We visited Santa Marta after our short stay in Bogota. Santa Marta is a lively and hectic city on the northern coast of Colombia in the area of Magdalena. Its a really bustling city and port and was the first settled site when the Spanish came to Colombia.
Minca, our view | Is it still worth visiting?
As part of our South American adventure in 2022, we headed to Minca after spending some time in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast with the full intention of doing some hiking in the lush green forest area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Santa Marta Mountains. We felt that we were visiting 10 years too late and that the backpackers haven with its rustic charm that was its main selling point has been lost a little. Taxi’s and Moto scooters in abundance and tour companies offering all sorts of tours from abseiling off a waterfall to bird watching. These tours aren’t cheap so perhaps they’re trying to attract a different type of clientele. Never the less we enjoyed our time here and if you look you can still find some of the lost charm of Minca and in our view is still very much worth visiting.
How did we get to Minca?
We were staying in the nearby coastal town of Santa Marta and decided to visit Minca for a few days. There are a couple of ways to get to Minca from Santa Marta. The first is by Taxi and your hostel can arrange this for you for approximately COP 30000 which is around £6.00 per person or alternatively you can ride on the Collectivo which is a shuttle bus service that goes from Santa Marta to Minca at 20 min intervals throughout the day. The Collectivo is COP 9000 which works out to be around £1.80. We chose this method and paid a little bit extra for them to drop us off at the door of our hostel which was further up the mountain than the town. You can find the Collectivo shuttle buses at the corner of Calle 12 and Carrera 9 in Santa Marta. Up near the fish and meat markets. Its fairly central and not too difficult to find. They have a little waiting room / ticket office where you can wait until your loaded onto the next shuttle van. The trip took 45 mins or so and was a really wonderful experience. Remember to take your passport or ID card as they take a note of your name and identity number when buying your ticket.
Where did we stay in Minca?
There are a number of hostels to choose from in Minca. Its a small town/village and yet has hostels all over the place. These facilities range from very basic to quite swanky so its really up to you and the type of accomodation you’re after. There are also a number of hotels to choose from. We settled on Alto de la Montana which was about 1.7 km up the mountain from the town of Minca. The selling point for this place for us was the location and the large veranda terrace that looked out over the trees and forests of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is said that you can spot some really interesting birds and if you’re lucky then you can see the toucans which live in the area. Really, it was breathtaking. The hostel itself was a bit basic with a small room, a fridge, a fan, a tiny bathroom with a dubious shower contraption which, to give it its due, pumped out hot water most of the time. The hostel had a small restaurant but the food choices were limited and we only ate dinner here a couple of times. I think if the hostel was busier then we would have used it more for lunch/dinner. The hostel owners were lovely and arranged a Moto for us one day to hire and also took us back down to the town of Minca on our departure day to meet the collectivo shuttle.
What is there to do in Minca?
There’s quite a few things to do in Minca depending on how adventurous you want to be and how much money you want to spend. For us, we wanted to do as much as we could on our own and not pay the vast prices for the various tours advertised in town. If its a tour you want then there are a number of operators advertising all sorts of tours from coffee plantation trips to abseiling down a waterfall. For us we wanted to explore as much of the region as we could, by ourselves.
Marinka Waterfalls (Cascada de Marinka)
How did we get there?
This was the first place we visited and you can find the waterfalls by taking the road through town, past the church on the left and straight on past the coffee & gelato cafe on the right following the path out of town and round and up the mountain path. The road is fairly straight forward with only a few large puddles and muddy patches to navigate. Around half way to the waterfalls there is a turn off to the left and a slightly steep muddy path downwards to a small pool and small waterfall area which is known as the “ear of the world”. We made our way down to see this but if you miss it then I don’t think you’re missing much. About 45 mins to an hour later after winding your way up the mountain path you’ll come to a couple of cafe’s and a sign pointing to the left showing the way to the waterfalls. There’s only 900mtrs to go and by this time you’re desperate for a cooling dip in the fresh waters. You don’t have to walk up the road, you can opt for a scooter to take you up to the entrance and you can easily get one in the centre of Minca to save you the walk.
What does it cost and what facilities are there?
The entrance fee to the waterfalls is COP10000 per person which works out to be approx £2.00 which was really reasonable. There are 2 changing cabins for you to change in and there is a restaurant for you to have a refreshment after your dip. There are 2 waterfalls to choose from. The lower one with a large swimming pool and the upper one which really only has a wading pool but both had very impressive waterfall which you could just sit under and enjoy the cool refreshing water cascade over you.
Pozo Azul Waterfall (Cascada de Pozo Azul)
This is another wild swimming area with a cascade of smaller waterfalls forming pools for dipping your toes in or swimming. We visited this area on a Sunday when every Colombian and tourist in the area had descended on this attraction. There were buses parked up and down the road and it was jam packed full. There wasn’t a stretch of water free for a dip so we decided to visit another day whilst it was quiet. Unlike the Cascada de Marinka above it is free to access these pools which is why it was probably so attractive. There are limited facilities here, no changing rooms however there was a chap across the river charging COP2000 to change in his shed. There are no toilets and only a few snack stalls. If the lower pools are busy then there is the option to go up behind the lower section to another pool and waterfall behind.
How do you get there?
To acccess these waterfalls you take the main road up and out of Minca. The Santa Marta – Cerro Kennedy Road. About 2.5 km up the road on the left hand side you’ll see the sign for Pozo Azul. Take this track and after 20 – 30 mins or so walking down the track you’ll come to the watering hole. Again, like the Marinka waterfalls you can either get a lift on a scooter from town to take you either there and/or back.
The Secret Waterfall (Cascada Escondida)
Another day and yet another waterfall and swimming hole, however this one is quite special. Its not on google maps and not on apple maps and its quite by chance we found very loose directions on a review left on a google site. We were lucky enough to find it after a long walk in the humid air and to our surprise we had it to ourselves. There was another couple there when we arrived but they were just leaving so it was just us.
So how did we get there?
If you search for this waterfall on google maps it takes you to an entirely different area of Minca with a deep gorge between you and the waterfall which is why not many people find it. We were lucky enough to come across a web site which gave some basic instructions and that was to go up the left hand side of the police station in Minca and keep walking. So off we went. Once past the police station we asked a man at a coffee shop if we were headed in the direction of the waterfall and he said yes, straight ahead and take the right hand when you come to a fork in the road. Little did we know then that it would take approximately an hour of walking up hill in the hot and humid heat of Minca and then a further 30 mins down hill on some steep and uneven ground before reaching the beautiful waterfall and pool. It was all worth it as the pool was deep enough to dive in and the water was cold and refreshing.
Hiring a Moto Scooter
Its really easy to hire a Moto Scooter in Minca. In the main town there are several hire places that will offer you hire for an hour, 1/2 a day or a full days hire and they all have their own charges. Our hostel owner arranged one for us and for the full day and it cost around COP160000 which is around £32.00. Having the freedom of the scooter meant we could travel further up and around the mountain. One of the places we ended up was the Mirador (view point) at Tagua which was the starting point for the Lost City Trek when they first started taking tourists there back in the 70’s and 80’s. In those days it was a 6 day hike just to get there and there were no facilities on route so you had to carry all your camping gear, food, water so was quite an adventure. These days the trek starts from the other side of the mountain and it much more organised. Check out our Lost City Trek post which will be published soon. At the Mirador the views across the mountains were spectacular. We took the scooter through mountain passes, though little towns and villages. We stopped for coffee at another viewpoint and could hear the all the birds and animals of the forest calling to each other. We saw signs that said there were monkeys around but we didn’t see any and saw loads of coffee plants blanketing the hillside. We also had time later that afternoon to take a trip to a coffee factory where they processed the beans and roasted the coffee we saw growing on the hillsides. All in all it was a fabulous day out on the motorbike and having the freedom to roam the countryside was really cool.
La Victoria Coffee Plantation & Processing Factory
Coffee is a big thing in Colombia and almost any high mountain you see will have coffee growing on it. We visited La Victoria factory and took the tour which explained the whole coffee bean process and how they got the beans down from the mountain tot he factory. The process for splitting the beans into first, second and third class of bean. The first class solely being for export and the second and third class being for domestic use. They showed us how the beans are stripped of their skins and then roasted, packed and sent off for export. The plantation was originally founded by an English family who settled in Santa Marta in 1892 but it has since been sold to a German company. It was a really good and informative tour and it only cost COP20000 which was around £4.00 and included a couple of cups of coffee which was delicious and also the top grade quality. We saw these tours being advertised by local resellers of the tours for much more than if you just turned up and paid on site so don’t be duped. Its a great tour and well worth a visit. You can find more information about the founding family and the plantations history here.
What about eating out in Minca?
The town of Minca has a fair few restaurants and a couple of bars where you can get anything from a steak dinner to a pizza. There are local takeaway type restaurants where you can get typical Colombian snack type food and there are a couple of bars where you can get a drink. A couple of the places we chose were:
The Lazy Cat, here they had a really extensive menu where you could get anything from Pad Thai to a 3 cheese pasta dish. We had a really good burger and they have a selection of cocktails on offer at happy hour which was good value for money. We ate her a couple of times and it was always good.
Maharaba was another place we ate and it served Middle Eastern type food. We had an excellent portion of Baba Ghannouj with some lovely arabic garlic flat bread followed by chicken shawarmas. It was really delicious.
On our final night in Minca we decided to try the steak house Casa Cristi and it was really nice. Here, again, this menu is really quite extensive and apart from steaks they had pizza, chicken dishes and pasta. Chris opted for the pasta and I had a grilled chicken dish. It was lovely and worth a try if you’re in the area.
So is the town of Minca worth visiting today? The answer is yes, definitely. The birds, the trees, the waterfalls and being in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains make it very much worthwhile. We spent 5 days in Minca and probably it was 1 day too much but it all depends on what you want to do when you are there.
Booking resources for your trip to Minca
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
Some of the links on this page contain affiliate marketing links, which means we may get paid commission on sales of those products or services we write about. You will never be charged a fee for shopping through one of our affiliate links. You may even get a discounted rate and we will make a small commission. Our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships.
Cartagena is a port city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Located right by the sea is the old walled town founded in the 16th century
The simple answer is yes most definitely the effort is what makes the getting there so sweet. Not only is the Lost city an amazing place to visit but the trek through the lush cloud forrest of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a rewarding venture in itself.