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How to Hike to Cerro Kennedy Near Minca Colombia

How to Hike to Cerro Kennedy Near Minca Colombia

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Discover the epic overnight adventure to the sea of clouds viewpoint of Cerro Kennedy in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

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 guide, I’ll help you plan a trip up to Cerro Kennedy from Minca or Santa Marta with logistics for one, two, or three-day trips, with photos & insights from my experience of the sunrise hike.

Sunrise over palm trees from cerro kennedy viewpoint
Amazing high-altitude palm-tree sunrise from Cerro Kennedy

Overview & What You Need to Know

Cerro Kennedy is a mountain high point in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta above Minca. The altitude is 3,100 meters above sea level, even though it is just an 18-kilometer (11-mile) distance from the Caribbean Sea.

Here's what you need to know.

  • 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 and the snow-capped peaks of Bolívar and Colón.
  • The most popular itinerary is to hike or take a motorbike to "El Campano" (roughly 850 m+ higher than Minca) and stay at the only hostel, "Hostal Moncho", and hike to Cerro Kennedy for sunrise the next morning (detailed below).
  • Unfortunately, this Mirador (viewpoint) is that there is an established and guarded military base at the 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.

Cerro kennedy viewpoint
Cerro kennedy communications tower
Military station at the top of the mountain.

Important Tips & Advice for the Cerro Kennedy Hike

Before you head out, here are some quick important notes. Below I'll explain the entire itinerary with my experience, but this is the most important information.

  • 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 2,600 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.

Alright, let's get into this hiking guide!

Don't Miss: The Lost City Trek (the best hike in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta)

Sunset above the cluods
Sunrise view above the clouds (Caribbean Sea barely visible)

How to Get to Cerro Kennedy: The Logistics

To get here, you'll first have to get 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.

Foggy morning in the jungle

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 near 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 below.

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.

Motorbike in the rainforest
The motorbike journey to El Campano
Road to cerrro kennedy

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.

Map of location el campano

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).

Bumpy dirt road in el dorado nature reserve, colombia
The road to El Campano

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 1,200 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.

Hiking in the sierra nevada de santa marta
It gets bumpy on the motorbike in some sections– hiking is much more enjoyable!

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 km to Hostal Moncho via Casas Viejas (1,940 m gain)

Sierra nevada de santa marta mountains

Hostal Sierra Minca: 8.1 km (730 m+) from Minca

Famous for its nearby Casa Elemento viewpoint 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. For the second leg of the hike, simply follow the directions under option 2.

Total distance: 24 km to Hostal Moncho via Hostal Sierra Minca (1980 m gain)

Zip lining near casa viejas

My Recommended Cerro Kennedy Overnight Itinerary

Here is what I'd recommend doing as an overnight trip to Cerro Kennedy:

Day 1:

  • 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.
Sunset over the clouds, colombia

Day 2:

  • 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.

Cerro kennedy sunrise viewpoint

What It's Like Staying at Hostal Moncho: Cerro Kennedy Base Camp

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.

Hostal donde moncho sign

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.

Camp fire
View of santa marta from the mountains
View of Santa Marta from Moncho's

My Experience Hiking to Cerro Kennedy Viewpoint

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.

Clouds and palm trees

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.

Hiking in the sierra nevada, colombia

We realized that the military personnel must have built this road to cater to the base.

Hiking in the fog

Arriving at 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.

Cerro kennedy military base

Continuing, we made it to a makeshift barbed 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.

Palm trees and fog

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.

Sunset above the clouds near cerro kennedy

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, we were offered 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.

Pico cristobal sunrise, highest mountain in colombia

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 5,730 m high, with only 1-3 meters of difference (Pico Colón is estimated to be higher).

Sunrise in the jungle, colombia
Sunrise from cerro kennedy, colombia
Sunrise palm trees
Cerro kennedy viewpoint over the mountains of santa marta
Cerro kennedy viewpoint, sierra nevada, santa marta colombia

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 my favorite picks for where to stay in Minca.

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!

Finca san rafael minca

1. Finca San Rafael Cacao & Coffee Farm

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 plantation tours to learn about the cultivation process of cacao and coffee.

Finca carpe diem ecolodge in minca

2. Finca Carpe Diem Ecolodge

9/10 rating on HostelWorld with over 1,000 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 by masaya hotel in minca

3. 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!

Before You Go: Unmissable Experiences in Minca

Here's a rundown of my favorite tours and experiences in Minca.

Lost city trek in minca, colombia

1. Ciudad Perdida Trek Top-Pick

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!

Tropical bird at sunrise

2. 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.

Jungle waterfall in minca, colombia

3. Minca Full Day Tour

The best-rated tour in town which covers all the highlights in one day. Includes waterfalls and cacao plantation tours.

More Photos from Cerro Kennedy

And that's a wrap for this comprehensive guide to getting to Cerro Kennedy! If you have any questions, let me know below. Otherwise, make sure to check out some of my other posts for more inspiring travel experiences in Colombia!

  • Medellín Travel Guide: Discover fun activities and top highlights in Medellín
  • San Andrés Island: Guide to Colombia's best Caribbean Island
  • Minca Travel Guide: Discover incredible hikes, beautiful fincas, epic jungle waterfalls, and all-around relaxing vibes.
  • Things to do in Guatapé: Travel to Colombia's most scenic Antioquian town, known for its vibrant streets, traditional street art, and the famous Piedra del Peñol.
Girl and sunset at coffee plantation in minca

Colombia Accommodation Guides

Find the best places, areas, and accommodation picks across Colombia.

Before you head off, here are some more photos from our trip that I hope will inspire your adventures!

Fog in the sierra nevada de santa marta
Foggy palm tree viewpoint
View of santa marta from cerro kennedy
Foggy palm trees, cerro kennedy hike
Sunrise over tall palm trees
Palm tree viewpoint from cerro kennedy
Humming bird
Mountains of sierra nevada, colombia
Sunrise over the mountains
Cerro kennedy view over the mountains
Sierra nevada de santa marta mountains
Sunrise over the sea of cluods
Layers of mountains in the sierra nevada de santa marta
Sign of el dorado nature reserve, colombia
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.


Thursday 30th of November 2023

Great review of your trip to Cerro Kennedy. I went there in 2019. Beautiful place for a solo walking adventure.