We recommend Minca because it’s a small growing village with an energetic, yet laid back vibe. There we found both adventure and some quiet time. We thoroughly enjoyed our first visit, so we came back to stay longer. Minca Colombia is also a good home base. It’s a great place to stay before you head to Tayrona National Park or the beaches up the coast like Palomino. It is where you can rest and relax before the Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) trekking, or if you just want to take a break from Cartagena.
Santa Marta is the center point if you want to visit areas of the Northern Caribbean coast. But there is a better option – the friendly village of Minca, 600 meters high above at the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Unfortunately, we did not enjoy our time in Santa Marta. Traffic was intense. It’s a noisy, hot, dirty city and we found it difficult to find areas of the city to enjoy.
Minca is a 45-minute drive from Santa Marta. It is a pleasant drive up a windy and circular climb up the Sierra Nevada’s. The ride going up is scenic with views that eventually lead to spectacular vistas of Santa Marta and the ocean at the distance. You will just have to put up with the narrow, two-lane road, which is somewhat harrowing when traffic is coming from the other direction. The bonus is that the road is also recently paved that makes for an enjoyable trip.
Minca was originally guerilla group territory and was closed off to everyone, except locals. Following the ceasefire by these paramilitary and guerilla groups over the last several years, Minca was only recently ‘discovered’ by backpackers in the last six years and was eventually opened up to host visitors. It’s not just a place for backpackers either because it has something for everyone (even mid-life travelers like us).
There are ample hiking trails in the area. We decided to do the Los Pinos trail to get a whole perspective of the village and area. This is a three-hour (one way) hike uphill or a six-hour walk if you want to take this circular trail back to town that ends on the opposite end of the main street. To start this trail, exit the main street at the alternate direction past burger town, past the soccer fields, and further into the village. You will see waterfalls, birds, and forests on the way up. When you reach the cloud forest and the Dos Pinos or “Two Pines”, you get a welcome view from the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We recommend taking the walk up, then relaxing at Casa Elemento (at the top), and take a moto-taxi down back to Minca. This will cut your trip down to three hours, plus the views are best on the way up.
What more could you ask for? It has a restaurant, bar, pool, climbing wall and a giant hammock to hang over the mountain and contemplate on how great your life is while you look down at a stunning view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. No doubt there will be more other travelers from all over the world to hang out and join you. This an ideal place to chill out as it means no Internet, which takes your present-moment living to the next level. The Canadian/British owners have created a pleasant oasis. They also organize tours. They charge a small the entrance fee, (at the time of booking it was 10,000 COP) and you can already spend the afternoon there to use their facilities. Details about accommodations on their website.
Even if you’ve had your fill of coffee farms by now, this tour is different. In fact, the place is the production facility and not an actual farm. (The coffee is in the hills surrounding the building) This is where their coffee is processed by traditional equipment and methods from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The delightful tour guides will be ready to take you through the buildings, and share some of the ingenious engineering methods they apply to produce modern-day coffee, using equipment that is a big step back in time.
At the center of the village, there is also a couple of pool halls for travelers to drink and connect with the local village men. For such a small town there is no shortage of places to eat and drink. (Our recommendations below.)
There are over 162 species of birds in the area of Minca, so it is not surprising that bird watching is an important pastime here. There are tours available to El Dorado and San Lorenzo trails or birdwatching areas. For three hours, it is around COP$25,000 ($8USD).
Did we mention that it’s hot up in the Northern Caribbean? Although the Minca breeze is a welcome reprieve from Cartagena or Santa Marta, you may still want to cool down after a day of walking. Pozo Azul is a watering hole, not the drinking kind. On Sundays, it is full of local families, so we skipped this one. Who doesn’t like a good place to have a cold, refreshing dip? The entrance to Pozo Azul is free. One of the many local moto-taxi drivers would be more than happy to take you there for the afternoon. The cost is $COP7000 ($2.30USD) to get there from the main street. Did we mention that it’s hot up in the Northern Caribbean? Although the Minca breeze is a welcome reprieve from Cartagena or Santa Marta, you may still want to cool down after a day of walking. Pozo Azul is a watering hole, , not the drinking kind. On Sundays, it is full of local families, so we skipped this one. Who doesn’t like a good place to have a cold, refreshing dip? The entrance to Pozo Azul is free. One of the many local moto-taxi drivers would be more than happy to take you there for the afternoon. The cost is $COP7000 ($2.30USD) to get there from the main street.
This place is great not just for a brief retreat, but also a place to stop for excellent food. Eyren, the chef, creates hearty, comfort meals and puts her own Canadian spin using fresh local ingredients. We loved Shepard’s pie and LV Burger (Leslieville – the old neighborhood where we not only used to live in Toronto but where Eyren used to work – a very small world indeed) * Update: Eyren moved back to Canada so we'll have to get back to Casa Elemento and sample the menu again!
These are not fast food burgers. They are hand crafted, juicy, BBQ’d burgers made by an Argentinian chef. The burgers come with fries on the side, as well as several choices of dipping sauces.
This is a good Italian food joint. The chef here has some classical training, which is evident in the thin crust pizza and made fresh pasta. Be prepared to wait, as it is all made from scratch. You can find this place by heading to the police station; turn left head up the hill till you see this tree house-style spot on the left.
We had excellent cappuccinos, fresh juices and breakfast sandwiches here. It’s also a store with artisan jewelry, as well as homemade hot sauces and condiments.
Cocina de Campo is an outdoor wooden stall has excellent coffee to start your morning. It also serves breakfast and assorted pastries. If you are looking for a western style, fare you will find it here. This place is also a farm and guesthouse with some nice looking rooms for rent.
Casa Loma Minca is a combination of hostel and a rustic cabin with both dorm and private rooms. We loved our stay in the Casa Selva room; it’s like a tent cabin (or rustic forest hut, as they call it), with comfortable bed and a long lock box to protect your valuables. The dinners here are sensational – hearty vegetarian dishes like Vegetable Curry and Vegetarian Lasagna. Important note: It’s a steep climb before you arrive at the Casa, so you may want to consider leaving all your gear in Santa Marta. But once you get there, you will witness some of the grandest views looking across the mountains. The cold beer at the top is worth it. There is a range of charming accommodations from dorms to tree cabins, and all reasonably priced.
For a little more pampering, Minca Ecohabs are stilted rustic cabins that are very tastefully decorated and with views overlooking the mountains. We toured the rooms and grounds for a future stay as we didn't book here. But these come highly recommended by tour companies we work with, and they seem open to negotiating room rates.
This place really does have everything. We took a tour of the place. Accommodations include dorms, cabanas, and hammocks, and a future build of more cabanas, all facing the mountain views.
There is no shortage of friendly, eager, to young Minca men who would love to take you on a moto-taxi around Minca. Distances are a quite far, so it’s worth the ride. We used moto-taxis to get back down from Casa Elemento and to travel up the hill to via Victoria Coffee Farm. On the main street (in front of the market and pool hall/bar) these guys will be parked with their bikes in front. Prices for rides by location are fixed and posted on the wall of the market.
1. First, you need to get to Santa Marta:
From Cartagena and Barranquilla, there are bus services to take you to Santa Marta. From Bogotá, Medellín, or Cali, we would recommend taking local flights, which are reasonably priced ($40USD one way at this time of booking). VivaColombia discount airlines have flights. Often, Avianca airlines have seat sales. If you are coming from the Airport in Santa Marta –Take a collectivo bus first that goes into Santa Marta to the Central area. Note: The airport is quite a long way from the main city center. We made the mistake of getting off too early, so make sure you get off at the Centro Mercado (the Central market).
All roads lead to Santa Marta first. In order to get to Minca you can:
To leave Minca, your guesthouse can arrange for a transport to Santa Marta (or Tayrona etc). or walk down to the main street and negotiate with a taxi to take you down.
Heading up to Minca? then you must do the Lost City/Ciudad Perdida Hike, If that isn't for you, then check out our Tayrona National Park Video here! Still planning your trip to Colombia? - Check out our comprehensive guide to Colombia here. Do you have any other recommendations for Colombia? We would love to hear about them.
Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at TravelLifeMedia.com