Backpacking Minca Colombia
A flashback article from our time in Northern Colombia, late 2012.
After almost 2 months on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, stuffing our faces full of fresh fish and sweating like pigs, we couldn’t wait to experience the chilled out tranquil reputation of Minca for ourselves. We hopped in the back of a colectivo from Santa Marta and watched the road slip away behind us, slowly ascending above the hectic chaos of the coastal city.
We crept further into the Sierra Nevada until the driver dropped us at the “center” of Minca, if you’d call it that. There’s no real main plaza in Minca, only a few desolate shops and local restaurants that line a small main street by the bridge, which curves around to meet the church and a rusty playground.
After checking out several options for accommodation, we settled on Hostel San Souci. It’s a bit of a walk up the hill, but worth it for their incredible view. They offer discounts in exchange for coffee picking work during the season. They also have a kitchen for guest use. A few shops in the center carry basic supplies, but have limited options for fresh produce. We made a supply run down to Santa Marta half way through our stay to pick up fruits and veggies. There are a couple tasty restaurants in town, but most carry the typical Colombian fare. Across from the church a small shop sells chupetes, popsicles for 50 cents. They are homemade and ridiculously delicious, in flavors like peanut butter, rum & raisin and natural fruits. Unfortunately we discovered these treats on our second to last day; otherwise we would have been slurping these down at least twice daily.
Unlike the hub of activity that is Santa Marta, the tranquility of Minca is apparent as soon as you enter the Sierra Nevada. Time passes slowly and no one in town seems to be in too much of a rush. There is a tourist information booth near the bridge in town with useful info on activities around Minca. Waterfall hikes through the hills are fairly easy to DIY. For adventurers, water rafting is available if the water level is high enough and there is even an “extreme donkey ride” tour. We chose to forgo the tours (I know, I know, how could we pass up extreme donkeys?) and spent most of our days walking along the wide, curving streets ascending into the hills.
Walking through town we stumbled across several inconspicuous homes selling homemade organic chocolate. This is chocolate in its simplest form, unsweetened, perfect to grate and boil with milk and sugar for hot chocolate. But if you’re looking for the real taste of Minca- it’s coffee. Colombia is famous for it’s coffee and rightly so. The La Victoria coffee plantation, which rests high up into the mountains, offers tours for $5. There’s only one road up and the walk is a decent hour and a half, but it’s not uncommon to hitch a ride with workers driving up. La Victoria manages the entire process from growing the beans to selling the coffee. Every step is completely sustainable and the whole plant operates off hydroelectricity. After the tour, kick back with a cup of complimentary coffee in their lounge area and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, which is otherwise difficult to find in Minca.
During our two week stay we volunteered with the local organization, Mision Gaia. The organization’s goal is to promote environmental sustainability and support local projects in education and sustainable tourism. Although we were just coming off six months of working for an NGO in Peru and weren’t actively looking for a volunteer opportunity, we were happy to help out with Mision Gaia. We worked with Diana, the founder and director, helping with administrative support. We were also able to visit one of the local classrooms and help out with a tree-planting day at the high school. As is usually the case, volunteering in Minca gave us a deeper insight into the local lifestyle and helped us connect with the community. If you’re interested in volunteering with sustainable development in the breathtaking Sierra Nevada, contact Diana at Mision Gaia.
On the last day of our two week stay, Jules and I drank a final cup of coffee at the local café. Backpackers just coming into town stopped in for a bite and locals sat down for a chat. The walls were covered in art and flyers for current workshops and classes. After we finished our coffee, the young waitress came over to take away our cups. A semi-dazed look on her face, she asked if we’d like anything else. We said no and she wandered off to daydream behind the counter. No rush for us to leave, no rush for her to wait the other tables. It was Minca in a nutshell.
-Most hostels have open kitchens but not all. A few shops in the center carry basic supplies but have limited options for fresh produce.
-Minca does not have an ATM so grab cash in Santa Marta before you come
-try to go during off season, it may be a bit rainy in the afternoons but its worth it to skip the crowds
Some of the cuties we volunteered with: