Minca: A Jungle Paradise
Updated: 3 days ago
Minca. A natural paradise and refuge from the bustling cities on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. A lush, vibrant land of mountainous jungle hidden behind the curtain of early morning mist, ready to dissipate for the grand reveal.
You may have gathered that I like Minca. After spending time in the tourist-heavy Cartagena and relaxing doing nothing at Casa en el Agua, some time spent blowing off the cobwebs via a good old-fashioned hike was well needed. Tucked away in the hills and enclosed in it’s own separate climate to that of Santa Marta down by the sea, the village offers respite to those weary of the stifling coastal heat and seeking a slightly cooler environment. There’s a wealth of activities on offer and, whilst a day trip from Santa Marta is possible with it being only a 45-minute colectivo ride, I personally think a stay of 2-3 nights is a must for your itinerary.
We actually managed to cover an awful lot of things over the course of one epic 33km hike (I felt the repercussions the day after, trust me) but you could easily cover each of these individually or collectively over the course of a couple of days. For this purpose, I’ll give an overview of our entire hike with more detailed breakdown sections on each attraction.
Here’s the best things I did in Minca:
Hike Los Pinos
Number one and the catalyst for visiting the majority of other attractions on this list, I’d done my research on Minca prior to arrival and knew that the Los Pinos hike is well recommended by a number of travellers. Accompanied by my two friends Lieke and Lieke (what are the odds!?), we set off early doors leaving Hostel Rio Elemento at 06:25am. It was a bright, early start and immediately we could see why Jungle Joe runs his famous bird-watching tours at this time of morning; the local fauna were very active and we were able to pick out numerous creatures including a pair of hummingbirds within metres of our accommodation. Heading through the sleepy village centre and up the main track into the hills, we were accompanied by some very friendly stray dogs who were happy to follow us for a while. It was quite amusing, as it was almost like they’d pass on the baton to each other once they’d finished a certain stretch of road, with the next dog ready to take over.
Our first stop was for a refreshing dip at Azul Pojos, ensuring we arrived there early for 07:30am before it was inundated with locals and tourists from Santa Marta. Hidden away down a dusty track branching off the main road (but clearly signposted), you can find the resplendent falls within a beautiful area of woodland. Although by no means high, impressive or the greatest waterfalls you’ll ever see, they make for a pretty scene pouring through the dense jungle thicket. After dropping over the final fall, the plunge pool widens as the water drifts lazily downstream. At this time of morning, it was incredibly refreshing and set us up for what was to be a mammoth day of hiking. I also noticed a small, independent restaurant perched high up on the riverbank called Don Jorge’s - it’s reachable by bridge and must do very well when the location is busy during social hours.
After returning to the track amidst the glow of golden hour, we were afforded some resplendent views of the surrounding countryside whenever there was a break in the roadside vegetation. We continued our way up the dry, beaten and uneven road looking on in envy at smiling tourists whizzing by on moto-taxis. Never mind, we knew our hard work would be well rewarded by the time we reached Los Pinos.
La Victoria Coffee Farm
With the time approaching 09:00 am, stomachs were rumbling and thoughts quickly turned to breakfast. One of the girls had expressed an interest in visiting La Victoria - a coffee production facility unique in that they still use traditional manufacturing methods and machinery nearly 130 years old. Somehow, the girls had never heard of coffee cake, so I had to educate them on it's status as a classic staple of the English Tea Room and was delighted to see La Victoria had some for sale.
Reachable from the main road, the farm is again clearly marked and descends steadily downhill before arriving in a pretty valley surrounded by jungle and coffee plantation.
It’s not immediately apparent where to go upon arrival as the sign points into the manufacturing area, but follow the path through the factory and up the stairs to reach the restaurant. It was fascinating to watch the old machines wind their magic, spinning away a process perfected over the course of a century. We didn’t take the tour on this occasion, but can imagine it’d be very interesting to learn exactly what each piece of equipment does. A nice touch was the coffee container sacks lined up throughout the factory, all designed in a way as if they were plucked from the late 1800’s. It was time machine stuff.
Whilst I can’t vouch for the tour, I can vouch for the coffee and coffee cake. Both were excellent, and we were served by a very friendly lady who proceeded to give us a free slice of carrot cake to share on our travels! So if like us you start early and want a breakfast pit-stop, consider La Victoria. Both the coffee and carrot cake are exceptional. If you’re lucky like we were, you might even have the pleasure of spotting a toucan from the balcony whilst enjoying your refreshments.
Carrot/Coffee/Banana Cake $6,000 COP
Cup of Coffee $8,000 COP
Fresh Blackberry Juice $4,000 COP
We had two options to continue our hike - either re-trace our steps backwards on to the now fairly monotonous main road or make our way around the back of La Victoria and up through the steep coffee plantations via Casa Viejas hostel. We chose the latter and it injected a welcome change of terrain, scenery and incline, though our legs were not quite so grateful. Battling our way up the narrow, single-file dirt path consisting of what seemed like a thousand steps, we were able to take regular breaks to catch our breath and admire the incredible views. All around us, the jungle was alive with the sound of fauna; insects croaking, flies humming and birds singing across the canopy. It made for some surreal moments but ones that justified the time, money and effort spent getting to South America. Any lingering doubts were ruthlessly extinguished.
We finally made our way up to Casa Viejas and, even though signs on the outside of the property state there is no through fare permitted, we passed through with no problems. It looks a magnificent hostel. There’s a stunning infinity pool with an incredible view of the forest down in the valley below; one you could easily spend all day daydreaming over. Lieke recognised one of the residents from her trip to the San Blas islands and his reports about the accommodation were positive. Apparently, meals were at a set time where everyone would sit down and socialise, making it a really good location to meet new people. I’ve since spoken to others who stopped there and said it was a good place to stay; however with it being so far up in the hills, you would need to use moto-taxi’s to get to and from Minca if you didn’t want to solely spend your time there.
Our major checkpoint had always been to reach El Campano, as that was the location on the main road from which we’d turn off towards Los Pinos. It also offers ample opportunity to restock on water or other supplies via the various shops present. As it goes, we didn’t need anything and continued on to Los Pinos, so I can’t report on whether the prices were more expensive. We reached this point at 11:00am - four-and-a-half hours after leaving Hostel Rio Elemento. However, that had included a quick swim at Azul Pojos, coffee and cake at La Victoria and catching up with an old acquaintance at Hostel Casa Viejas, therefore if you’re not doing these you could be able to take roughly an hour from that time.
For the purpose of this article, El Campano isn’t worth visiting independently but is very welcome after walking uphill for hours on end!
The final uphill assault on Los Pinos began from El Campano. After nearly five hours of hiking, we were within touching distance of our target. We carried on up the last ascending stretch of dirt road, shielding our faces from the dust kicked up from moto-taxis and jeeps carrying tourists. Sweat dropped down our backs and we felt dirty but any worries instantly vanished when we reached the summit.
The view from Los Pinos was well worth our toil. Looking out over vast jungle coursing it’s way down into the valley, you can visibly see the demarcation between two contrasting micro-climates as vegetation gives way to dry, desolate shrub land. In the distance, you can see Santa Marta shimmering under the sunshine on the Caribbean coast. It sums up how the ecology of Colombia is so amazing; you can literally travel through multiple micro-climates over the course of a day.
A small, private holdfast is based at the top of Los Pinos and we began talking to one of the gentleman relaxing on the front porch. For 2,000 COP, we purchased a coffee and entry onto the private land to witness the views from the other side of the hill. Arguably, for me anyway, they were even better. Vast mountainous jungle rolls away over the horizon, with far-away peaks shimmering blue in the distance. Grey clouds were gathering overhead and a lingering mist added to the sense of awe. It reminded me of my time traversing the alpine woodland of Triglav National Park in Slovenia last summer, albeit in a much more tropical, humid environment. It was a fantastic sight to behold and one I’ll remember forever.
Visit Sierra Minca Hostel
If you’ve read any other blogs, you’d be forgiven for thinking Casa Elemento is the place to go to relax and enjoy the views from the Insta-famous hammocks overlooking the jungle valley. I did too. However, it turns out that this hostel is currently closed for refurbishment (as of time of writing - February 2020) but there’s a ready-made replacement capitalising on this. Fear not, you can still get that insta shot at Sierra Minca - a hostel with some excellent facilities and views to match.
Slotting directly into Casa Elemento’s place, the hostel charges the same entrance fee of 10,000 COP to have access to all of its facilities. There’s some great hammocks in prime position at the front of the hostel overlooking the landscape below, whilst you can enjoy the views from an elevated position in the restaurant just behind. There’s also a pool and bar where you can melt away the lactic acid accumulated from hours of hiking. That said, our grubby, sweaty appearance was in stark contrast to the majority of people there - I think many were either residents or had caught moto-taxis to the top!
I had a substantially-sized meat quesadilla and Pineapple and Passionfruit drink for a combined $21,000 COP.
Entry fee: $10,000 COP
Visit the Marinka Waterfalls
Suitably refreshed and ready to drag our weary legs back down to Minca, our final stop would be via the Marinka waterfalls. A very popular destination for locals and tourists alike, these falls are substantially more commercialised than Azul Pojos but are at the same time much more impressive.
Home to well-maintained restaurant and restroom facilities, upon entry you can either take a right uphill to the first fall or go left down to the second. Both have their qualities but if you’re looking to swim, it’ll be the second waterfall downhill where you’ll be able to take a relaxing dip in the plunge pool. It’s certainly a photogenic location where you can while away the time for a few hours.
Entry fee: $5,000 COP
Resisting the ever-increasing temptation to catch a moto-taxi back to Minca, all three of us resolved to complete what we’d started and hike our way back to the hostel to complete an epic day of walking. By the time we arrived at Rio Elemento in the village centre at 17:30pm, we’d been out on the trails for over 11 hours. It was fair to say we were exhausted but equally delighted at our achievements that day: we’d been able to complete a substantial amount of activities that we wanted to do whilst in Minca, all whilst avoiding paying any transport fees. My sense of achievement multiplied when we worked out how far we’d actually walked - the general consensus of our various pieces of technological kit brought us to the conclusion that we’d covered 33.2km that day (20 miles) which is by far the furthest I’ve ever walked at once! To do that in the hot, tropical but beautiful jungle terrain of Minca was something truly special and will be a day that lives long in the memory.
Eat at the Lazy Cat
There were two restaurants in the village that stood out for me, but by far the best was the Lazy Cat. A nice, homely restaurant full of travellers every evening, they serve a wide-ranging menu of food including vegetarian options. I had the chicken and vegetable wok which was absolutely delicious. It’s got a great outdoor terrace where you can enjoy your meal in Minca’s cooler, but comfortable night-time temperatures.
The second restaurant was Duni, which is further up the road from the Lazy Cat on the left-hand side after the church. Again, it offered some excellent vegetarian options and the Falafel dish I had was very enjoyable.
Hostel Rio Elemento
I was recommended to stop at Hostel Rio Elemento by one of the guys I met at Casa en el Agua so I took on his advice and booked three nights in a hammock.
Well-located in the centre of Minca, it is an old Villa with beautiful premises. The pool is located next to an ancient tree from which hangs acrobatic ropes to test your strength - don’t worry if you fall, you’ve got the pool below! The wooden bar and surrounding hammocks blend very well into the natural surroundings and you can head further down the valley to the river running through the bottom of the grounds. I also thought it was a good atmosphere throughout with plenty of opportunities to be social and meet new people. A free breakfast was provided each morning which consisted of porridge and fruit.
My only gripes would be that there were only two showers - one for each sex - which often meant waiting a while and the lockers could only fit your valuables, not your bags. All-in-all though, it was a good base and place to stay and for £6.00 a night, I really couldn’t complain.
Natural Fruit Drinks
I’m torn about saying this as I had many natural fruit drinks during my time at Minca and they were all absolutely delicious, but after a severe stomach upset that put me out of action for a few days, I can only think that it was the local water used with these drinks that caused this issue. I’m not saying to avoid them, as they were very good, but if you’re prone to a sensitive stomach then it may be the best option. Stick to bottled water or, even better, utilise the services of a water bottle with an in-built filtration system in order to lower plastic consumption. I’ve since been using my LifeStraw bottle and asking for no ice in my drinks which has made me feel much better.
The bout of illness tempered by last day in Minca, but I’d never let that ruin the memories of my experiences there. It is a jewel hidden away in the hills and I’d have no qualms about visiting again. With the benefit of hindsight, I’d probably have booked four days as I’d love to go even higher up to Cerro Kennedy. Maybe that’s one for the future. If you've had your fill of the busy Caribbean coast and want some peace and quiet in the confines of nature, jump on that Colectivo from Santa Marta.
You won’t regret it.
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