When most people think of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, they picture white sand beaches, palm trees and pelicans…and they’re totally right…it is all of those things. However, less than an hour from the gateway to Tayrona National Park and the beach-lined coast, Santa Marta, lies a tiny mountain village of cool evening breezes, fast-flowing rivers and incomparable panoramic views encompassing sea and snow-capped peaks. This village is Minca, and it is fast becoming an essential stop along the Colombian backpacker trail.
Minca lies just 45 minutes inland from Santa Marta, and sits at about 600 metres above sea level in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range; an area famous for it’s incredible biodiversity, spectacular vistas and the trek to the iconic Lost City. Minca is a more laid-back affair though: a little collection of houses, restaurants and hotels set along a mountain river, and surrounded by verdant green jungle on all sides. Getting here from Santa Marta is easy: transport should run to about 30-40.000 pesos for a private cab, or 7.000 pesos for a colectivo. Most hostels in Santa Marta will arrange your transport, and even keep your heavy bags until you get back should you want to travel light.
Minca is generally seen as the perfect place to relax after the overwhelming heat of the Colombian Caribbean; at 600 m.a.s.l. it is much cooler than Tayrona or Taganga, and the breezes from the mountains certainly help. The most popular hostels, Casa Loma (in the main town) and Casa Elemento (further up the mountain) both boast truly special views over the mountains to the distant blue sea, and one of the greatest selections of hammocks I have ever seen! Casa Elemento can even count on the so-called ‘largest hammock in the world…’
There are still plenty of activities to keep the active traveler busy though; as someone who struggles to sit still for a few hours when traveling, I found Minca a perfect place to spend a few days simply because there is so much to do here if you’re motivated to get up and do it! Two of the most popular activities are hikes to local swimming spots Los Pozos Azules and the Marinka waterfalls. Both are about one hour on foot along dirt roads from Minca, and allow the visitor to spend a few hours wallowing in cool mountain water, in rivers flowing from the glacial heights of the high Sierras.
Another popular attraction is La Victoria coffee plantation, allegedly the oldest such plantation in the country; whilst I can’t completely verify that, it does contain original plantation machinery from Victorian Britain, still in use in spite of it’s age. A tour here is an interesting insight to the coffee making process, and a bit different, given the coastal location, to the traditional Coffee Triangle coffee tours; make sure you stop at Cafe Minca in the main town for one of their black coffees as well – it’s a potent, rich little number for sure!
Nature lovers will adore Minca as well; especially those, like me, who love birds. The mountains in this area boast one of the highest density bird populations in the world, and even the casual observer can hope to see stunning toucans, huge flocks of parrots, giant King Vultures, and even the occasional condor. Fidel Travels (who have an office in town) organize daily birding walks at dawn, and will arrange longer day trips up into the high mountains for incredible views of Colombia’s highest mountains, and many endemic bird species. El Faunal nature reserve also arrange birding tours and night walks in search of armadillos, cats and monkeys.
I have visited Minca twice now (including a Christmas stay in Casa Elemento), and am already mentally planning how I can get back – the mountains, birds, rivers and forests make the little town a truly special little stop on any Colombian itinerary, and the diversity of activities on offer (as well as the popular ‘lie in a hammock all day with a good book’ plan) makes the place more than just a chill-out spot. So take a break from the beach, and explore Colombia’s incredible coastal mountains; I’ve yet to meet anyone who regretted paying Minca a visit.