No matter where in the world you are – Colombia or somewhere else – there are times when you need an ultimate getaway, a complete change from the ordinary. Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the ‘Heart of the World’ – is just such a destination.
Minca offers a little ‘funk’ and a lot of natural beauty – relax in peace and quiet or challenge yourself on the trails and under the waterfalls. The village of fewer than 800 residents, many of them ex-pats, is the gateway to la Sierra Nevada, adjacent to Parque Tayrona, in what UNESCO has designated “the most irreplaceable bio-reserve on the planet”.
Only 45 minutes from Santa Marta, Minca is nestled in the hills, elevation 600 metres, and enjoys cooler temperatures and fresher air than the coast, while still offering vistas all the way to the Caribbean. The mountain trails are popular with hikers and serious bikers alike – you can even check them out on horseback.
The number one attraction in Minca is its river and waterfalls. The two main cascadas are Pozo Azul, a pleasant hour’s walk up the hill (or a mototaxi trip – $7,000 pesos) to the spectacular waterfalls and the pool below for splashing in the river, totally immersed in nature. I recommend taking the moto up and then walking back down.
On the way up or down you will pass Camarita’s brick oven smokehouse restaurant where you can enjoy a pork loin or wonderful hand-made chorizo sausage. Camarita is a character and he’s worth a special trip all by himself.
The other main waterfall is Marinka, located on the opposite side of town (anyone will point you in the right direction). It’s in some ways more spectacular, but it’s also not quite as ‘unspoiled’ as Pozo Azul. Nice improvements, like bamboo walkways and palapas for picnicking, make the visit more comfortable. There’s a small admission charge here, $2,000 pesos, that goes to maintaining the property. Marinka is a spectacular photo opportunity. Again, you can go and/or return via moto or simply enjoy the one-hour walk through the coastal jungle.
Other activities and attractions in Minca include cycling (rent a bike at Embassy in the center of town), horseback riding (again, book your horse ride at Embassy) and bird-watching. Minca is one of the premier ‘birding’ destinations in the world, with 365 species in the Minca area alone. Jungle Joe will take you birding at sunrise, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a toucan or two, and many more birds, some of which are endemic only to this corner of the world. Once again, Embassy is the place to book your morning birding tour with Jungle Joe.
The other principle activity is visiting a coffee finca – la Sierra is home to the nest organic coffee in the world. Your options are La Victoria coffee farm – up the road and a little above Pozo Azul, and La Candelaria, a smaller coffee and cacao finca that is also a bed & breakfast hostal. At La Candelaria you will meet ‘Tuki,’ the resident toucan, and also receive a cacao facial. Both la Victoria and la Candelaria charge $20,000 pesos for the tour which of course includes a coffee tasting. Grab a moto to take you to either one.
As for where to stay, choices are many and varied, and range from Casa Loma, a backpacker’s favorite, which offers all price ranges, from camping to a deluxe suite, up to Minca EcoHabs, offering truly deluxe suite-style accommodations in the ‘jungle’ in what appear from the outside to be indigenous- style palm-roof huts. A quick Google search will reveal many options, all of them located close to everything while still being located in the heart of the natural environment.
A big surprise for such a little village is the amazing array of dining options – from a simple but generous sancocho to gourmet steaks and authentic paella. Suggestions include the three panadería bakeries and coffee houses – la Tienda de Café Minca, famous for it’s organic cafés and homemade brownie with ice cream, to Duni Café with artisanal breads and vegetarian sandwiches and more, and La Miga Panadería, a true European- style bakery with sourdough loaves and baguettes and chocolate coffee breads.
All three panadería coffee shops are located in the center of town. For real gourmet dining there is Casa Cristi, with Argentine beef and smoked barbeque ribs that are among the best in the world – I’m not kidding! – and Bururake (only open on weekends) with an eclectic international ‘fusion’ menu, located overlooking the river. Then, there’s the authentic Spanish paella I mentioned, at Café d’Antonio, again overlooking the river. Pizza and other Italian fare can be found at Restaurante Santa Isabella, just up the hill from the center of town. And the Lazy Cat Bar (Gato Perezoso) serves up the best jumbo hamburgers anywhere and is popular with expats as a result. Ask anyone for directions.
To get to Minca, simply take a collectivo car from Santa Marta, from the Minca estación in El Mercado, across from El Emporio (taxi drivers know the way and the taxi fare is $6,000 pesos) The collective fare is $8,000 pesos and the car leaves the station when it’s full!)
As resident myself, I can assure you Minca is the perfect ultimate getaway – to get away from everything and thoroughly enjoy yourself and the natural surroundings. You can make it a day trip, or come for the weekend or more. But be careful – as the tour brochures say, the only danger in Minca is in never wanting to leave.