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Chasing waterfalls in Minca, Colombia

minca-marinka-waterfalls-dani

Minca wasn’t in my original travel plans for Colombia, but as we were leaving Cartagena for Santa Marta, one of my Instagram followers remarked that I had to visit Minca. I had never even heard of Minca but a quick Google search revealed that it was a small mountain village close to Santa Marta. The pictures looked lovely, travelers were talking about waterfall hikes, good vegetarian food, local coffee farms, and a giant hammock with mountain views – that’s all we needed to hear to convince us to make the detour. Plus: Cooler temperatures would be welcome after Santa Marta, which seemed to be even hotter and more humid than Cartagena.Colombia MincaThe ride to Minca was quick – within an hour of driving up a winding mountain road we found ourselves in the village, and within another hour, we had explored it entirely – yes, that’s how small it is.

santa marta views from minca
Views of Santa Marta from Minca

The chillier weather that had been mentioned was an illusion: it was still 86℉! We did the only sensible thing: we grabbed our swimsuits and started the hike to the first of two waterfalls I wanted to visit, both of which were within walking distance of the village (but in different directions).minca waterfallThe first waterfall, Pozo Azul, is a two-tiered waterfall an hour uphill on the mountain road that would later bring us to Finca Victoria, the largest coffee plantation in the region.

I had read that you could jump from the upper waterfall into the pool below, and that’s what I wanted to do… but… I didn’t. Once we got there, it wasn’t all that hot anymore and the water was freezing. There was no way that I was going to jump in there! Instead, I watched everybody else who dared to jump having fun in the waterfalls while befriending the local stray dogs.Minca WaterfallsOn the way back, we stopped at a local waterhole where they were selling local brews from the nearby Sierra Nevada brewery – an excellent way to finish the hike and to enjoy the mountain views.Minca Craft BeersThe next day, we headed off on what was going to be our biggest hike – I wanted to hike all the way up the mountain top to Casa Elemento, a hostel that is famous for its giant hammock and splendid mountain vistas. On the way there we were going to stop at the Marinka waterfalls. After an hour-long, sweaty hike, we finally arrived at the waterfalls and cooled off. Like in Pozo Azul, there are two pools there, but much less people (and no place to jump).Minca colombia marinka waterfallsAfter the refreshing break we decided that instead of walking up, it might be a better idea to hop on a moto taxi – there are no real taxis here, only motorbikes – and walk back down into town instead of walking uphill.dani giant hammock mincaAnd after a 25-minute ride up the hill, I was glad that we made this decision – Casa Elemento was much further than I had thought! Another traveler later told me that he had walked up there with his backpack – and that it took him three hours. We paid COP10,000 (around US$3.40) for a day pass which included a free drink, endless swinging in the hammocks, use of the pool and entry to the attached ‘Jungle Town’, where the hostel offers tree-top tours.Casa Elemento Minca ColombiaCasa Elemento sure isn’t lying when they say they have amazing mountain views – I could’ve spent all day in the giant hammock, and it was actually a bummer that we missed the sunset from up there.minca giant hammockThe hostel seemed to be a fantastic place to get away from it all: no wifi, nothing nearby, just nature, hammocks, and socializing with other travelers.

It took us three hours to get back to Minca, but it was definitely worth it, and the lovely dinner at the Lazy Cat (you’ll find yourself eating there often if you visit Minca, trust me) was well deserved.Minca Colombia Sierra NevadaWe had one more day in Minca, and we had one thing left to do: a visit to the Victoria coffee plantation. Both of us are coffee lovers, so this was going to be a highlight of our trip to Minca, and even though I’d already been to a coffee plantation in Guatemala, I didn’t find the tour we took boring. The over one hundred year old machines that are still used there are impressive, and seeing what a coffee picker makes per kilo was astonishing:minca coffee

  • 14 Kg – 5,000 COP (around US$1.70)
  • 28 kg – 10,000 COP (around US$3.40)
  • 48 kg – 20,000 COP (around US$6.80)

We were shown the entire process from the harvest of the coffee beans to fermentation, drying and finally the packing of the beans into giant sacks. Those are exported, sold for COP3,000 a kilo, which is about US$1 – so cheap!Colombia Finca La Victoria MincaOur guide reaffirmed what I had already experienced in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala: the good stuff goes overseas, and what’s left in the country leaves a lot to be desired. The only decent coffee I had found in Colombia so far was the one at the Juan Valdez stores, Colombia’s answer to Starbucks, and a little coffee shop in Cartagena, San Alberto.

finca victoria coffee plantation
All this land belongs to La Finca Victoria. It’s hard to see but most of it are coffee plants

Our backpacks heavy with coffee beans, we left Minca with big smiles on our faces to return to sea level: it was time for more beaches. This unplanned detour didn’t just turn out to be well worth it, it also became one of the highlights of my time in Colombia.minca colombia flower

Practical Information

Important:

In 2016 during my visit there was no ATM in Minca, so bring enough cash.

How to get there

Shared taxis leave from Santa Marta as soon as they are full and cost COP8,000 (US$2.70)Colombia Minca1

Where to stay

Our first choice for accommodation, Casa Loma, a treehouse-style hostel with several rooms, was sadly fully booked (the room we wanted, El Mirador, was booked for the next four weeks!), so make sure you book a hostel in advance, especially when you travel between December and February.

If Casa Loma is fully booked, or you don’t want to deal with the steep climb up to the hostel with your bags, check out these hostels / B&Bs / hotels (all with excellent ratings):

And then there’s of course Casa Elemento high up in the mountains above Minca (around 30 mins on a moto taxi).

hummingbird minca colombia
The hotel we ended up staying at, La Casona, wasn’t anything special, but their bird watching terrace is fabulous

What to do in Minca

Walk to Marinka waterfalls:

Turn right after the bridge, walk past the church and then follow the road until you see the sign for ‘Marinka Waterfalls’. It takes about an hour. The local family who lives there charges COP3,000 (around US$1) admission per person.

Walk to Pozo Azul:

Cross the bridge and head straight up the hill. You’ll get to the turn-off (on the left) to the waterfalls after about 45 mins. Free admission.

You can take moto taxis to both, but make sure to negotiate a price before you get on the bike.dani minca waterfall

Hike up to Casa Elemento:

Or take a moto taxi for around COP10,000 /US$3.40)

Other hikes

There are other hikes, to Los Pinos or Paso del Mango or Cerro Kennedy for example, also high up in the mountains, for splendid views over the Sierra Nevada mountains. Ask in the hostel you’re staying for detailed information on the hikes.

Finca La Victoria Coffee Farm:

Moto taxi to the coffee farm and back (driver will wait): COP16,000 /US$5.50

Tour of the coffee farm, including one cup of coffee: COP10,000 /US$3.40

finca victoria fresh coffee

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