Minca is an absolute paradise of jungle waterfalls, lazy afternoons spent in a hammock, spectacular sunsets over the Caribbean, and locally produced chocolate and coffee. But despite rising popularity among backpackers, this lush spot in the forested mountains above Santa Marta has managed to retain nearly all of the magic and solitude of an as-yet undiscovered gem, easily making it one of my favourite places in all of Colombia.
It’s definitely possible to see Minca as a day trip from Santa Marta, which is what many travellers opt for— but that would be doing Minca a great disservice! Stay at least a couple of days to see banana leaves alight in a fire of orange and pink at sunset, to watch as frenetic hummingbirds settle briefly on a flower, to swim beneath secluded waterfalls, and to experience a well-deserved disconnect from the bustle (and wifi) of Colombia. The mountain air will do great things for you, I promise!
Use this guide to plan a jam-packed day trip to Minca or, better yet, a several-day escape into the jungle, including how to get to Santa Marta and onwards to Minca, where to stay, what to do in Minca, and other top recommendations for your time there.
What's in this travel guide
Getting there & around
Getting to Santa Marta
Santa Marta has an airport and a reasonably large bus terminal, which easily connects it to other popular destinations like Medellín and Bogota (I’d recommend flying) or Cartagena (where a shuttle is the best option).
Cartagena to Santa Marta
There are near-constant buses operating between Cartagena and Santa Marta; tickets are typically 28,000COP / $11AUD and the journey takes 5-6hrs, plus a taxi out to the distant bus terminal (15-20,000COP / $6-8AUD). Instead, I’d recommend the Berlinastur shuttle, which can get you there in about 4hrs and for the same total price (40,000COP / $16AUD ticket + 5,000COP / $2taxi).
Medellín is one of the few journeys in Colombia where taking the 18hrs+ bus (195,000COP / $76AUD) is actually more expensive than flying (80,000COP / $32AUD), even when you add in the 45,000COP for checking a bag. I’d recommend getting a cheap flight with Viva Air if you’re coming from Medellín.
The cheapest way to get to Minca is by colectivo or a shared jeep departing Calle 11-12/Carrera 9 in the middle of Santa Marta (you’ll know you’re in the right place by the Cootrasminca sign). These run pretty much constantly throughout the day and cost just 8,000COP ($3AUD) for the 45min drive into the jungle.
If you’re staying at Dreamer Hostel, the staff actually organise shared colectivo departures right out front, which you can sign up for at the reception desk. These are the exact same transport as what you’ll find in downtown Santa Marta, just with the convenience of coming to you! We paid 9,000COP and our drive was a little shorter than 40min, since Dreamer is slightly closer to Minca than Santa Marta town.
Alternatively, you can get a private taxi to Minca for 40-50,000COP ($15-19AUD), which works out to be very similar to the shared bus if you can get a few travellers together to split the cost.
Getting around Minca
You can see a lot of Minca on your own two feet— and there are definitely times where this is the only way to get around. To get from town up to Casa Loma, for instance, you’ll have to walk about 15min along a steep uphill trail.
Because you’re likely to be travelling to Minca in a small colectivo, hiking to your hostel, and then staying in a very rustic room (possibly even a hammock), you’ll have a much better time if you don’t overpack. My best advice is to leave your big backpack at a hostel in Santa Marta, since you’ll have to return here to reach most other cities in Colombia anyway; Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta will happily store bags for you while you’re in Minca!
The easiest way to get beyond the main street of Minca and out to the surrounding waterfalls, swimming holes, and coffee farms is to grab a cheap mototaxi from the middle of town. You’ll never struggle to find someone to take you wherever you’d like to go in Minca and, for most trips, you can expect pay around 10,000COP ($4AUD).
If you want to take a mototaxi from your accomodation back into town or directly out to the waterfall, staff can help you organise this, although it will usually be a little more expensive. If staying somewhere like Casa Elemento that is high above the centre of Minca, you’ll definitely rely on mototaxis often, so be sure to factor transport costs into your budget.
Hire a motorbike
If and only if you can confidently ride a motorbike, this is the absolute BEST way to explore Minca, taking in all the incredible scenery and exploring off-the-beaten-path spots in your own time. You’ll still be able to get off the bike and hike at various points, but you won’t need to rely on catching a lift for the larger distances and you can see quite a lot in a single day.
There are a number of shops hiring motorbikes in Minca and it’s a very straightforward, informal process— they didn’t ask us for ID or even hold onto anything as collateral, but they DID give us helmets, so I was happy. We paid 100,000COP ($38AUD) for our motorbike for the entire day, including fuel; that price was without negotiating or shopping around at all, so it’s also possible you could find a motorbike even cheaper!
The guys who rented us the motorbike had a very crudely drawn map of Minca and surrounds, which showed the location of popular spots like Pozo Azul, Cascada Marinka, La Victoria Finca, and Casa Elemento in relation to the main circular road— I’d recommend taking a photo of this map as a reference for your ride, but it would be VERY hard to get completely lost (and that’s coming from me).
Where to stay in Minca: Casa Loma
The top place to stay in Minca (and one of my favourite hostels in all of Colombia) is the incredible Casa Loma, an idyllic jungle retreat nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Accommodation options range from hammocks (starting at 20,000COP / $8AUD) to rustic private huts (starting at 50,000COP / $20AUD).
I’d recommend booking at least a few weeks in advance for the Casa Lunaprivatehut (135,000COP / $54AUD for 2 people), which has one of the most mind-blowing views at Casa Loma! The opportunity to live simply amongst the trees, see spectacular sunsets from bed, and completelyescape from all noise and stress is what really makes this spot so magical.
Casa Loma has a simple onsite kitchen whipping up creative, flavourful vegetarian options throughout the day, an outdoor cocktail bar overlooking the jungle, and there are even festive 3-course communal dinners each night, giving you the opportunity to mingle with other travellers over candlelight and delicious food. Staff can help you organise absolutely anything around Minca or just make helpful suggestions, and I was seriously impressed by how friendly everyone was (even making an effort to learn our names)!
Getting to Casa Loma
To get to Casa Loma, your ONLY option is a short hike from Minca (there is no road!), so it’s VERY important to pack light. I mentioned it previously, but I’ll repeat: leave your big bag at a hostel in Santa Marta and take only a few essentials in a day pack to Minca (read my packing list below).
You can find the trail to Casa Loma just behind the school— when in doubt, head towards the little church and then ask a local, who will be able to direct you onto the right trail. It’s an entirely uphill hike on mostly steps, but it’s not challenging and most travellers should easily be able to get all the way from Minca town to Casa Loma in under 10min.
*What to do in Minca
1 | Visit a coffee & cacao finca
Colombia is the world’s 3rd largest coffee producer, following only Brazil and Vietnam in terms of export quantity. And although the so-called “Coffee Axis” or Eje Cafeteria in the south of Colombia may be the best-known region to sample coffee directly from the farm, Minca too has some fantastic local fincas where you can learn about the coffee-making process from bean to mug!
The most famous among the coffee fincas in Minca is Finca La Victoria, a farm still operating with its original 1892 equipment. Tours start at just 15,000COP / $6AUD and the farm is easily accessible on foot (1hr) or via moto-taxi (10,000COP / $4AUD) from the centre of town.
Another popular option is Finca La Candelaria, a family-owned coffee farm just outside of Minca that also produces some of the region’s best organic chocolate. Tours are slightly more at 20,000COP / $8AUD, but it’s worth it to learn about both cacao and coffee in one go!
Both Finca La Victoria and Finca La Candelaria, as well as other coffee farms in Minca, will include coffee tastings as well as a full cup of coffee with your tour, so plan accordingly unless you want to be bouncing off the walls.
2 | Pozo Azul
Pozo Azul (blue pool) is a shaded stack of natural swimming holes near Minca, popular among travellers and locals looking to beat the jungle humidity with a chilly swim. Although beautiful, that popularity does mean that Pozo Azul is one of the more crowded spots in Minca, so avoid the middle of the afternoon or the weekend if you have your heart set on a secluded swim.
You can walk to Pozo Azul in just 1hr from Minca, following a dusty road uphill out of town towards Finca La Victoria, or you can grab a mototaxi for 8,000COP ($3AUD).
Eventually you’ll come to a sort of makeshift carpark near a bumpy trail, which is where you’ll likely hop off the mototaxi and walk a further 15min to reach Pozo Azul. If you hire a motorbike and ride here yourself (which I highly recommend!), you can actually ride your bike almost the entire way to the pools and park up near the bridge.
3 | Cascada Marinka
If you only have time to visit a single swimming spot in Minca, I’d recommend Cascada Marinka over Pozo Azul a thousand times. Not only is the scenery far more beautiful, with its sparkling upper and lower falls, but there’s also a fraction of the people; in fact, it’s not at all difficult to get Cascada Marinka totally to yourself!
Cascada Marinka is about 1hr out of Minca on foot or about 15min via mototaxi (10,000COP / $4AUD), the opposite direction from Pozo Azul and Finca La Victoria, towards Casa Elemento. There’s a 5,000COP ($2AUD) entrance fee payable on arrival and then a short walk along a dirt trail (which can easily be done in sandals) to reach the waterfalls.
In addition to 2 stunning waterfalls, there’s a little restaurant at Cascada Marinka and this is where you’ll find one of the best views overlooking the falls (and from a hammock, no less). Plan to go for a swim and then hang out in the hammocks for a while, soaking in the pristine jungle air and magical surroundings!
4 | Giant hammock at Casa Elemento
Largely responsible for putting Minca on the map (at least as far as Instagram travellers are concerned), there are several giant hammocks hidden in the hills, each with an absolutely jaw-dropping vantage point over the Sierra Nevada, down to Santa Marta, and often as far as the Caribbean. The hammocks belong to the popular Casa Elemento hostel, but you don’t need to be a guest to visit and enjoy the view!
“Day visitors” are welcomed to Casa Elemento during daylight hours for the price of 10,000COP ($4AUD), which includes access to their giant hammocks, the swimming pool, and a complimentary beer. Despite the popularity of this spot, there weren’t any other day visitors or actual hostel guests hanging around during my visit, so I enjoyed the hammock entirely to myself (plus a one-eyed kitty friend). Absolutely worth it.
You can stop in at Casa Elemento en route to Los Pinos (next on this list) or grab a mototaxi from town for around 20,000COP ($8AUD), but as always, I would recommend hiring a motorbike and making the journey yourself to maximise flexibility and time for other activities.
5 | Los Pinos viewpoint
For the absolute best views, head all the way to the top of the mountains at Los Pinos and prepare to be awed by the sweeping vantage point over Minca’s verdant hills, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Caribbean coast. It’s can be a little bit of a mission to get up here, taking around 2hrs to hike from town— but it’s well worth it on a clear day!
I’d recommend visiting Los Pinos and Casa Elemento on the same day, as both are a fair distance from town but reasonably close to each other. And if you’re considering hiring a motorbike for any of your days in Minca, make it the day that you visit Los Pinos, as a mototaxi all the way to the top of the mountains can be pricey and uncomfortable.
6 | Jungle Joe tour
Discover more of Minca’s natural beauty and incredible biodiversity with a skilled naturalist— the full-day tours provided by “Jungle Joe” are seriously the best opportunity to learn more about this region, whether you’re into birds, coffee/chocolate, or just spectacular jungle scenery.
Departing from the middle of Minca around 9am each day, Joe leads a small group of travellers to a finca to learn about the growth and production of coffee, on a hike through the jungle to a remote waterfall for swimming, to a bamboo house in the trees for lunch and cacao tastings, and throughout the entire experience, peppers you with knowledge about the unique flora and fauna of the area and what locals are doing to ensure a sustainable future for Minca.
Thanks to Jungle Joe, we gained a far deeper appreciation for just how special and diverse Minca really is. And given that the day includes a tour of a coffee finca, cacao tastings, a guided hike, a delicious lunch, and SO much information, I really think the 80,000COP ($30AUD) is worth it!
(Note that the 150,000COP price quoted on the website includes return transport from Santa Marta, but you can book directly at the Jungle Joe office in Minca for 80,000COP if you get yourself here).
7 | Relax with a massage or yoga
Among the many and varied reasons to stay at Casa Loma, I absolutely LOVED that there is a local masseuse who sets up in a jungle-facing hut onsite to give 60 or 90min massages, taking your relaxation to an entirely new level.
I am a huge fan of massages while travelling, and even though the price for a massage in Minca is a far cry from the $5 massages you can get throughout Southeast Asia, it’s a splurge that I’d highly recommend (80,000COP / $30AUD). Plus, a great way to spend local!
If you want to relax in a slightly more active capacity, Casa Loma also offers 90min outdoor yoga sessions on a wide wooden deck overlooking the surrounding trees and mountains. You can sign up the evening before for 20,000COP ($8AUD) and everything you need for a fantastic morning (mat, spiritually-charged instructor, natural soundtrack) comes included.
Where to eat in Minca
There are quite a few restaurants and cafes in Minca, and I actually didn’t eat at a single place I didn’t like! Here are some of the stand-outs:
Restaurante Santisabella: Although Colombia— and specifically remote, jungled Minca— may seem an unlikely place to find good Italian food, I’d honestly list both the pizza and pasta at this restaurant among some of the best I’ve EVER had (and I’ve been to Italy 3 times). I also HIGHLY rate their jalapeño margaritas and ended up eating/drinking here multiple times while in Minca!
Lazy Cat: Overlooking the river and offering spectacular views of lizards and exotic birds that settle on the adjacent trees, the location of this little cafe in the middle of Minca is every bit as much of an incentive to visit as the food itself. Popular for its burgers, you can also get wonderful breakfasts here!
Smoothies: As the name suggests, this cafe has some phenomenal fruits smoothies and juices, as well as a long menu of smoothie bowls, waffles, and breakfast classics. There is also a lunch and dinner menu.
Casa Loma: Even if you aren’t staying at this awesome hostel (although I REALLY recommend you do!), you can walk about 10min from town to enjoy delicious vegetarian cuisine served throughout the day from the onsite kitchen.
Shops & services in Minca
Minca is little more than a few streets— there are cafes, restaurants, and tour operators, but not a whole lot else. Consequently, this is not the place to try and track down specialty items, medications, or tech chargers, so it’s important to come prepared from Santa Marta (which you can do by reading my Minca packing list below).
There are no official ATMs in Minca, but there is a comms/tourist shop that will sell you cash-back from credit card transaction (for a fee). It’s not a great deal compared to just bringing cash from Santa Marta, but it’s still an option if you need to top up sometime during your trip.
Reception & connectivity in Minca
Within the actual town, you won’t struggle to find mobile reception or even Wifi at some cafes, but as soon as you get up into the hills around Minca (like Casa Loma), that quickly disappears.
A lot of the hostels in Minca are intentionally Wifi-free and there is basically no mobile reception to speak of, so take the opportunity to disconnect for a few days and just focus on where you are— beautiful Minca!
What to pack for Minca
Again, given the small colectivo that will bring you to Minca, the walking you’ll have to do to reach your hostel, and then the rustic room (possibly even a hammock) you’ll be staying in, I’d recommend leaving your big backpack at a hostel in Santa Marta. Dreamer Hostel will store stuff for you while you’re in Minca and you can grab it on your way back through!
Pack a smaller daypack or carry-on size backpack with a few essentials, including:
Daytime clothes | you’ll probably be doing a fair bit of walking around in Minca, so pack simply and comfortably
Warm clothes | you don’t need need snow gear, but Minca is 650m above the Caribbean coast and can get a bit chilly at night; a pair of tights and light jumper to sleep in will be more than enough
Towel | even if your hostel does provide one (which it might not), you’ll want this for swimming in Pozo Azul or Cascada Marinka
Bug spray!!! | you need to be hyper-vigilant about coating yourself in bug spray each night and anytime you’re hanging around water, or you’ll quickly find yourself eaten alive by sandflies and mosquitos
Filter water bottle | the best way to avoid getting sick OR guzzling through dozens of wasteful single-use plastic water bottles is to bring a bottle with an in-built filter, like this one from LifeStraw that I ALWAYS travel with
Book or iPod | if you’re doing Minca right, there will be a lot of quiet time spent in a hammock
Cash | there’s a sort of informal ATM service in Minca (described above), but it’s far easier just to plan ahead and bring the cash you need when you come from Santa Marta