A complete and up-to-date travel guide to visiting Minca, Colombia. Plan your trip and discover the best things to do and the many unmissable attractions and highlights in this beautiful mountain town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Santa Marta.
It truly is one of the best places to visit in Colombia, especially if you’re a fan of outdoor attractions and nature!
After spending two weeks exploring this incredible region, I’ve formulated this comprehensive travel guide featuring 21 amazing things to do in Minca, Colombia!
At the bottom of this post, you’ll also find a section dedicated to answering all your travel questions, with tips for where to stay, what to bring, how to get around, and more!
First, Where is Minca?
The small mountain town of Minca is located on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the Magdalena region of Northern Colombia. This is a beautiful mountain area and is actually the highest coastal range in the world!
In saying that, Minca is easily accessible from the popular northern cities and tourist hubs including Cartagena, Santa Marta, Palomino, and Tayrona National Park.
There is only one road leading to Minca, appropriately called Via a Minca or “Santa Marta a Minca”. This is sealed and winds gently up the densely forested mountain slopes to an altitude of approximately 600 meters (1970 feet) above sea level.
How to Get to Minca Colombia
The only way to get to Minca is to first make your way to Santa Marta in the north of Colombia. This is a scenic and historic coastal city which was once a bustling tourist destination but has unfortunately lost its charm of late due to a declining reputation.
While many people seem to still enjoy some beach time here, I’d suggest heading straight to Minca instead. To get here, there are two main options.
Option 1: Colectivo or “Shared Bus” from Santa Marta Square to Minca
This is the cheapest way to get to Minca and is popular with backpackers and budget travelers.
To take this option, head down to the main square in Santa Marta (Mercado Publico in Centro). On the corner of Carrera 9 and Calle 11, you’ll see a small white public bus with the name “Minca” usually inscribed on the windshield.
This shuttle service costs 9,000 Colombian pesos per person and takes roughly 45 minutes. However, since this is shared transport, you’ll need to wait until it fills up before you depart.
Keep in mind the last shuttle bus leaves at 5:00 PM and the van drops you near the center of town. If you’re staying on the mountain slopes, you’ll need to take a moto-taxi (available near the colectivo stop).
Option 2: Taxi From Santa Marta to Minca
If you’d rather get private transport, then any taxi driver in Santa Marta or Rodadero will take you to Minca. The “official” going rate is 60,000 pesos for the trip. In saying that, you can often negotiate down to 40,000, depending on the day.
Getting a taxi is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to get to this quiet mountain town, and is a great option if you are in a large group.
Again, since the roads leading to the many beautiful fincas and mountain hotels are unsealed and steep, the taxi will only take you to the center of Minca. From here, you can walk or take a motorbike-taxi to your accommodation.
Update: There is now a private transport option you can book on Viator for 65,000 as well.
What About From Cartagena to Minca?
Visiting Cartagena and want to take the trip to Minca? The most convenient way to get here is to take the comfortable coach bus to Santa Marta bus station (Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta).
From here, it’s best to just take a taxi to Minca, since you’d have to pay roughly 15,000 to get to the Market Square (for the shuttle) anyway.
To book buses in Colombia, I recommend using BusBud, which is the most convenient website.
What to do in Minca, Colombia (21 things)
Okay, with the basic logistics out of the way, let’s dive into this comprehensive Minca travel guide, starting with the 21 best things to do and see.
1. Stay at a Coffee & Cacao Plantation
The mountainous region of the lower Sierra Nevada is perfect for producing coffee and cacao. As a result, you’ll find many rustic “fincas” (country estate or ranch), producing world-renowned produce.
If you’re looking for a unique accommodation experience, then one of the coolest things to do in Minca is to stay at one of these plantations. We stayed at Finca San Rafael, which I couldn’t recommend enough. This was one of my favorite places I stayed in all of Colombia! It’s nestled on the mountain slopes just above town and has lush gardens and even a pool.
Whichever farm or planation you stay at, most will offer coffee tours to visitors and their guests.
2. Pozo Azul
Pozo Azul is one of the most popular natural attractions in Minca. It’s a set of scenic jungle waterfalls offering one of the best places to swim and cool down near Minca town.
There are two large natural swimming pools here, as well as a small cliff jump! You’ll find it along the long winding mountain road leading up to town. And, to get here, simply hike from the center of Minca, or pay a moto-taxi driver to take you here.
Keep in mind that this is a very popular place, especially with Colombians who come here on a day trip from Santa Marta. My advice is to visit early (or at lunchtime) and avoid public holidays and weekends if you can.
Tip: Minca is an adventure playground! If you’re planning to rent motorbikes or go hiking, then make sure you have travel insurance for adventurers. The best option currently is WorldNomads, which cater to young adventure travelers.
3. Bird watching
Did you know there are several books published about the amazing biodiversity and birdlife in Minca? Due to the cooler climate and the dense jungle of the Sierra Nevada, this small village is one of the world’s best bird-watching areas!
If you’re a nature lover, birder, photographer, or simply love wildlife and sustainable tourism, I highly recommend going on the famous bird-watching tour.
This is recommended in most travel guides to Minca and for good reason. The guide is a professional and has been searching for birds for most of his life. This trip will take you to some of the best birdwatching areas in town, including the El Dorado Reserve.
4. Hike to Ciudad Perdida (Lost City Trek)
Okay, now for arguably the most unique and culturally significant attraction in Minca– the Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City Trek (also known as Teyuna and Buritaca 200).
This 4 or 5 day hiking journey leads adventurers deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Lost City, an ancient archeological site that is believed to have been founded in 800 CE (hundreds of years before Machu Picchu).
Along the way, you’ll pass scenic valleys and indigenous communities of the Wiwa. The guides are all very professional and this trip is well-established for tourists.
A guide is compulsory for this hike, and there are only a select few tour operators running hiking trips. Below I’ve linked to one of the best trips, which you can book directly with GetYourGuide so that you get free cancellation (not an option when dealing with some of the other operators).
Book: Ciudad Perdida Trek (Lost City)
5. Marinka Waterfalls
While everybody visits Pozo Azul, my personal favorite set of freshwater waterfalls in Minca are the Marinka Waterfalls, or Las Cascadas de Marinka, as they’re called in Spanish.
Visitors will find this epic double-tiered waterfall just a short distance from Minca village, and it makes for the perfect spot to relax and swim. While Minca does enjoy generally cooler temperatures than on the coast, the water is still perfectly refreshing, especially after the 1-hour hike from this small town.
Book: Epic Waterfall Rappelling Activity (from Minca)
6. Stay at Sierra Minca Hostel
Okay, I’m just going to put it out there. Minca has some of the best hostels in the world. No, that’s not an exaggeration.
This region features a number of beautiful hostels that have received South American and global accommodation awards.
And, one of the absolute best is called Sierra Minca. The truth is, you’ll find this one recommended in almost every travel guide to Minca! This awesome mountain hostel is located on the jungle ridges just above the town and is famous for its zip-line and massive giant hammock.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a stay here since it was booked out for weeks! So, if you’ve still got time, I highly recommend booking online in advance.
Update: Unfortunately the famous Casa Elemento hostel, which you’ll see mentioned in most travel guides, is no longer running. However, between Sierra Minca, Casa Loma Hostel, and Casa Viejas, you honestly have more than enough choice for amazing hostels!
7. Hike to Cerro Kennedy
Looking for a chance to spot Colombia’s tallest mountains? The Sierra Nevada mountains are huge. In fact, this is the highest coastal mountain range in the world!
If you’re looking for the best view of these beautiful snow capped mountains, then I highly recommend a trip up to Cerro Kennedy . This is usually done on an overnight trip and is one of my absolute favorite highlights from my time visiting Minca.
From this viewpoint at roughly 3100 meters above sea level, you can get a chance to see Pico Cristòbal Colòn and Pico Simòn Boliva, the two tallest mountains in Colombia, as well as the famous sea of clouds (cloud forest).
The best way to get here is to take a motorbike taxi halfway up the mountain and then hike to a small hostel called “Moncho’s”. Read my guide (link above) for a full itinerary.
Tip: Visit in the early morning during the sunrise for the best chance of a clear mountain view.
8. Oído del Mundo (Ear of the World)
As you can probably tell by now, there are many awesome waterfalls in Minca! If you’re looking for a more relaxed natural swimming hole without the crowds, make sure to check out the two small waterfalls at Oído del Mundo, (Ear of the World).
You’ll find this just off the main road on the way to Marinka Waterfall. Since its nowhere near as famous as some of the other popular spots, this is the perfect place to relax, swim, and enjoy the serene forest surrounds.
9. Las Piedras
Up for yet another awesome natural swimming spot near Minca? Make your way to Las Piedras (the stones). In reality, this is just a nice place along the Costeño River (one of the small mountain streams running through Minca). It’s famous because of its large stones and deep section that is perfect for swimming.
You often won’t find many tourists here, which again, is great if you just want to relax and have a place in nature to yourself.
To get to Las Piedras in Minca, simply head down to “Carrera 1a” on Google Maps, and you’ll find access to the river.
The exact GPS coordinates for Las Piedras is: 11°08’26.5″N 74°07’22.4″W
10. Sunset at 360 Mirador
If you’re wondering about what to do in Minca and love hiking, you’re in for a treat! One of my favorite hikes in the surrounding area is the 360 Mirador, an awesome viewpoint accessible on a steep hike directly from town.
The 360 Mirador hike climbs a steep hill past “Trekkers Glamping” to a viewpoint vista offering uninterrupted views of the Minca, Santa Marta, the Caribbean Sea, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and even parts of Tayrona National Park.
We climbed to this viewpoint in the late afternoon and stayed here and waited for the sunset– highly recommend!
11. Los Pinos Viewpoint Hike
If you ask in town, the most popular viewpoint hike in Minca is the Los Pinos peak. This is a high section located near the famous Sierra Minca hostel and gives hikers the opportunity to experience incredible views over Minca and all the way down to Santa Marta on the coast.
Los Pinos is usually included on a long hiking day trip from town, with the option to form a long loop passing the Marinka Waterfalls and Pozo Azul on the same day.
12. Amazing International Food On Carrera 5A
Colombian food is amazing. But, if you’re feeling like a bit of a change-up, I highly recommend checking out the international options on Carrera 5a (the same street as the big white church).
We tried a bunch of different restaurants during our time in this small mountain village. Some of my favorites include:
- Casa Aney – local restaurant with amazing Israeli & Mediterranean food
- Arabesca – delicious Syrian and Arabic cuisine
- Sativa – great Mexican food
The international food in Minca is a little more expensive than if you were to eat Colombian street food like empanadas or arepas. However, you can easily get by with under $8 USD per meal.
14. Minca Church (Iglesia Minka)
No, you won’t find a giant cathedral in Minca. Instead, there’s a small little white church located on the main street (Carrera 5a).
This tiny little church is a perfect fit for Minca. It’s quaint, a little weathered, and very picturesque. There’s a quiet square just outside the church which backs onto lush forest. Take a stroll, stop by the church, then go try one of the amazing local restaurants mentioned above!
15. Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro
Minca is a nature lover’s paradise! Thankfully, the natural beauty and the significance of Minca’s biodiversity is recognized, resulting in several Nature Reserves formed in the area.
One of my favorites is the Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro, which you’ll find just above the Marinka Waterfalls.
If you’re planning on taking the hike up to Los Pinos from Marinka Falls, then you’ll pass through this forest. However, this reserve is worth visiting on its own accord, especially if you want to try to spot some rare birds.
We spotted three toucans in this section of the forest! There are also cool streams running down from the mountain slopes which provide a great place to swim as well.
16. Eat Pan de Chocolate & Fresh ARTISANAL BREAD
What? A quality bakery in Minca? Yes! Besides Palomino, the Minca panadería (bakery), called La Miga Panadería makes some of the best fresh bread in all of Colombia!
This one’s for all the Europeans out there. If you’re missing the taste of fresh artisanal bread, make sure you stop by this cafe, located again, on Carrera 5a just opposite the Israeli restaurant. The sourdough and Pan de Chocolate (chocolate bread) is delicious, especially after a long hike!
17. Cacao & Coffee Tours At La Victoria Coffee Farm
One of the most popular things to do in Minca is to embark on coffee tours at one of the many plantations and cocoa farms. If you’re not staying at a coffee plantation (number 1), then one of the best organic coffee tours is run by La Victoria.
These tours are a must if you are a lover of coffee. It’s really interesting to learn about how organic coffee is produced, following the entire process from seed to cup. If you’re looking to stock up on some fresh Colombian produce, you can also purchase cocoa and coffee beans from these plantations.
Alternatively, you can check out the tours by Finca San Rafael and Finca La Candelaria as well (both great options).
Book in advance: La Victoria Coffee Tour (from Minca or included transport from Santa Marta).
18. Cascada Escondida
Visiting Minca during the busy period? Want to escape the crowds? Okay, I’ve got a secret waterfall for you.
This waterfall is called Cascada Escondida (the Hidden Waterfall). It’s located just 900 meters from Pozo Azul and (almost) nobody knows about this. In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to have this one to yourself. So, there’s good reason to go!
Travelers will discover this waterfall by walking down the steep steps adjacent to “Panaderia Alto de la Montana”. This one is unsigned, but we asked a very friendly and smiley old man sitting next to the trail and he pointed us in the right direction. Apparently, it’s best to ask for permission from the shop, but he said he was able to give us permission as well.
From here, continue down the steep dirt track for 5 minutes, cross the river, turn left, and you’ll arrive at the waterfall. Unfortunately, there is now a barbed-wire fence blocking access to the top tier. However, you can still get a shower underneath the bottom tier and swim in the gentle river next ot the falls.
Tip: The waterfall is pinned as “Cascada perdida (Valhalla)” on Google Maps. However, the old man assured us that the true name is “Cascada Escondida”.
19. Spot Unique Wildlife
Did you know that UNESCO recognizes the mountainous region surrounding Minca as a world heritage site? This is due to its rich biodiversity and strong Tayrona settlement history.
Nature lovers, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled during your hikes! Besides rare birds, you’ll also find a wide range of monkeys here, including the Colombian howler monkey, who’s roars you can often hear echoing through the valley.
20. Chill Out on a Giant Hammock
Okay, have you really been to Minca if you haven’t got that iconic net hammock pic?
Seriously though, I love these awesome hammocks. They’re always suspended high above the forest laying down in them is one of the best ways to relax and enjoy the views.
You’ll find giant hammocks at plenty of hostels and restaurants arround Minca. The most notable is the one at Sierra Minca, but you’ll also find them at the Marinka Waterfalls too.
21. Cheap Cocktails at the Lazy Cat
Looking for a way to wrap up your days of adventure in Minca, Colombia? What better way than by sharing some (unbelievably cheap) cocktails with friends?
If you’re in the mood for a drink, head down to the Lazy Cat on Carrera 5a. The Lazy Cat is a popular spot which always has a great vibe going. This is especially the case during happy hour, where you can score two mojitos for 15,000 Colombian pesos (under $4 USD).
Where to Stay in Minca
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.
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, 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, 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!
- Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro – The best place to stay near Minca for couples and those wanting absolute serenity. Offers amazing private rooms with a river view in the jungle, an incredible breakfast and is actually very affordable for what you get!
Minca Colombia Travel Guide
I hope this useful list of activities and ideas for what to do in Minca has inspired your adventures beyond just a few days of relaxing.
While you’re here, continue on for a complete travel guide to Minca. Here, I’ll answer all your travel questions and give you some tips to help you make the most of your visit.
Best Bookable Tours & Experiences in Minca
Looking for a quick way to book in all the best activities and adventures in Minca? Below are my top three that you can easily book online in advance.
- Ciudad Perdida Trek – Perhaps the most fulfilling trekking experience in Colombia. Trek to “The Lost City” in the Sierra Nevada, an archeaological 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.
Tip: Minca is also a popular destination for mountain biking and taking yoga classes!
Minca Packing List – What to Bring
Due to the unique climate and generally cooler temperatures, you’ll want to consider packing the following.
- Bug repellent – seriously, this is crucial, the sand flies are ruthless in Minca. I’ve stopped using deet and now swear by the natural alternative from Sallye Ander
- Bug cream – something to treat the inevitable bites. Again, the Sallye Ander cream helps reduce itching.
- Hat and sunscreen – many of the hiking trails are shaded, but you will be exposed to the sun a lot in Minca. I’m Aussie so I might be biased, but Blue Lizard makes the best natural sunscreen on earth.
- Grayl water purifier – I swear by this water purifying bottle. I’ve used it all over the world (including tap water in India), and saved thousands of plastic bottles from landfill in the process.
- Hiking shoes and clothes – make sure to pack the outdoor clothes!
- A lightweight rain jacket – while the coast around Santa Marta is dry, the Sierra Nevada mountains around Minca get a lot of rain.
- Camera or GoPro – this mountain village is beautiful and totally safe to have your camera out! Read my guide to camera gear for travel for suggestions.
- Warm clothes – the cooler climate in Minca can result in some chilly nights, especially if you head further into the mountains to Cerro Kennedy.
- Travel quick-dry towel – a must have travel essential
- Imodium – trust me, you might want to bring some
- Head lamp or flashlight – useful when returning from sunset hikes or when the power goes out.
How to Get Around in Minca Colombia
It’s good to know that Minca is quite a small village. However, many of the places of interest are located on the steep mountain slopes on the outskirts of town. Honestly, you can walk to every attraction mentioned in this travel guide. However, if you’re short on time or don’t want to walk, you can also get a moto-taxi almost anywhere.
Most of the roads are far too steep and bumpy for regular cars.
You’ll find the motorbike taxi drivers (MotoMink) just beside the yellow bridge near the colectivo stop in the town of Minca. Prices are very fair and these guys are some of the best motorbike riders I’ve ever seen!
Minca Attractions Map
Here’s a useful map of most of the attractions and highlights in Minca, Colombia.
I found this on a sign next to the MotoMink guys, and the times indicate the walking duration (blue), and the time on a motorbike (green) from the center of town.
More Minca Travel Tips
Before you head out on your adventures to this incredible Colombian travel destination, here are some last tips that will prove useful!
- Bring Mosquito and bug repellant – I’ve mentioned this but it’s important. If you are already in Colombia, it’s best to stock up before you get to Minca since prices for bug spray is much steeper (it’s a valuable commodity).
- Cash is king – there are no ATMs or cajeros in Minca. While some restaurants and upper-class hotels accept card payments, cash is the best option. Make sure to take plenty out in Santa Marta before you arrive.
- Plan for the weather – due to the altitude and dense forest, the climate is wetter and cooler.
- Avoid the main attractions on weekends and public holidays – Minca is quickly becoming a top tourist destination in Colombia. As a result, many of the main attractions can become very busy during peak periods.
- Plan at least a few nights here – seriously, you’ll want more than a day or two.
- Bring a backpack – suitcases are not a good idea on these bumpy, rocky roads!
- Buy handmade gifts and souvenirs – there are plenty of stalls and shops where you can stock up on souvenirs, trinkets, and hand-made gifts.
- Book accommodation early – I like to keep things open, but by not booking in advance, I was unable to secure a room at Sierra Minca and had to visit on a day trip in stead.
Visiting Minca Colombia: FAQs
No, there are no ATMs in Minca. You will need to bring cash with you from Santa Marta.
Minca is still a relatively cheap travel destination, but a little more expensive than other parts of Northern Colombia. Expect to spend around $15 USD per night for a dorm bed, and $30 USD for a private room in a finca.
Minca is a very safe village. In fact, I felt safer here than anywhere else in the country. It’s still best to keep your wits about you, but I had no problem walking around with my camera in the open.
Apparently, Malaria isn’t a huge problem in Minca, but the risk is never zero in this part of South America. The bigger issue is Dengue fever.
Minca is home to loads of different bird species, including toucans, hummingbirds, and even macaws! Also, keep an eye out for the Colombian howler monkey and the wide range of tropical frogs.
Minca is my favorite travel destination in all of Colombia. I’d recommend anyone who is a fan of nature, adventure, and beautiful mountains to visit this spectacular part of Latin America.
Travelers will be happy to hear that Minca is a great travel destination all-year round. However, the best time to visit is winter, which falls between November to February. During this time, expect comfortable weather (max of around 30 degrees), some afternoon showers, and sunny days for exploring.
I stayed in Minca for two weeks and had an excellent time. If you want to see the waterfalls, go on a coffee tour, and perhaps take some hikes, then 3-4 days is a good amount of time.
Where to Go After Minca Santa Marta: Colombia Travel Guides
So, that’s a wrap for this comprehensive travel guide to Minca, covering all the attractions and unmissable things to do!
But the question is, where to next? Definitely don’t miss Tayrona National Park and the backpacker town of Palomino. Otherwise, while you’re already on my blog, check out some of my other travel guides to Colombia below.