Mountain Life in Minca

Colombia is famed for its breathtaking landscapes and outstanding natural beauty, and nowhere I visited in three and a half weeks was this more apparent than in Minca. A small town in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Minca is surrounded by lush green forest, is home to several coffee plantations and offers amazing mountain views.

What to do?

Minca is incredibly chilled, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. In fact, it’s a great place to get active, especially if like me you’ve spent the last six weeks drinking beer and eating steak – that’s South America for you. There are plenty of great hiking trails on the outskirts of the town to challenge yourself and really feel that mountain air in your lungs.

Possibly the most rewarding is the hike to Pozo Azul, a small series of waterfalls just outside the town which are about an hour’s trek each way. The walk is hilly and quite challenging due to the altitude, but is absolutely worth it when you reach the end. Crystal clear pools of water which are perfect for swimming in, but absolutely freezing, so be brave!

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Nature lovers are also drawn to Minca for ample bird watching. Colombia has more species of bird than any country in the world, and over 300 species can be found in Minca alone. We saw countless species whilst, including a beautiful bottle green hummingbird and the one thing I’d been trying to spot during my whole time in South America – a toucan! It may have been way too high up to get a photograph, but there’s no mistaking that distinctive orange beak – I was over the moon!

TIP: The early bird catches the worm in Minca – literally! For the best chance of spotting birds you need to get out hiking early, before the heat of midday hits. The same applies to Pozo Azul – we first went on a Sunday afternoon and it was so packed we didn’t even bother swimming. We went back early the next morning and it was much less crowded, making for perfect photo ops like this:

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You can also visit the world’s biggest hammock at one of Minca’s main backpacker hangouts, Casa Elemento. At this hilltop party hostel you can chill with a beer in an enormous net, whilst you hang over the mountains and admire the phenomenal view. Casa Elemento is situated a little far out of the town centre, but you can easily hop on the back of a moto-taxi that will whisk you there in no time.

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Photo: @casaelemento Instagram

TIP: Sand flies are absolutely rife in Minca, even more so at night. We were recommended a natural repellent, which is made in Minca and sold in most shops in the town centre. It comes in a little blue bottle, costs 15,000 pesos, and is worth every penny as I didn’t get bitten once! Be sure to purchase this to avoid looking like you have severe chicken pox, like countless other tourists we saw!

Where to stay?

Although Casa Elemento is a popular hangout spot, most people we spoke to didn’t recommend staying there. We stayed at Casa Loma, the cooler alternative in my eyes. It’s also situated high up on a mountainside so offers views to rival Elemento’s. However there is no route for moto-taxis, so the hike up is pretty (*extremely*) tiring, especially with a backpack on. There’s also no WiFi, which some people claim to like but I found very annoying.

Aside from these two things though, it’s heavenly! We booked hammocks outside to sleep in for £5 a night (with mosquito nets of course), and these turned out to be some of the most peaceful nights’ sleep I’ve had in any hostel! You really can’t beat being woken up to the sound of toucans chirping in the morning. A communal vegetarian dinner is served every night, there’s always a campfire going and someone ready to start a sing-along, and there’s an outdoor yoga terrace where classes are taught each morning. There’s also a menagerie of cats and dogs that call Casa Loma home. Honestly, what more could you want from a hostel?

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Chilled evenings at Casa Loma

TIP: Book your accommodation a few days in advance, as Minca is small but very popular. The best hostels tend to get booked up, meaning we had to stay in a dirty dorm with ripped mosquito nets for our first night, before we managed to get in to Casa Loma. If you want to snag a private room, I’d recommend booking at least a week ahead.

What to eat?

Minca is small – there isn’t an abundance of restaurants, but one place definitely worth visiting is Lazy Cat restaurant in the town centre. We ate here literally every day. The food is good, cheap, and there are a lot of options including some Western, Asian and Mexican dishes. Come between 5-7 for happy hour on burgers; 10,000 pesos (about £2.50) including fries. Plus they have good WiFi!

Getting there?

Minca is only 30 minutes outside of the city of Santa Marta, and couldn’t be easier to get to. Just go to the travel office near Santa Marta’s main market and book a ticket for the next minibus to depart. Tickets cost 8,000 pesos (£2), and buses run regularly all day until 6pm. Be warned that the minibus gets hot and crowded, and the mountain roads are very windy – I almost threw up on the way there. Luckily though the journey is short, and temperatures in Minca are refreshingly cooler than in scorching Santa Marta.

TIP: There are absolutely no ATM’s in Minca, so remember to draw enough cash out for your entire stay whilst in Santa Marta!

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