-taxi ride.
En route to Pozo Azul there are numerous small open-air restaurants along the way. Asadero Camarita is my personal favorite. Here you can eat fabulous grilled meats, potatoes, plantains and heaping bowls of lentils. This is accompanied by a cold beer or soda and breathtaking view of the mountains, Santa Marta and the Caribbean. I ate lunch here twice and loved it.
Food and Bird Watching
Speaking of food, Minca has a wide array of food choices for such a small town. Lazy Cat, Bururake, Casa d’Antonio, Casa Cristi and many others are all highly rated on TripAdvisor. I didn’t try any of them.
Instead, I ate copious quantities of delicious bread from La Miga and Café Duni. I also had massive fruit salads from a local spot behind the church and lots and lots of carimañolas (fried yucca stuffed with cheese) from a street stall.
Unfortunately I did not bring binoculars to Minca. But I was still able to spot half-dozen beautiful birds without really trying. More than 300 species have been recorded in the area, with 17 being endemic, such as the Santa Marta parakeet, mountain tanager and white-tipped quetzal.
For serious birdwatchers, consider staying at El Dorado within the El Dorado Bird Reserve. This Bird Reserve is a 1,000 hectare park established in 2006 and is located several hours above Minca.
Moving On But More to See
I had a wonderful four nights and five days including hiking to more waterfalls (Marinka, entrance fee 4,000 pesos), viewpoints (Los Pinos), cloud forest and natural river pools. But I had reservations in Tayrona National Park. So I needed to move on.
However there is more to see around Minca. I still hadn’t made it to the Cerro Kennedy lookout (six hour walk each way, elevation 3100 meters) with its sunrise view of the snowy Sierra Nevada peaks of Simon Bolivar and Cristobal Colon. Nor had I done the Paso de Mango hike.
When I return to Minca, whenever that may be, I plan on flying directly to Santa Marta from Medellín (the 1 hour flight can be booked for as low 90,000 pesos each way on Avianca) and taking a taxi straight to Minca. With a little planning I can be there in time for a mid-morning cup of coffee and loaf of chocolate bread.
Sonja is from Whidbey Island, WA. She has traveled to 46 countries but never wanted to settle down in any of them until she discovered Medellin. She is currently living here in Medellín for six months until she figures out how to be a permanent resident.