Looking down at the trail map I got from the Tienda Café de Minca, you realize you have two choices to hike the trail that begins and ends in Minca’s center: go straight or go right. I decided to go right. As I began the hike up the trail/road, I began to worry about how hot it gets on the Caribbean coast in Colombia. As I continued the uphill climb, it was evident that the heat was not as overbearing. The lush green landscape was a change from the coastal landscape populated by palm trees in Santa Marta and its surrounding beach towns. With the diverse vegetation providing cover from the sun, the hike became more and more enjoyable, even though the uphill climb proved at times to be strenuous. The green was comprised of bamboo trees, ferns and a variety of other flora Colombia’s Sierra Nevada had to offer. A variety of birds sang competing songs throughout the morning, though remained hidden from view. Their songs were accompanied by the sound of water both on the left and right sides of the trail from mini waterfalls, streams, and creeks alike.
This peaceful music would be interrupted intermittently by motorcycles, jeeps, and trucks climbing up and warily slithering down the trail/road as I stepped to the side letting them pass. With each one passing, it’s easy to see that Colombia wants to develop the Minca trail fully into a road, allowing tourists easier access to the various promoted locations along the loop without having to hike it. I wonder though if that will in the end be counterproductive, as hiking the route allows you to experience the flora and fauna without the noise pollution.
As the climb continued, I reached my first resting point: Casa Elemento. As I walked onto the premises, I was greeted by backpackers from all over the globe. A morning yoga class was in session as I rinsed off the perspiration from the first part of the hike. Casa Elemento’s location is ideal for stunning vistas, though by the time I reached them, it was too late to take in any of the views as the clouds had already blocked the view of the Caribbean and Santa Marta below. “Our mornings and evenings are the best,” said one of the hostel’s patrons. “From mid-morning through most of the afternoon, the clouds roll in and there is the daily rain.” I highly recommend their hostel if you want some of the best views Minca has to offer and are willing to separate yourself from the rest of the hostels and restaurants in the village. They also have other attractions like gear if you want to walk through parts of the tree canopy, a pool, hammocks, and other fun accessories.
Feeling refreshed, I was told to take a narrow path instead of the main road from Casa Elemento to Los Pinos to save time. I would not recommend this path for those who do not wish to be up close and personal with the vegetation, as it hangs over the trail for much of the trek. One of the locals I met on the trail said keep staying to the right on the trail and make a left once I reached the main road. As I fought my way through the vegetation at times, I can’t lie that I was relieved to see the main road with a motorcycle zipping by; noise pollution and all.
Making my way towards Los Pinos, it started to feel as if I was walking into a cloud. Rain began to come down as I popped open my umbrella. Slowly coming into focus through the fog was the outline of one of the first of a dozen or so of pine trees. Underneath one of the pines was a horse snacking on the grass when I bumped into one the workers of the Los Pinos hostel. While the hostel is not as aesthetically pleasing as Casa Elemento, it provides visitors with the highest viewpoint, save if you try to make the trek to San Lorenzo.
Leaving the pine trees behind and thinking how surreal it was to see them in the Caribbean, I headed towards the town of Campano. Along the way I was greeted by a welcome change to my hike; I was going downhill. I also noticed that part of the bottom of one of my sneaker’s was coming off. Obviously running shoes do not cut it for the Minca trail/road. In the distance, I could start hearing music from one of the typical impromptu parties that sprout up on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in houses, bars, and bodegas alike. Vegetation on the side of the road gave way to buildings as Campano emerged. When I arrived at the main bodega in town, I took a water break and chatted with locals.
From there, the hike continued its downward trajectory to La Victoria. Seeing the sign for La Victoria, I turned right off onto the side road taking you to the coffee plantation. In La Victoria, I was greeted first by the Nevada Cerveceria (Nevada Brewery). I then made my way into El Bistro de La Victoria, where a former Peace Corps volunteer was running the kitchen. For lunch was a delicious chicken club sandwich with homemade bread as well as a side of local vegetables. I had the Happy Tucan craft beer from the Nevada Brewery as well as a delicious slice of homemade carrot cake. After lunch, I went downstairs and explored the coffee warehouse and all the different views of the river.
Heading back towards the main road, I noticed that I had perspired quite a bit over the course of the journey. It proved lucky that Pozos Azul was my next stop as it had a natural swimming hole below its waterfall. When I arrived, I noticed there was no place to change without being in the eye of the public. As I wrapped my towel around me and changed out of my clothes into my bathing suit, I couldn’t wait to go swimming and cool off. Walking into the water proved a surprising and welcome experience, as the cold mountain water took my body off guard, having been acclimated to the warm waters of the Caribbean. I could not have been happier as I was able to cool off and enjoy the scenery.
Having cooled off and noting that mid-afternoon was starting to turn into late-afternoon, I began the last part of my journey. In addition to the soles of one of my sneakers continuing to fall apart, my calves, ankles, and feet were starting to bark. Although I was focused on making my way downhill before darkness, I couldn’t resist stopping off on the side of the road at a small stand where a family was selling freshly made coffee, chocolate brownies, and other local delicacies from the surrounding plantations.
There another family was enjoying the local fare as well and I asked if they wanted their picture taken with their phones with the Sierra Nevada landscape in the background. They were gracious and returned the favor to me with a ride on the back of their jeep back to Minca. As the jeep rumbled down the hill off rhythm to the blaring music, I smiled thinking back on the great hike and the changing colors in the now clear sky as the sunset in Minca took hold.