Minca, Santa Marta and surroundings

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The north of Colombia is a vast area that contains rugged beaches, colonial cities, desert and rainforest. What is there to do in this region? Visit the mountain village of Minca, hike a 4-day trip to the lost city, go sandboarding in the Guajira desert or surf at Palomino.

Minca

Hidden between the mountains of the Sierra Nevada National Park, is Minca. Located at an altitude of about 650 meters in an area full of beautiful views. Minca is a small village that really only consists of two main streets. These streets are lined with restaurants, shops and cafes. Outside the center are most ho(s)tels, often located in the mountains for the best views.

Due to the beautiful surroundings and peaceful atmosphere, you would not say that Minca has had a troubled and tragic history. Decades ago, the region flourished as a coffee region with many coffee plantations, with the region of Minca being considered one of the oldest coffee regions. However, the export stopped after the 2nd World War due to a lack of demand. After that, guerrilla groups soon took over the region (by force) and the area was mainly used for drug trafficking. With corruption and violence, Minca was taken over and isolated from the rest of Colombia. Many inhabitants therefore left the village and left for Santa Marta or further. But a single resident who originally lived there remained. Until the government finally intervened and Minca could be restored. And that recovery is going well, where more and more people are able to find Minca and the region, and especially the tranquility and views. And rightly so, Minca is a lovely place to be!

Would you like to go hiking or mainly relax, Minca is the place to be. You can easily spend 3 days there. What is there to do in Minca?

Hiking

Minca is an ideal place for walking. In the area you will find many waterfalls and hikes to viewpoints. The most beautiful waterfalls are the Marinka waterfall, Pozo Azul and the Hidden waterfall (Cascada Perdida/Escondida). The Marinka waterfall is located south of Minca about 4 km from the center. It is a beautiful double waterfall with 2 plateaus and waterfalls. You can swim there, there is a restaurant, toilets and there are hanging nets to relax and enjoy the environment. The trails around the waterfall are well maintained. Entrance to the Marinka waterfall is 10,000 pesos/€2.50. You can get there on foot (1.5 hours from the center, take into account mud in the rainy season), with a mototaxi (dirtbike), for about 10,000-15,000 pesos/€2.50-3.75 one way or a 4×4 car for 30,000-40,000 pesos/€7.50-10.00 per person.

The Pozo Azul waterfall is quite popular and it can be quite busy on weekends. You can walk there in just over an hour from the center. The Hidden waterfall (Cascada Perdida/Escondida) is about a 30 minute walk from the center.

For a walk to viewpoints, the Los Pinos hike, walking to Finca San Rafael and the road to Nuevo Mundo are recommended. Along the way and on site you have viewpoints over the surroundings and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada National Park.

Good to know

Minca is located between the mountains and has a different climate than Santa Marta, which is only 15 kilometers away. This means that more rain falls in Minca. It can rain daily all year round. Often only in the afternoon for a few hours. But during the rainy season it can sometimes rain all day and many paths get wet and muddy. It is advisable to bring a raincoat, umbrella and/or rain cover, and shoes that can withstand mud/water.

Coffee and/or cocoa tour

Minca, despite not being located in the coffee region of Colombia, is known for its coffee and cocoa plantations. As a result, you can also do a coffee and/or cocoa tour in Minca. The most popular fincas (farms) to visit are La Candelaria and La Victoria where you learn the process from bean to cup of coffee or chocolate and often a tasting round is included. In the harvest season you can also see how the beans grow and are picked. Many organized tours combine a coffee farm with a visit to a waterfall so that you have an afternoon to full-day program. You can book on the spot through your ho(s)tel or step inside at one of the several tourist offices. You can also contact one of the coffee farms in the area yourself and ask about the possibilities and do a tour yourself.

Bird watching

Minca is surrounded by a rich biodiversity. Mainly many species of (tropical) birds have made the area their home. An ideal and beautiful place to look for the most beautiful and colorful birds. You can go yourself, but with a 3-hour tour you see a lot. A guide takes you along and knows exactly where to find the birds. You can spot toucans, falcons, parakeets, macaws and many other birds. Often the tours are from 6:00 am – 9:00 am and you pay about 50,000 pesos/€12.50. You can determine a tip yourself if you want to give it to your guide. You can arrange your tour in your ho(s)tel or at one of the tourist offices in the center.

Rent a motorcycle

The environment at Minca is beautiful. You can see a lot on foot, but the area is vast, so you can’t see everything on foot. By renting a motorbike/dirtbike you can go further into the mountains. Also, a dirt bike can take you anywhere on the trails, even if these are dirt roads with mud. You can rent a motorbike for a day (part) and you pay about 130,000 pesos/€32.50 for a whole day. There are several places in the center where you can rent a motorbike.

Relaxing

Despite all the activities to do in Minca, it is also a very nice area to relax. Many travelers use the town to recover from the 4-day hike after the Lost City Trek. But not only then, Minca has many (eco) ho(s)tels with beautiful views to spend a day or so hanging in your hammock. There is a lot of choice so you will always find a nice place within your budget. Although the climate is not tropical, there are also several hotels with a swimming pool.

Food and drink

In the center of Minca you will find many nice places to eat and drink. For a delicious cup of coffee you can go to Duni . You can buy freshly baked bread, such as baguettes and chocolate rolls at the bakery  La Miga Panaderia. If you walk up from Duni, you will automatically come across signs for Casa Loma. It is a 15 minute walk uphill, via steps and a well laid out path, but then you can enjoy a view over the mountains and Santa Marta. And also a delicious vegetarian sandwich or salad. For a burger with homemade beer in its own brewery you can go to Lazy Cat  or for Middle Eastern cuisine you can go to Marhaba.

How do you get there and back?

Je komt in Minca met een minibus vanuit Santa Marta. Je komt in Santa Marta vanaf Cartagena met een shuttle of lokale bus. De shuttles van Marsol en Berlinastur zijn het gemakkelijkste en het meest efficiënt. Het gaat om minibussen waar ongeveer 20 mensen in kunnen en er is airconditioning (fijne temperatuur). Beide kosten 60.000 pesos/€15 en rijden in ongeveer 4,5 uur van Cartagena naar Santa Marta. Je komt aan bij het eigen busstation van de busmaatschappij. Marsol rijdt zo’n 6 keer per dag om 6.00/8.00/10.00/12.00/14.00/16.00 uur vanuit Cartagena naar Santa Marta. Terug vanuit Santa Marta gaan ze om 7.00/9.00/11.00/13.00/15.00 uur. De bussen van Berlinastur vertrekken ongeveer elke 15 minuten en hebben ook gratis WiFi aan boord. Zij rijden af en aan tot 17.00 uur van Santa Marta naar Cartagena en tot 18.00 uur van Cartagena naar Santa Marta.

The buses to Minca leave from the public market (Google Mercado Público de Santa Marta or Bus to Minca) in Santa Marta. They depart approximately every 25 minutes, cost 9,000 pesos/€2.25 per person and drive to Minca in approximately 45 minutes. If you want to go back to Santa Marta, you take the same bus. Please note that the buses only go with a minimum of 6 people. So you may have to wait and they don’t go every 25 minutes. The last bus from Minca to Santa Marta leaves at 6:00 PM. You can also take a taxi from Santa Marta to Minca or vice versa. Always discuss a price in advance. That will be around 25,000 pesos/€5.75 per person for about 30 minutes.

In Minca itself you can reach a lot on foot. To get to your hotel or a place of interest such as a waterfall you can walk, with a mototaxi (literally motor/dirtbike) or with a 4×4 car. Depending on the distance you pay about 15,000 pesos/€3.75 for a motorcycle and 40,000 pesos/€10 for a 4×4 car. This is an average price per person, the distance and the road condition depend on the price.

The Lost City Trek

In Minca itself you can reach a lot on foot. To get to your hotel or a place of interest such as a waterfall you can walk, with a mototaxi (literally motor/dirtbike) or with a 4×4 car. Depending on the distance you pay about 15,000 pesos/€3.75 for a motorcycle and 40,000 pesos/€10 for a 4×4 car. This is an average price per person, the distance and the road condition depend on the price.

The hike is tough with high humidity and long hiking days. If you are looking for a challenge, you can consider this tour!

The price for the Lost City Trek is determined by the government and is a fixed price of 1,400,000 pesos/€350. Everything is included in terms of food and drink, sleeping accommodation and a guide. You don’t have to compare prices, but you can see which tour organization suits you best.

Good to know

Every year, often in September, the Lost City Trek is closed for a number of weeks to allow nature to recover. Check online when this is, as the exact dates vary every year.

Tayrona National Park

Between Santa Marta and Palomino, the Tayrona National Park is located on the coast. The park has a tropical jungle and wide beaches. You are only allowed to swim at a few beaches and into the water due to a strong current in certain places, but the beaches are also very beautiful to look at.

The park has 2 entrances, El Zaino and Calabazo. At El Zaino most people go inside. You can go the first part of the path from this entrance with a pick-up, so you don’t have to walk that anymore. This is recommended as it will save you a lot of time. This costs 5,000 pesos/€1.25. You will be brought to Cañaveral and from there a path leads through several beaches to the San Juan del Guia viewpoint. You can choose to spend the night there in a hammock (you can make a reservation when you buy your ticket at the entrance). Or you can walk further to another accommodation at Playa Brava for example, so that you can walk to the other entrance Calabazo the next day via Playa Brava and Pueblito (village of the indigenous people). This village can be visited, but not always open to visitors due to rituals that are performed. At the entrances you can ask if it is open that day. Keep in mind that the path between the Calabazo entrance and San Juan del Guia is much more hilly and has a number of steep parts. For this path you have to count more time than is often indicated. A taxi is also possible at the Calabazo entrance for the last part. This is a motorcycle and costs 20,000 pesos/€5. You can also choose to spend the night at one of the entrances, these are often the more luxurious accommodations, and explore the park from there. If you don’t want to spend the night in Tayrona, you can make it a day trip by walking from El Zaine to the lookout point at Sna Juan del Guia and back via the same path.

Good to know

The park is open daily from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, last tickets are sold at 3:00 PM. The park is closed several times a year for 2 weeks. It’s different every year, but it’s often around the beginning of the year, mid-year and in the fall. You can check this on the park’s website. Tickets cost 57,500 pesos/€14 (low season) and 68,000 pesos/€17 (high season) per person. Every time you enter the park, you pay for your ticket, even if you leave it for a while. You also pay a tax of 5,000 pesos/€1.25 per day. You also need your passport and Covid-19 vaccination certificate if you want to enter the park.

During the rainy season it can rain a lot and the paths can have a hard time processing the water, resulting in a lot of mud. Keep an eye on the current condition of the trails or consider a walk through ankle-high mud.

How do you get there and back?

You get to Tayrona National Park by bus from Santa Marta (1 hour) or Palomino (1 hour). Buses run back and forth very frequently.

Palomino and Punta Gallinas

Palomino is another beach destination that is becoming more and more frequented. A hurricane a few years ago wiped out part of the beach. But it still remains a place where people come to surf, relax or tubing.

Punta Gallinas is the most northern point of South America. The area is located in a desert and this is one of the few places where a desert touches the ocean. You can get there yourself by taking public transport or renting your own car. You can also take a tour that lasts 3 days. You can arrange a tour in Santa Marta, Palomino and Riohacha. You often pay around €150, for 3 days, including transport and food and drinks, and you sleep in a hammock or in a bed (extra allowance). You can also choose to add sand boarding to your tour (extra fee).

Don’t have 3 days but do you want to explore the area? You can also travel to Cabo de la Vela. There the environment is similar and the journey there is shorter. Here you can also surf well.

Good to know

The region of La Guajira that you cross is a very poor region. It is known that children and people can stand by the side of the road, or stop the cars and only let them go, if you give them food or drink. It is recommended that you bring at least water and fruit with you. Water is scarce and that is the most helpful.

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