The town town of Minca, Colombia isn’t on the typical Colombian backpacker trail. Perched on top of a mountain in the Colombian Sierra Nevadas overlooking Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea, with a population of 800, Minca is if nothing else isolated. But at only 45 minutes away from the much more popular coastal town of Santa Marta, and only 5 hours away from bustling Cartagena, Colombia, it is well worth the detour! If you are planning a trip to Colombia, here’s why you need to make sure Minca is included in your itinerary!
Minca, Colombia: Undiscovered and Off the Beaten Path
We came across a copy of Lonely Planet’s “South America on a Shoestring” in Santa Marta. It was two years old. Minca wasn’t in it. We weren’t surprised.
Lia actually visited Minca on her very first trip to Colombia, 3 years ago. She loved it so much that she planned our trip to retrace her steps, including staying in the exact same hostel, Casa Loma Minca. After 3 years, the town of Minca hadn’t changed much, but there were a LOT more backpackers!
Since Lia’s first trip to Colombia, Minca has boomed (relatively). It’s finally made the Lonely Planet! It even has its own page in WikiVoyage – which is sort of like the big leagues, if you’re the kind of person that uses WikiVoyage religiously (me). Tourists are flocking to Minca because it is the major gateway to La Cuidad Perdida, The Lost City. Soon it will be the only gateway, according to a volunteer working at a non profit shop in town. But there is more to Minca than trekking, the most famous hammock in South America, fresh organic coffee, artisanal bread, waterfalls, mototaxis through the jungle, cool mountain breezes, and incredible sunsets. Against all odds, tiny Minca, Colombia was one of our favorite destinations in Colombia!
How to Get to Minca, Colombia
The easiest way to get to Minca is from Santa Marta. Santa Marta is easily accessible from Cartagena or most places near the coast as it’s a major tourist destination (which is odd, since we found it dirty, boring, and too hot for our tastes. But to each their own.) From Santa Marta, we took a collectivo, which is a shared shuttle. We found it at Estacion Minca, near the Mercado Publico in Centro. It’s located at Cl 11 y Cra 12 (pictured below). Our collectivo was was 8.000COP per person, which is a little less than $3. They loaded up the “shuttle,” which was actually just a regular car, and Lia and I hopped in with two other Americans who were waiting. Whenever Americans meet each other abroad, it’s super exciting because it’s very rare. So of course, we all got to talking. They told us they were just staying in Minca for the day. More on that later…
Once we started to wind up through the mountains away from sunny, seaside Santa Marta, it started to rain. It was light at first… and then, suddenly, it was very heavy. So heavy, in fact, that we saw the painful aftermath of a bad motorcycle accident (note: maybe don’t take a mototaxi in the rain). Our taxi driver called the authorities to help the injured driver, and drove carefully the rest of the way – bless him, he’s probably the only Colombian who knows the meaning of careful driving (that’s one of those things no one tells you about Colombia!)
Luckily, we channeled the Boy Scouts and we were prepared: we had our rain gear. Except it wasn’t on us. It was in our bags. After being dropped off in the pouring rain in Minca, at the only major intersection – it’s a TINY town, y’all – we grabbed our backpacks, said goodbye to our American taxi friends, and made a run for the nearest awning. Lia wrangled a makeshift rain cover for her bag out of a trash bag she’s held on to for this exact reason. Note: just buy a backpack cover. I have one. Lia was just too frugal to spend $30 when “a trash bag is just as good”. Turns out, the ease of mind is worth the expense, because nobody wants to struggle with a trash bag in the pouring rain. By the time Lia had mostly covered her bag, the rain was officially torrential. At this point, frustrated with the trash bag situation, Lia suggested we find a restaurant, eat lunch, and wait out the rain. I said that would take too long and we should just power through it. Well, let the record stand: I was wrong.
The minute we arrived at our hostel, Casa Loma Minca, it stopped raining.
Finding Casa Loma Minca
Our hostel in Minca, Casa Loma Minca, was one of our absolute favorites in all of Colombia (read about our other favorite hostels in Colombia). Finding Casa Loma Minca, was an adventure. Here were the instructions from the hostel:
- Find the church
- Find the pathway to the left of the church
- Climb the stairs
- Pass the school and basketball court
- Continue up the stairs
- Walk between two houses,
- Continue on the path for ten minutes.
Huh?? I felt like I was following a pirate’s treasure map. But follow it I did, as the rain soaked through our bags, clothes, and shoes. We seemed to be making progress …until I lost the trail. Typical.
We slipped and slid our way back down to town and asked some friendly Minca locals where Casa Loma Minca. Turns out we had to go back to the church, duck behind it,
dig up a chest of treasure, and follow the road up to a slightly different set of stairs that I swear did not exist 5 minutes earlier. Did I mention it was raining like crazy?
For those of you not up on your Spanish, “Loma” means hill – Casa Loma Minca is Minca’s House on the Hill. And man, that hill is rough. There is nothing more truly awful than lugging 35 pounds of misery on your back in the pouring rain as you slip and slide up a hill that defies the laws of friction. It felt like we were climbing for hours. Sans bags and rain, the hill takes only about 5-8 minutes to climb. By the time we huffed and puffed ourselves to the top of the hill and finally reached Casa Loma Minca – 14 switchbacks later, I counted – it felt like the gates of heaven themselves had opened up. We’ve never been more grateful for a dry hammock to lay on in our lives!
Casa Loma Minca: An Amazing Hostel in Minca, Colombia
For all of its hilltop isolation, we loved Casa Loma Minca. The first thing you notice is the view: from Casa Loma’s open-air lounge, you can see all the way from Minca to Santa Marta and the blue waters of the Carribbean!
Casa Loma Minca hostel is really a collection of tree-house like structures (dorms, hammock shelters, private bedrooms, etc), but the main hub is “La Casa,” an open-air lounge, with tables, couches, hammocks, fridge, kitchen (staff only), games, library, and reception. It truly feels like a giant treehouse, with the most incredible view in the world right on its front porch.
The meals at Casa Loma Minca are not included, but the price is super reasonable and the food is incredible. Breakfast runs from 4.000-8.000 COP, lunch is 12.000 COP, and dinner (with included dessert) is 17.000 COP. Dinner, served family style, is an event not to miss out on: it’s social and cozy, the kind of intimate hostel environment we found ourselves missing as soon as we left Minca. We ate most of our meals at the hostel and found it to be reasonable, budget friendly, and a great way to socialize. Plus, the food is delicious!
The staff at Casa Loma Minca is super friendly, and mostly volunteers – what a great spot to work and live! But the highlight of Casa Loma Minca by far is the incredible atmosphere. The lack of Wi-Fi allows for (forces? necessitates?) social interaction, and the type of people attracted to the isolated hill-top eco-hostel seem to coexist on the same wavelength. In California speak, the vibe is super chill. There are board games, card games, books to read, hammocks to lounge in, music always playing, and beer always available. You see the same few people staying at little Casa Loma Minca over and over again during your stay, and you all sit together for meals at communal tables. Soon, you become friends.
By the end of your stay, you and your new Casa Loma friends have played 53 games of BS and Gin Rummy, performed a sing-along rendition of Sweet Child of Mine on the ukelele, hiked to a waterfall – and then all jumped off it together – and had several in-depth philosophical discussion in 8 different languages.
One of our new friends summed it up well. The Casa Loma Minca is a social hostel, but not a party hostel. Everyone talks to each other, invites each other on day trips, plays cards, shares drinks, maybe sings a song or two together (not quite “kumbayah,” but close: there were actually guitars and we actually all sang together and it was magical) and enjoys each other’s company.We met some fantastic people at Casa Loma Minca, who we ended up meeting again and again as we continued travelling through Colombia. In fact, we made more friends while staying at Casa Loma Minca than we did at any other point during our trip. Casa Loma Minca was a truly special and memorable hostel and we cannot recommend it enough!
What to Do in Minca, Colombia
Minca has loads of activities for travelers and backpackers. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Cliff jumping off a waterfall!
Pozo Azul is a collection of three swimming areas on the river that runs by Minca. It’s a great swimming hole with a big waterfall and a perfect spot for cliff jumping! To get there, you’ll need to either take a mototaxi from town for about 6.000 COP/$2, or take a scenic walk through the jungle for about an hour. If you opt to hike, walk through town and follow the road up the hill for about 45 minutes. Enjoy the scenery, drink plenty of water, and look for fallen mangos on the side of the road as you walk! You’ll pass a few small restaurants and businesses and eventually see a big sign for Pozo Azu. Take the marked trail downhill for 10 minutes to reach the water. There are three pools to choose from. We went up the treacherous trail on the left side to the second one, were you can cliff jump right off the waterfall into the pool below. If you don’t feel like hiking back, there are always mototaxis waiting at the entrance of the pools, and in our opinion it’s worth the $2 to experience riding through the jungle on the back of a motorcycle!
2. Tour a coffee farm!
Although it’s not in the famous Coffee Region of Colombia, Minca boasts some amazing local coffee. One of the most popular ones is Finca La Victoria Plantation, up the hill from Pozo Azul. It’s a completely self-sustaining coffee farm, running solely on water power from nearby mountain streams. From the main intersection in town, it takes about 90 minutes of hiking through absolutely stunning scenery. Tours cost 10,000 COP/ $3.25 USD and include a cup of coffee.
3. Tour a CHOCOLATE and coffee farm!
The only thing better than fresh, delicious coffee is fresh, delicious chocolate, and you can have both at Finca La Candelaria. From the main intersection, head out of town towards Santa Marta (away from Pozo Azul). Immediately, you’ll pass a bridge, then a police station. Turn right to find a trail. Follow that trail for about 75 minutes and you’ll hit La Candelaria Farm.
4. Have an outdoor adventure!
Jungle Joe is a local bird collector and tour guide. He’s sort of a one stop shop for guided tours. He offers tubing, canyoning, bird watching (of the 300 species of birds in Colombia, the Sierra Nevadas have 162 of them!!!), coffee tours, and more. You can chose a tour a la carte, or book a full day of activities.
5. Eat fresh baked artisanal bread!
Duni is a brand new artisanal bread shop in Minca, serving delicious fresh baked treats made from locally sourced wheat and chocolate. Read up on Duni in our spotlight post. You’ve got to go there!
6. Shop for locally made gifts!
Due to the increase in tourism, some new shops and pop-up businesses have taken hold in little Minca. We visited one across from the church. To our delight, all proceeds from the shop went to Mision Gaia, a non profit organization that provides the many animals in Minca with spaying and neutering. In the shop you can find local handmade bags, clothes, delicious hot sauce (seriously, it’s amazing), postcards, jewelry, and more. Take care of your souvenir needs and benefit the local economy all at once! We love sustainable and conscientious tourism.
7. Relax in a giant hammock!
Casa Elemento is one of the most popular hostels in Minca, and certainly one of its claims to fame: at Casa Elemento you’ll find the world’s largest hammock. It’s a two hour hike (or 20 minute taxi… or mototaxi!) from town, but the views are amazing. From the main intersection, head towards the church, but keep going…and going. It’s more like a trapeze net. You don’t have to stay there to enjoy it either! Pay 10.000 COP for a day pass.
8. Just sit quietly and watch the sunset.
Watching the sunset is the equivalent of Casa Loma Minca’s movie night. Everyone gathers in the lounge to kick back and watch the sunset on the world’s largest screen. Then they hang out until dinner is served at the shared community tables, at 8pm. It’s peaceful, social, and relaxing as hell. Grab a hammock, bring a book (and maybe a camera), or just be in the moment.
Travel Tips for Visiting Minca, Colombia
We highly recommend spending a few days enjoying Minca! Before you go, here are a few tips to help you prepare.
- Minca’s weather is a far cry from the heat of Santa Marta. The nights in Minca can get chilly. Bring layers.
- During the summer it rains every day around 2, as we found out when we arrived at 2 (whoops). Plan accordingly.
- Bring a lot of cash. There are no ATMs, and almost no one takes cards. Stop in Santa Marta to stock up.
- Pack or buy water, or bring filtration. The water is not safe to drink in Minca. Some places, like Casa Loma, have a mountain spring line, but don’t rely on that. Some people we met at our hostel had ONE glass of tap water and were down for the count.
- Say hi to the locals. The people in Minca are incredibly friendly!
- Respect their isolation. Blossoming tourism is an exciting but unpredictable phenomenon. This community is warm and inviting, but it’s still theirs. Be respectful.
- Plan to stay longer. Remember the Americans with whom we shared our taxi to Minca? We saw them three days later in Minca hopping into the back of a truck with some locals, with no idea what adventure awaited them (literally, they said they didn’t know where they were going, but were excited to find out!). I guess they realized one day wasn’t enough – we agree!
We hope we convinced you to make a stop in Minca next time you’re traveling through Colombia! Have you ever been to Minca? Did we skip anything you’d like to know about? Leave us a comment!
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