Minca is a breath of fresh air. A small village nestled in the Colombian hills, it is an excellent option for anyone looking to escape the gritty city of Santa Marta for a few days or for those a little bit bored of the beaches and popularity of Tayrona and Taganga.
Up until relatively recently, despite its natural beauty, Minca was unable to open its doors to tourism - the presence of paramilitary forces in the surrounding areas meant this was a place cut off to all but locals. Now, with the security situation in Colombia improving, there are hostels and restaurants popping up along its streets, but Minca still feels refreshingly like somewhere that is ripe for discovery.
The climate up here - 660 metres above sea level - is a few degrees cooler than elsewhere in this part of the country, but still perfect for sitting outside to enjoy your morning coffee and breathe in the view.
Although you can definitely have an excellent day-trip here, we'd highly recommend spending at least one night. Here's our overview on how to get there and some great things do to on your visit.
#1 hike up los pinos
This is a very manageable semi-paved walk to the mirador at Los Pinos. Give yourself at least three hours from town and try to leave before the sun is too strong.
Not only is it a lovely walk amongst nature and the rolling hills of the Sierra Nevada, at the top you'll be rewarded with some wonderful views of the mountains, Minca, Santa Marta and the coastline in the distance.
We were also delighted to discover a great new hostel - Casa Elemento - near the top. Complete with quite possibly the best views from any hostel in Colombia, the world's largest hammock, a slack-line and ice-cold beers, it is the perfect place for a pit-stop!
If you don't have the fitness or desire to walk up here, then there are plenty of moto-taxis leaving from town.
What does it cost? Free. If you'd like to extend your stay at the top, click here to make a reservation at Casa Elemento.
What do you need? Lots of water, camera, suncream, good footwear and some money for any food or drink at Casa Elemento.
#2 get your twitch on
Colombia is the #1 country in the world for bird biodiversity, meaning it is an excellent destination for twitchers - Minca in particular, with 162 of the 300 species found in the Sierra Nevada is a year-round mecca for those brandishing binoculars.
There are a number of tour companies in the village providing early morning and afternoon excursions. To increase your chances of the seeing the most rare and unique birds in the area, we'd recommend joining one of these groups.
What does it cost? We recommend Jungle Joe, where a 3-hour tour costs $25,000.
What do you need? All necessary equipment is provided by the tour.
#3 a dip in pozo azul
Found at the end of a winding road, across a rickety old bridge are some of the iciest waters we have ever swam in - the waters of Pozo Azul.
Although not quite the waterfall the locals may have suggested, the clear waters of the several swimming holes are a delightful and peaceful way to spend an afternoon, particularly if you've worked up a sweat getting there!
It's around a one-hour walk from town (along one road, so almost impossible to get lost), which takes you through some lovely scenery (keep your eyes open for the colourful birds). Motorbike taxis are available for around $7,000 but, unless you have difficulty walking, these aren't really necessary.
What does it cost? It should cost absolutely nothing, but there may sometimes be a local trying their luck to charge $2,000 entry.
What do you need? Swimming stuff, towel, suncream and lots of water. The rocks near the pool can be very slippy, so watch your step.
#4 visit la victoria coffee farm
Minca is in prime coffee-making territory and was in fact one of the first regions in Colombia to really make the most of coffee cultivation.
This La Victoria finca is special as it still uses the same equipment as when it started up in 1892. The best time for a visit is between November and February, which is coffee-picking season so there's a lot more activity.
As ever, we're going to make you walk again from the centre of town (around 90 minutes) , but there are also moto-taxis that can bring you up here.
What does it cost? Tours have recently increased to $10,000 per person.
What do you need? Good footwear and any extra cash if you wish to purchase coffee.
#5 eat at the lazy cat
We usually wouldn't include a food place, but our meal was so damn delicious that we feel we have to!
Owned by a Colombian/English couple, this is a place that will remind you of home, and depending how long you have been away, this is probably a good thing. With a menu replete with multiple veggie (even a couple of vegan) options, excellent burgers and possibly the best noodle dishes we've had in the last 10 months, it is of little surprise that the restaurant is packed every night.
They have excellent value set menu in the afternoon, and happy hour(s) in the evening.
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how to get to minca from santa marta
Share taxis depart when full from the point where Calle 11 meets Carrera 12, in downtown Santa Marta - easily identified by the small stall listing Minca attractions. From most hostels, this will involve a walk through the market.
The standard fare per person is $7,000. If you are in an urgent rush to depart, you can pay the driver for the whole vehicle.
is minca expensive?
As most of the activities in and around Minca are completely free to enter (thanks Mother Nature) and you can walk there by foot, we managed to stay under £30/$45 combined budget on our three-day stay.
Accommodation: There are plenty of cheap and basic options in town, where a private double will cost $40-50,000. If you want to stay at one of the more popular hostels (often with lovely views, social areas. better facilities and the sort of place you could easily spend a day relaxing), then a private double is more likely to cost $70,000-80,000. If this is in your price range, check out Casa Loma and Casa Elemento.
Food: There are plenty of cheap family restaurants offering a breakfast of arepas, eggs and coffee for $5,000. In the evening, you are a little more limited to backpacker-focussed places, but value is still good with plates starting at $10,000. There are limited street-food options.
Also, there is no ATM in town, so make sure to bring enough pesos with you for all tours, food and accommodation.