Minca is a peaceful little village in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, just half an hour from Santa Marta, that has become hugely popular with travellers in recent years. With a cooler climate, refreshing mountain streams and waterfalls, amazing biodiversity, coffee and cacao farms and some lovely hostels, it’s a dream backpacker town. Here are 10 things to see and do on your trip to Minca.
This coffee farm is one of the oldest in Colombia and has been using the same machinery since the 1890s (the name Victoria comes from the British monarch of the same name, as most of the amazing old machinery was made during her reign). The tour deals more with the processing of coffee than the harvesting procedure, but the location is lovely, the on-site restaurant is top-notch and the coffee is delicious.
Along with great coffee, some of the best quality cacao in Colombia, nay the world, is produced in the Sierra Nevada, and you can easily arrange tours of cacao farms in Minca. El Paraiso de Tuki B&B Cafe y Cacao Farm in the hills outside Minca is one of the most popular places to discover the world of Colombian cacao; you can do both cacao and coffee tours, and stay overnight in a lovely little B&B.
Even though Minca is cooler than the nearby Caribbean coast, it still gets nice and hot here, and there are several great local swimming spots where you can cool off. One of these is the impressive Marinka waterfall: a short hike through the forest from Minca gets you there, and for a small admission fee, you can cool off in the pool at the foot of the falls.
Another lovely spot for swimming in the cool rivers of the Sierra Nevada is the Pozo Azul swimming hole, a really popular river pool just outside Minca that attracts many tourists on a hot day. Although it can get busy, Pozo Azul is worth visiting for the pretty scenery and perfect natural swimming pool.
This long hike up into the mountains from Minca is definitely one for fitter travellers, but if you can muster the energy you’ll definitely be rewarded. Los Pinos is a viewpoint about a three-hour hike from Minca, offering superb panoramas over the distant Caribbean Sea and the green mountains of the Sierra.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of the most important natural ecosystems on the planet for biodiversity and endemic species, and you can see beautiful birds without even leaving the environs of Minca itself. Local bird expert Jungle Joe is the perfect guide for beginner birders or casual enthusiasts, and his early morning birding tour around Minca will teach you the basics of birding for just 25,000 COP (US$8.20) for three hours. Visitors can spot toucans, woodpeckers, owls, and parrots, and Joe is a patient, friendly guide.
Hardcore birders will want to skip the introductory tours around Minca and head up into the high mountains to the El Dorado birding lodge and reserve. This beautiful reserve is arguably the best birding destination in Colombia, and visitors can see up to 20 endemic species in just a few days there. Throw in amazing views of the Caribbean and snowcapped peaks of the Sierra, and El Dorado is heaven for nature enthusiasts.
The sunsets over the Caribbean Sea from the high vantage point of Minca are something special to behold: the best place to enjoy them closer to town is from the terrace of Casa Loma Hostel (also a great place to stay), or from Casa Elemento further up the mountain. Wherever you choose to enjoy the sunset, you can’t fail to be blown away by it.
Craft beer is growing in popularity in Colombia, and in Minca they produce one of the tastiest of the lot. The Nevada Cerveceria – also located on the same site as La Victoria Coffee Farm – produces two excellent local beers utilising spring water from the surrounding mountains. Happy Jaguar is a Pilsener beer and Happy Toucan an Irish Red Ale, and both are tasty and refreshing. You should absolutely make sure to sample them on your visit to Minca.