A complete travel guide to the incredible sea of clouds viewpoint of Cerro Kennedy in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Includes logistics on how to get here independently from Minca or Santa Marta and what to expect from a sunrise hike.
The quaint backpacker town of Minca is a hub for adventurers and nature lovers. This sleepy town is a must-visit destination in South America, offering abundant hikes and nature trails, coffee tours, bird watching opportunities, and magical forest waterfalls.
However, my personal favorite experience from my 2 weeks of exploring this incredible jungle town was an overnight trip to Cerro Kennedy. This is an incredible mountain viewpoint offering expansive views of the interior of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, with a chance to see Colombia’s tallest mountains; Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar.
In this travel guide, I’ll give you a rundown of everything you need to know about making a trip up to Cerro Kennedy from Minca or Santa Marta. I’ll include various options on how to do this in one, two, or three days, touch on my personal experience, and throw in some photos to inspire your visit.
Featured in: 21 Awesome Things to do in Minca
- About Cerro Kennedy in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
- Before You Go: Unmissable Experiences in Minca
- How to Get to Cerro Kennedy – The Logistics
- Cerro Kennedy Recommended Overnight Itinerary
- Staying at Hostal Moncho – The Basecamp for Cerro Kennedy
- Cerro Kennedy Viewpoint – My Experience
- More Things to Know About Visiting Cerro Kennedy From Minca
- Where to Stay in Minca Before or After the Hike
- More Photos from Cerro Kennedy
- More Epic Travel Experiences in Colombia
About Cerro Kennedy in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Cerro Kennedy is a mountain high point situated in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta above Minca. The altitude is 3100 meters above sea level, even though it is just an 18 kilometer (11 mile) distance from the Caribbean Sea. This is an indication of just how steep and quickly the vertical ranges of the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta climbs!
The summit of Cerro Kennedy offers one of the most incredible views in Colombia, but very few tourists actually make the journey here. At the top, you'll discover a vast sea of clouds filling the palm-strung valley below. Once it clears, you'll get uninterrupted views of the Picos Nevados, the snow-capped peaks of Bolívar and Colón.
However, the unfortunate fact about this Mirador (viewpoint) is that there is an established and guarded military base at the actual summit. This means you cannot actually get to the very top of the mountain. In fact, armed guards stopped us from passing a certain fence. Luckily, there is a viewpoint just below Cerro Kennedy offering 360-degree views (more below).
Also, while you won't find too much valuable information online, the truth is that you can make it to Cerro Kennedy independently and without a tour guide.
Let's find out how.
Before You Go: Unmissable Experiences in Minca
Before I get into this guide, here's a rundown of my favorite tours and experiences in Minca.
- Ciudad Perdida Trek - Perhaps the most fulfilling trekking experience in Colombia. Trek to "The Lost City" in the Sierra Nevada, an archaeological site built some 650 years before even Machu Picchu!
- Birdwatching Tour - Minca is world-famous for its wildlife, especially its birds. Let a local show you the best spots to photograph and spot beautiful tropical birds like toucans and hummingbirds.
- Minca Full Day Tour - The best-rated tour in town which covers all the highlights in one day. Includes waterfalls and cacao plantation tours.
How to Get to Cerro Kennedy - The Logistics
To get here, you'll first have to make your way to Minca, which is approximately 45 minutes to one hour from Santa Marta.
A taxi from Santa Marta to Minca costs between 40,000 to 70,000 Colombian Pesos (depending on your Spanish negotiating skills).
Alternatively, you can also get the shared bus (colectivo) from the main square in Santa Marta for 9,000 COP.
Once you arrive in Minca, you have three options for getting to Cerro Kennedy. While it is technically possible to get up here and return on the same day, I highly recommend turning this into at least an overnight trip.
That's because the stunning views at sunrise are by far the most spectacular. Furthermore, the valley and mountains are often blocked by clouds during the day but almost always clear in the early morning.
Option 1: Motorbike Taxi from Minca to Hostal Moncho (1 Day - Overnight)
This is the option that we took to get to Cerro Kennedy from Minca.
You can pay the local motorbike (mototaxi) guys to take you up to Hostal Moncho, which is a small lodge offering shared bunks, camping spots, and even a "glamping tent".
You'll find the motorbike taxi drivers just nearby the yellow bridge in town. Their business is called MotoMink.
The trip costs 70,000 pesos per person and takes roughly 2 hours. However, note that this was a very bumpy motorbike ride. You'll climb steeply along rocky and wet terrain, and holding onto the back of the bike is a mission!
For this reason, I'd recommend that people take option two.
With that said, if you're short on time, then you can technically use this option to get up to Cerro Kennedy and return on the same day.
Option 2: Transport to "El Campano" and Hike to Hostal Moncho (Overnight)
In my opinion, this is the best way to get to Cerro Kennedy, and what we did on the way back down.
The main road leading up the mountain are sealed (concrete) up until a small turn-off at a very small village called "El Campano", approximately 10 kilometers from Minca (and 850 meters higher). This makes it possible and quite easy to get a car or motorbike to this point.
Transport options to El Campano
A motorbike taxi from Minca to El Campano costs 25,000 pesos per person and only takes 20 minutes since the road is well-maintained. Along the way, you'll pass popular spots like Pozo Azul and the many beautiful hostels of Minca.
Alternatively, there is a shared bus running daily from Minca to El Campano for 15,000 pesos per person, but you'll need to ask the colectivo guys by the bridge for this info.
Either way, you'll arrive at a turn-off leading up a rocky mountain road into the El Dorado Nature Reserve (on your left).
Hiking to Hostal Moncho
Continue up this road, passing beautiful villages (very small), and a few scenic vistas for approximately 14 kilometers (8.67 miles). It's very difficult to get lost on this track, since you won't find any turns. As long as you're on a wide, rocky track leading up, you're going in the right direction.
This track is a constant uphill climb at a steady gradient. However, lush temperate rainforest trees shade much of the track. This walk is undeniably beautiful and offers excellent opportunities for bird watching.
The total incline for this hike is 1200 meters, making it a solid hike. However, I'd say this is still easier than holding on to the motorbike for 1.5 hours!
You'll soon arrive at Hostal Moncho, which is impossible to miss by its wooden sign on the same road. Most people take 3-4 hours for this hike.
Option 3: Cerro Kennedy Trek from Minca (2 - 3 days)
If you have a bit more time and prefer a longer trek, then it's also possible to take the long hike to Cerro Kennedy from Minca.
If you take this option, you can split the walk up by staying at one of the beautiful hostels or hotel lodges on the upper slopes of Minca on your first night. Then, simply walk to nearby El Camino and tackle the rock and dirt road to Hostal Moncho on the second day.
Some great options include:
Casas Viejas: 8.2 KM (530 m+) from Minca
This is one of the best hostels in South America! However, the most convenient route would be to walk the road, which is a little uninteresting.
However, you can also take the detour past La Victoria on the way, an organic coffee plantation and cocoa farm. They also offer coffee farm tours and tastings.
Total distance: 17.6 kilometers to Hostal Moncho via Casas Viejas (1940 m gain)
Hostal Sierra Minca: 8.1 KM (730 m+) from Minca
Famous for its nearby Casa Elemento viewpoint (hostel now closed) and the giant net hammock, Sierra Minca is often recommended as one of the best hostels in Colombia! Stopping by here allows you to also hike to Los Pinos as well, but would require a slight detour by forming a mountain loop from Minca.
However, this route is better as it cuts out much of the "road walking" since you can take the scenic jungle trail from Cascada de Marinka (Marinka Waterfall) instead. This would also cover more of the incline, making it a more even split.
Overall a slightly longer but better option.
Total distance: 24 kilometers to Hostal Moncho via Hostal Sierra Minca (1980 m gain)
Tip: For the second leg of the hike, simply follow the directions under option 2.
Cerro Kennedy Recommended Overnight Itinerary
Here is what I'd recommend doing as an overnight trip to Cerro Kennedy:
10 am: Take a moto taxi from Minca to El Campano
10:30 am: Hike from El Campano to Hostel Moncho (3-4 hours)
4:30 pm: Hike the road to Cerro Kennedy for sunset
7 pm: Return to Hostel Moncho for dinner.
5 am: Hike to the alternative sunrise viewpoint (above)
7:30 am: Breakfast at Moncho's place
9 am: Walk back down to El Campano
11:30 am: Moto taxi back to Minca from El Campano
You can ask Moncho to contact the moto taxi drivers at MotoMink. They will meet you at El Campano.
Staying at Hostal Moncho - The Basecamp for Cerro Kennedy
Hostal Moncho is a small lodge located just 3.5 kilometers from Cerro Kennedy. As far as I'm aware, it's the only lodge or hostel up in this region, and the sole purpose for its existence is to cater to guests making an overnight trip to Cerro Kennedy.
The hostel is run by a friendly and welcoming man named "Moncho" and his family. You can contact him on WhatsApp: +57 314 238 3733, but you cannot book online. Honestly, there is no need to book in advance, as Moncho has adequate space for any visitor.
You'll find Moncho's place situated in a small clearing amongst pine trees. He offers shared bunks, a place to pitch your tent, or a fancy glamping setup looking over the sea of clouds.
He also offers meals at reasonable prices and a traditional breakfast with coffee the next morning. The view from the lodge is incredible and stretches out to the Caribbean Sea, with the entire Santa Marta and Rodadero in view far in the distance.
Staying here really made the trip, and Moncho even prepared a campfire for us in the evening where we sat and talked with other international travelers. We brought some food up with us and he even let us use his kitchen for a small fee.
Cerro Kennedy Viewpoint - My Experience
We arrived at Hostal Moncho at around 1 PM and relaxed after the rough journey up the mountain. We were greeted with a welcome snack and fresh coffee, and we sat on the roof terrace of the hostel for a few hours admiring the view.
Initially, we were a little concerned about the thick cloud cover blocking the majority of the vista. However, Moncho's son assured us that in the late afternoon and in the early morning, the clouds usually always clear without fail.
Armed with this information, we decided to hike up to Cerro Kennedy viewpoint for sunset. This hike only takes about an hour from the hostel (3.5 kilometers 350 meters gain) and follows a scenic road called Cuchilla San Lorenzo, through the cloud forest which is mostly sealed with cement and large boulders.
We realized that the military personnel must have built this road to cater to the base.
The Cerro Kennedy Military Base
Soon after setting out, we spotted the huge red communications towers on the ridge's highest point, almost like candles on a birthday cake.
Continuing, we made it to a makeshift barb wire fence, just within 100 meters of the summit, marking the end of the road. On the other side, we saw armed military men watching us from afar.
Unsure, and in attempts to make it obvious we were just unassuming tourists looking for a great view, we nervously pushed the fence paling aside in hopes of getting past. Immediately the armed man yelled out "NO PASAR!", and we quickly put the post back to its original position.
Hey, we tried, but I'm not one to argue with a man holding a rifle.
I'm not sure if you used to be able to enter this base to get to the top, but it seems this is the end of the line for now.
Explained: The military base at the top of the mountain is set up to guard a large communications facility at the top of this important mountain.
Alternative Sunset Viewpoint (Mirador)
Feeling slightly defeated, but eager to watch the sunset, we climbed up to a high point on the hill just beneath, and out of sight of the military base.
Here, we watched the clouds sweep over the palm tree ridges and watched an intense light show reflecting off the sea of clouds beneath us. We sat here until sundown and spotted several endemic birds soaring over the ridges.
If you're looking for another alternative spot, there is a wooden watchtower approximately at the halfway mark on the right-hand side of the road. This is blocked off by a steel gate, but this is just for the El Dorado reserve and is not part of the military compound. So, do with that information what you please.
Cerro Kennedy Sunrise Viewpoint
The next morning, we set off at 5 am with Moncho's son, who took us to an alternative viewpoint just 15 minutes from the hostel.
Honestly, while slightly lower, I believe this viewpoint is even better than the top of the hill! From this cleared ridge offering 360-degree views, including the Caribbean Coast city of Santa Marta, the jungle interior and Great Marsh of Ciénaga Grande, the Isla de Salamanca National Park, and of course, the snowy peaks Bolívar and Colón far in the distance.
This is a great spot for sunrise and early morning, as the angle shoots light directly into the valley, forming a truly beautiful scene with breathtaking views.
Below are a few more photos from this amazing sunrise viewpoint.
GPS Coordinates for the viewpoint: 11°06′24.36″N 74°03′01.83″W - turn right into the forest here and climb the ridge.
Did you know: The indigenous (Wiwa– one of four indigenous groups in the area) names of Pico Colón and Pico Bolívar are Shivindu’a and Gonavindu’a. These peaks are both estimated to be around 5730 m high, with only 1-3 meters of difference ( Pico Colón is estimated to be higher).
More Things to Know About Visiting Cerro Kennedy From Minca
I hope that this guide to visiting Cerro Kennedy from Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has been useful for your trip.
Before you head out, here are some quick important notes.
- The clouds clear in the early morning.
- If you are hiking, you'll want to be in good physical condition as it's a long climb with plenty of elevation gain. Also, remember to pack light.
- Overall the hike from El Campano is medium-difficult, with no overly steep sections.
- The altitude at Hotel Moncho is above 2600 meters, so expect a cold night if you are camping. Prepare accordingly.
- The walk down to El Campano from Hostel Moncho is much quicker (2 hours) than on the way up as it is all downhill.
- Usually, the sun rises at 5:30 AM, so leave early!
- If you're returning to Santa Marta on the same day, remember the last colectivo leaves Minca at 5:30 pm.
- The rainy season from May to October often means more clouds and a smaller chance to see the snowy mountains.
Where to Stay in Minca Before or After the Hike
Minca has so much to offer! I recommend staying at least a few nights so you can visit the coffee plantations and explore the surrounding nature trails and waterfalls.
The main town of Minca is quite small, and you'll discover that some of the best places to stay are on the jungle foothills of the surrounding mountains. Below I've included the current top-rated options for various budgets. But, don't miss this guide to where to stay in Minca for more options & a neighborhood breakdown.
While everybody knows about the famous Sierra Minca, there are several other great places to consider as well. Minca has some of the best hostels in South America, and the unmissable ones sell out frequently, so it's best to book in advance!
- Stay at an Organic Cacao & Coffee Farm: Finca San Rafael - This is where I stayed, and it was one of my favorite lodges in all of Colombia. Set in the jungle just outside of town, this beautiful oasis offers a pool with mountain views, and private or shared rooms, and offers plantation tours to learn about the cultivation process of cacao and coffee.
- Finca Carpe Diem Ecolodge - 9.6/10 rating on HostelWorld with over 800 reviews! This is an absolute backpacker heaven with 3 swimming pools, and amazing jungle views, and is well-located close to amazing hikes.
- Casas Viejas - Winner of the best hostel award in South America! Unfortunately, this place was booked out when we visited, but many claim that this is one of the best hostels in the world!
More Photos from Cerro Kennedy
Before you head off, here are some more photos from our trip that I hope will inspire your adventures!
More Epic Travel Experiences in Colombia
And that's a wrap for this comprehensive guide to visiting Cerro Kennedy! If you have any questions, let me know below. Otherwise, make sure to check out some of my other blogs posts for more inspiring travel experiences in Colombia!