Jewel of the Sierra Nevada
Minca the town was always a mystery to me. “Very popular with backpackers”. “Lots of foreigners”. “Instagram influencers’ paradise”. This is what I’d mostly been hearing about Minca.
These are the type of commentaries that make me run fast in the opposite direction! When I travel, I usually prefer a non-touristy, raw and local experience. So needless to say I avoided Minca in my four previous trips to Colombia spanning 4 years.
But this time, firmly planted in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Santa Marta, it was inevitable that I would explore this hillside town.
The 40 minute windy drive up into the hills was nothing special and as I approached the town, I was not overly impressed. My taxi quickly diverted off the main road and headed into some serious off-road territory, it’s undercarriage bouncing on the road along the way. This was symbolic. In Minca you have to leave the road well-trodden to see the stuff worth seeing, as I would soon learn.
After our bumpy ride, I arrived at Sweet Harmony, my home for the night – a cabin with a balcony looking straight into the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. I was in the forest, deep in the forest. The river below was fairly audible and there were a lot of bugs, butterflies and birds everywhere. I spent a good several hours in the hammock and just listened to the mountain sounds. The hills were full of life – and the best part – the sounds weren’t human. You really learn to appreciate Mother Nature and it’s wonderful beings in a setting like this.
I dragged myself out of the hammock and walked down to the river. A fast-flowing river with a few rapids and crystal clear water. I was constantly being bitten by bugs. I had two choices – complain, or appreciate I was in their domain. I did my best with the latter. I also dove into the ice cold water to take refuge – it was cold! But so invigorating. After a day of travel – I was a new man!
After a restful night I was ready for day two. Today I had planned to ride a 32 km circuit (20 miles) around Minca on a mountain bike. The route is called “La Vuelta”. My guide Jian Carlos promptly showed up at 9 am and we were on our way! He was a wiry 16 year old lad who weighed next to nothing. And our route for the day involved lots of climbing. Which meant I had to keep up with this kid. Happy to say it all went well!
The first stop was Pozo Azul a nice little natural pool in the river. Of course I took the obligatory dip. The water was so cold, but it invigorated me for the ride ahead. Our next stop required us to leave the main road and climbing to La Victoria – a very old coffee farm with a lot of history. First bought by a British family, it changed hands about 70 years ago and is now owned by a family with German ancestry. They have some unique ways of transporting the beans, literally using water (so the beans are immersed in water for transport and sorting) and eventually dried. This entails the use of some heavy duty machinery that’s more than a 100 years old! Made in San Francisco, New York, London and other places. It was fascinating to see the international roots of this coffee farm in the middle of nowhere.
But we had many more miles to go, and they were all uphill for a good several hours! We left the main road at a junction called El Campano and headed up some serious dirt roads with steep grade to boot! We were granny gearing it up several sections and spinning in mud up a few. The challenge of the ride, oh what a beautiful thing!
After a few hours of steady grinding we were at Los Pinos. It was the highest point on our route today and the views were spectacular. And there were a few namesake pine trees here, dwarfed by the usual tropical foliage of course.
The next stop on our adventure was Hostal Sierra Minca. It involved a little diversion and a lot of climbing. The views were great from this little resort in the hills. I paid 40,000 pesos for a day pass that included lunch and a drink, and use of the pool and hammocks. I was on a mission, so I took a quick dip in the pool, ate my fried fish, drank my Club Colombia and was back on the road!
The good news was that after this point it was mainly a descent! I needed this little break. But alas, it was short lived once again. The last diversion of the day was a climb up to Marinka Falls on a very uneven steep, rutted dirt road! I was so spent, I felt like skipping it. But once at the falls I realized it was all worth it. There are in fact two falls. The lower falls have a great natural pool for swimming and I took a nice dip and felt rejuvenated after this intense day of riding. Rejuvenated enough that I could walk the few hundred steps up to the upper falls. They too were beautiful. This was a nice way to top off a very heavy day of riding with 1200 m of climbing (4,000 ft). We still had the descent back into Minca, but it was smooth sailing all the way down.
Day 3 in Minca was also going to special. I chose to stay further up the mountain for my last night in Minca. I took a Moto Taxi up to Nuevo Mundo – a hotel nestled high in the hills.
Mundo Nuevo blew me away. The rustic architecture of the rooms, the many hammocks and the strategically placed gardens and viewing areas. This was a place where I could pass hours in a hammock taking in the breeze, the wildlife and the greenery all around. I took a short 15 minute walk to La Candelaria, another coffee/cacao farm. Instead of opting for the tour I just had a cup of coffee. That evening I enjoyed watching the sun set into the ocean and the noises of the night slowly coming into play. It was magical.
Day 4 – The morning of my last day, I took a hike up to Mirador 360° for a 360° degree view all the way around the coast and the mountains. The hike itself was a bit of an adventure often following single track with a steep drop off. It’s also steep in sections so a bit physically demanding. But once at the top I got to see everything – Santa Marta and Rodadero – and low lying clouds were shrouding the mountains creating an air of mystery.
I am not sure when I will be back in Minca, but the lure is strong and it’s beckoning for sure!