If you’ve had your fill of beaches or the seductive Caribbean cities, maybe it’s time for an altitude adjustment. Artists, nature lovers, coffee farmers, and transplanted urbanites in the village of Minca (pop. 500) look down upon their neighbors in nearby Santa Marta—literally. At elevation of 660 meters, midway up the Sierra, you get a bird’s-eye view of Santa Marta, just 45 minutes away. You also get a great bird’s-eye view of birds, especially higher up at the edge of the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The blissful routine of mountain hikes, dips in invigorating swimming holes, and sunset ogling may make you want to linger here.
You can often get a fanastic glimpse of the snowcovered Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Bolívar, the highest mountain peaks in the country.Minca is a paradise for those with a pair of hiking boots and a backpack slung over their shoulder. Hostels and hotels can point you in the right direction to several gentle hikes along tranquil mountain roads and paths to swimming holes of either freezing cold or wonderfully refreshing pure water, depending on the thickness of your skin. Three popular walks with swimming holes are within easy walking distance from Minca: Balneario Las Piedras (45 mins.), Pozo Azul (1 hr.), and the Cascadas Marinka (1 hr.).
For a challenge, try the three-hour hike (one way) to the Los Pinos hostel at an elevation of 1,600 meters (5,250 feet). From there, or nearby, you can often get a fantastic glimpse of the snow-covered Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Bolívar, the highest mountain peaks in the country.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a renowned coffee-growing region. The Finca La Victoria (no phone, 9am-4pm daily, COP$5,000) is a family-run coffee farm that you can visit for a small fee. It is between Pozo Azul and Los Pinos, about a one-hour walk from town.
In and around Minca there are no safety issues, and you can set off and up the mountain on your own without a guide.
High into the Sierra Nevada, at an elevation of around 2,400 meters (7,875 feet), the Reserva El Dorado is one of the finest bird-watching reserves in the country. For reservations (COP$569,000 3 nights all incl.), contact EcoTurs in Bogotá (Cra. 20 No. 36-61, tel. 1/287-6592) or Aviatur (tel. 1/587-5181) in Bogotá. The accommodations are excellent, with 10 spacious rooms, great food, and, crucially, hot showers. The area is home to 19 endemic species, including the Santa Marta antpitta, Santa Marta parakeet, Santa Marta bush tyrant, blossom crown, and screech owls. Anybody can stay at El Dorado, even the non-birding crowd.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.