Nestled in the mountains above the coastal colonial city of Santa Marta lies Minca, a town where monkeys and toucans still roam wild, where the air you breathe is pure, cool, and unpolluted. Here, you can find waterfalls with cold water freshly filtered down from the Sierra Nevada mountains, quaint coffee farms still using traditional processing methods, and long hiking paths. It’s the perfect place to disconnect from everything; WiFi, negative emotions, reality…but in all seriousness, don’t even bother bringing your laptop; instead, bring a pen and paper, camera, and lots of spare time, as these are the best ways to enjoy this wonderful place.
This little backpacker town is 660m above sea level, so expect it to be cooler than its coastal counterpart Santa Marta. In Minca, you can really connect with nature; enjoy the sounds of the soft chirping of the cicadas at night, the birds in the trees, or water trickling through the rocks in the passing river.
How to get there
Despite feeling a million miles away from civilization when one is there, transport links to Minca from Santa Marta are pretty easy.
The cheapest way to get there is to get a colectivo (a mini-van shared with other travellers). This can be taken from the Mercado Publico in Santa Marta – a bustling central market which is both extremely busy and disorientating. Luckily, the Samarios (locals from Santa Marta) are pretty used to seeing bewildered gringos in the market looking to travel to Minca, and were pretty helpful in pointing us in the right direction. Just make your way to the corner of Carrera 9 and Calle 12, Centro, near the Olimpica supermarket, and you will soon be ushered into a colectivo. The journey takes around 40 minutes from Santa Marta to Minca and is super cheap – just $8000 COP.
You can also get a private taxi for $30.000 – $40.000 COP if you want to skip the craziness of the market (but wheres the fun in that?), or if you are feeling adventurous, you can get a moto taxi – like a regular taxi, but you are on the back of a motorbike. Expect to pay between $15-20.000 COP. Many hostels in Santa Marta also offer private shuttle services to Minca, mainly for day-trips to the waterfalls or coffee farm.
What to do
If you’re the kind of person who likes to organize lots of activities to keep yourself entertained, you can definitely find plenty to do in Minca. Families, couples, lone travellers, and groups of friends alike will all find something to enjoy. If you’re the kind of person who can spend days on end chilling in the same hammock, devouring a good book, Minca is also the perfect place for you. In terms of activities, however, below you can find some of the most popular things to do in Minca.
Drink the freshest coffee in the area
Head direct to the source, at Hacienda La Victoria, a coffee farm that was founded in 1892. You can show up anytime and they will happily take you around the farm showing you their processing methods, and at the end you can try a hot cup of tinto.
Jump in the cool waters of Pozo Azul and Marinka Waterfall
These are a must-see on your trip to Minca. Pozo Azul is a manageable (40 min) hike from the town, and the water is pure, cool, and refreshing. The Marinka waterfalls are a 1 hour walk from town (or you can get a moto taxi). Try and go early to avoid crowds, and don’t even think about going on a festivo (Colombian bank holiday). Bring your bikini/ swimming shorts and jump in!
Hike to Los Pinos
This is a full-day hike, not for the faint-hearted. But on this hike you can cross all of the activities mentioned above off your list, as well as visiting Casa Elemento (more info further down). If you walk the whole loop, to get stunning views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, this can take up to 10 hours. You can take some short cuts, however, breaking up your journey with moto taxis.
Crack out the binoculars for some tropical bird watching
Minca is a paradise for birds; rivers, trees, and lots of rain meaning fertile lands. Even those who wouldn’t usually consider bird-watching in their free time have to admit that the opportunity to see wild toucans, parrots and even hummingbirds (amongst others) is too good to pass up on. This can best be seen from San Lorenzo, around 3 hours from Minca.
As I am vegetarian, and my boyfriend Miguel is a meat-eater who occasionally flirts with vegetarianism (albeit somewhat unreluctantly at times), but we both found our “happy place” in Lazy Cat in Minca. With amazing views over the river, and double (triple?) hamburgers to keep Miguel happy, plenty of veggie options for me, and 2×1 cocktails to keep us both happy, we came back here a couple of times in our short stay!
Where to stay
Due to its increasing popularity amongst tourists and backpackers, new hostels are popping up all over the place. All hostels in Minca and its surrounding areas have one thing in common: nature is the protagonist as its breathtaking beauty truly speaks for itself. No need for fancy installations; any room with a view of the rolling mountains and seemingly endless lines of trees automatically feels like a 5-star accommodation.
Casa Elemento was a must-see for us on our trip to Minca. It is very hyped up, and very much on the “off-the-beaten-path-Gringo-trail”. Meaning that almost everyone has been. The affordable dorm option ($40.000 COP per person) was a tiny, windowless box which smelt a bit like someones hiking boots (or socks?), but being in such close proximity to people means you can’t help but make friends. (They also have some nicer dorm options and private rooms if you’re willing to pay more!) We didn’t care…we met some amazing French Canadians, danced the night away, ate some incredible food, and, most importantly, chilled out in the famous floating hammocks, suspended over the rolling mountains that seem to go on forever.
One of the reasons why Casa Elemento is so special is that it is bloody hard to get to. It is a 30-40 minute motorbike ride up into the mountains from Minca, or you can also go up in a shared jeep with up to 6 people for $120.000 COP. For lack of fellow travellers, and in search of an adventure, Miguel and I went for the motorbike option ($20.000 COP per person, plus any tip you want to give to the driver for the hair-raising experience you will share). We went towards the end of rainy season, so everywhere was knee-deep in mud, and twice I had to get down from the motorbike to enable it to move forward in all the mud. It’s a dizzying, don’t-look-down-but-actually-do-because-the-view-is-incredible experience on a teeny tiny man-made road carved into the mountains, and I definitely hugged the mototaxi driver a bit too hard during a few turns. Expect to arrive with messy hair, a huge grin, and a new appreciation for life (seriously though).
If you’re a hiker, go ahead and hike up to Casa Elemento; you will see some amazing landscapes on the way (or so I’ve heard). The hike takes around 3 hours, depending on your experience, shoes, and hiking partner. You’ll pass the Marinka waterfalls and coffee plantations, and maybe even spot a monkey or two.
To all those who are complaining about Casa Elemento or leaving bad reviews, the only thing I can say is that you create your own journey; if you go somewhere looking for problems, you will almost definitely find them. We went with the best attitude and had an unforgettable time, always taking into account the challenges that come with having a hostel nestled amongst the mountains, higher than the clouds 🙂
Given the choice, I would probably pack up all my things and move to Casa Loma tomorrow. They had all my favourite things in the world combined: other-worldly vegetarian food, plants and trees as far as the eye can see, and even cute fluffy cats roaming around the place. Casa Loma has a super laid-back hippie vibe, and you can stay in little cabañas like the one above, and completely escape from the world. We stayed in Casa Verde, which costs a very reasonable $90.000 COP a night.
Located on top of a loma (hill), get your heart racing a little to get up all the stairs, before you arrive to hippie paradise. Although its not a huge hike, in our case we used it as an excuse to stay there and avoid going back into town. We did a whole load of nothing when we were there, mainly contemplating the immensity of the landscape before us, drinking wine, and filling up on the aforementioned veggie food: dreamy!
Created by the owners of Casa Elemento, Rio Elemento is a lot more accessible – just a 5 minute walk from the main street in Minca, with the same chilled-out vibes, friendly staff, and huge, suspended hammocks (their speciality!).
We went in 2018 when they were just starting out, and were super impressed. The hostel is a converted mansion, and the ping-pong table and various hammocks scattered around the place definitely give it a hostel vibe, but guests can also enjoy luxurious benefits inherited from the mansion’s glory days such as its enormous swimming pool, sprawling gardens, and the river of its namesake, which trickles gently along the bottom of the gardens. Dorms start from $30.000 COP, including breakfast.
Of course, there are so many places to stay, and so many we didn’t have a chance to visit! One place I have had my eye on for a while is Mundo Nuevo, which looks like another dreamy hippie haven. Always good to have an excuse to go back!
What to bring
Without wanting to sound like a concerned mother, definitely bring a jumper with you to Minca, as the nights get deliciously cool, which is a refreshing break from the relentless Caribbean sun which beats down in Cartagena, Santa Marta, and the other coastal Caribbean cities. Also, take into account that nature = mosquitos so bring some mozzie repellant or check out this list of natural mosquito repellants if you don’t fancy slathering your skin with chemicals. If you’re actually serious about hiking, bring some hiking boots with you as no one wants to be the chump hiking in flip flops. And finally, bring cash! There are no ATMs here and many places don’t accept cards.
Minca is an introverts’ heaven; stay for as long as you like (or can!) and recharge your batteries, feeding your soul with good food, fresh air, and time away from the madness of everyday life.