Last summer, during our trip to Colombia, my travel buddy and I heard about a small town in the mountains near Santa Marta where you could visit chocolate and coffee plantations, go hiking, bird-watching and swim in waterfalls. Minca, we heard, was the place to spend a few days relaxing away from the heat of the coast, chilling in cute hostels and the popular Lazy Cat Café (where I was defeated by the most delicious vegan burger in Colombia!)
Minca is easily reached by taking a shared taxi from downtown Santa Marta, Calle 11 with Carrera 12. You can’t miss it as the taxi drivers are usually calling for passengers to Minca. It’s $7000/£2 per person, or if you prefer you can pay for the whole car. Once you’re out of Santa Marta, you start heading up into the mountains. The day we arrived in Minca, the whole town was enveloped in a cloud and it felt more like being up a mountain in Wales than in Colombia. Casa Loma and Casa Elemento, the more popular hostels, were fully booked so we stayed in Mar y Monte, which is run by the extremely kind and helpful Juan, and has incredible views of Santa Marta on one side of its terrace and the jungle on the other, a well-stocked bar and delicious homemade arepas (ground maize patty, typical of Colombia) and avocado for breakfast.
Early one morning, I sneaked outside and climbed into one of the hammocks facing the tree-covered hills. The resounding dawn chorus of hundreds of different kind of birds humbled me as I watched throngs of them chasing each other across the valley. Seconds later, a toucan landed on the wooden banister next to my face. He was fearless, chattering away and nibbling my finger. I was awe-struck…until his beak was clasped around my passport, yanking it from my bag. I snatched it back, too terrified to imagine him swooping off and dropping it somewhere amidst the plantations.
Later that day, we visited La Candelaria coffee and chocolate plantation and B&B. The walk there had incredible views and didn’t take too long, but it was all uphill, so we made sure to take plenty of water and sunblock. From the road, it’s another fifteen minute walk through the plantation before you reach the house. This finca is run by a lovely couple, who gave us a tour (we opted to have both a coffee and a chocolate tour, $20,000 /£5 each) and showed us the plants and traditional methods used to collect the beans, roast and grind them. Eugenio, whose family have been running the finca for the last century, gave us white fleshy cocoa beans from the pod, delicious hot chocolate and freshly roasted, ground and brewed organic coffee. Unbeatable! Ana, his wife, also prepared a chocolate face mask which she smothered over our faces as we tried our hardest to stop giggling. One of my favourite things about La Candelaria is Tuki, the couple’s adorable adopted toucan. He is so friendly and, like the toucan who visits Mar y Monte every day, he’s free to roam the hills.
On our last day in Minca, we walked to Pozo Azul, a nearby waterfall with a natural pool. The water was freezing, and the pull was quite strong but it was refreshing after the sweaty uphill walk. The pozo is popular with the locals, but if you climb further up past the first pool, you’ll find another one beneath the waterfall which is deeper and less crowded. On the walk back down, we stopped at a little stall selling coffee, cakes, chocolate, jams and chutneys. The stall – by some unknown miracle – had vegan chocolate brownies! Up a mountain in Colombia, who would have thought? We feasted on tea, brownies, chutneys and crackers until our tummies were content, and then we bought some local coffee beans and a few jars of pineapple and passion fruit chutney (absolutely divine!) to take home.
Back on the cosy balcony of our hostel, we grabbed some cocktails and watched an awesome thunderstorm, the rain hammering down on the roof and the lightning tearing through the black sky over Santa Marta bay. We were sorry to say goodbye to this little town the next day, bags of cocoa and coffee beans stuffed in our rucksacks. After the intense trekking through Parque Tayrona, and the debilitating heat of Santa Marta, Minca is a great place to spend a few days relaxing. The town is so small that there isn’t an ATM, yet amongst the plantations and waterfalls you can also find yoga, massages and a cinema under the stars in this peaceful mountain retreat.