Just 14 kms from Santa Marta and nestled at 600 meters a.s.l in the tallest coastal mountain range in the world is Minca: a cool, tranquil village seemingly forgotten by the rest of the world. Declared an ecological paradise and named after the Spaniard Don Juan de Minca who arrived in the 19th century and immediately fell in love with the area, the explorer discovered that the soil was perfect for growing coffee, and to this day, Minca is famous for its delicious organic harvest. Up until a several years ago this area was considered a “no go zone” due to guerrilla activity, but this has changed, and with an increase in foreign investment in Santa Marta, Minca is slowly achieving recognition with both local and foreign tourists. One local confirms Minca’s popularity with the extranjeros saying: “I need to learn English in order to go to Minca.”
Due to its altitude, Minca is the perfect escape from the stifling heat of la costa, with an average temperature 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the steamy coast below. You can feel the fresh, crisp air as you wander leisurely through the village stopping at Minca Café for their famous brownies and coffee, or having a delicious home-cooked meal at La Cocina D Rochi. In this small, tight knit community you’ll find food from all over the world, with its excellent quality and price.
Spend your evenings enjoying panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as the sun sheds its colors, transforming the sky in an array of oranges, yellows and reds. The Information Centre opposite the police station is where you’ll also find different activities available in the region. Try adrenaline-fueled downhill mountain biking (starting at 3,100 metres), canyoning, tubing, rafting, horse riding, hiking, or splash into the natural pools. You can also experience a day in the life of a coffee farm at La Victoria, or go birding and have the chance to see over 260 different species.
Most of the hikes in the area follow Pre-Columbian trails where you can admire the ancient stonework and rock carvings. For the sturdy and strong, try hiking the 5 to 6 hours up to Hostal Los Pinos (1,760 mts), with its amazing views of the Sierra Nevada. For the lazy, there’s moto service to El Campano and walk the final stretch. From here you can climb even higher to San Lorenzo and the Cerro Kennedy (2,620 mts). There is lodging at Hostel Santa Elena for the spectacular views of the snow peaks of Pico Bolivar and Colon. For birders, there’s a challenging, and unique, hike to the El Dorado Bird Sanctuary.
A non-tourist trail – the Paso del Mango (from Minca to Bonda) will take you over indigenous paths, passing ancient stonework and shrouded in mango trees. You can extend your trip and spend a night at the ecological Finca Carpe Diem and visit a cocoa processing plant and butterfly farm. The many cascading waterfalls offer walkers a chance to refresh and contemplate the pristine eco systems. And if hiking is really “not your thing,” walk 10 minutes down the hill to Las Pierdas where you will find huge smooth boulders you can scramble over for easy access to the river. Pozo Azul and La Casada Marinka, a mere 45 and 20 minute walk respectively, is the idyllic way to experience clear snowmelt mountain water in naturally-carved pools.
Accommodation varies according to your needs. Rancho de la Luna and Oscar’s Place, both eco-hostels offer fantastic views of Santa Marta and the Caribbean. Dormitories and private rooms are available. Backpackers will enjoy Casa Loma and their comfortable tree house accommodation. “We offer a general place of pure tranquility, where guests can relax and enjoy stunning views of Santa Marta and the surrounding Sierra Nevada,” states Jay, founder of the lodge. Their sister hostel, La Loma, offers yoga and a soon-to-be vegetarian restaurant. Other places to stay include Sans Souci, with its farm setting, Ecohabs and Hostal Colonial. Hotel Minca and Hotel Sierra’s Sound also offer comfortable beds and good dining options.
There is no bus service from Santa Marta to Minca. So best head to the central market on Calle 11 with Carrera 12, and hop in a shared taxi that states “Estacíon Minca” – it will cost $6,000 pesos per person. Best arrive before 3 pm, as later there are fewer taxis and the area around the Mercado gets a bit risky. The other option is to head to ‘Yucal’ by bus or taxi and jump on a mototaxi for $8,000 pesos. Expect a bumpy ride along a dirt road.
Take enough cash, as there are no ATMs in Minca. Bring the necessary insect repellent, long pants, walking shoes, bathing suit, a camera and of course, a good attitude.
Minca is a magical place where you’ll find peace, excellent food and accommodating locals. Lodge owner, Jay believes the reason Minca has such powers of attraction lies deep in the people, and the pride they take in preserving this remote corner of paradise.