When we found a small stand on the side of the road offering "Touristic Travel" I was doubtful that it would get us to our destination, expecting it to either be overpriced or a scam. We asked anyway because at this stage, it was our only lead on how to get to Minca. A burly looking gentleman started yelling random destinations at us in the hope that one would sound familiar in a sea of random Colombian city names. I eventually cut him short as I wasn't sure he was actually still listing places and may now have moved onto trying to sell us some other random gadgets such as the pile of TV antennas and random remotes sitting behind him. As soon as the word "Minca" left my mouth, he put his arm around my shoulder and led the three of us to a vehicle that I had previously considered abandoned and possibly only used to steal parts from. The driver window was missing, and the inside looked as if it had been stripped in a car heist or perhaps they'd just tried to drop some weight from the vehicle knowing that the drive to Minca is all up hill!
At this stage I still wasn't convinced this thing would actually run but for some reason we all jumped in and said nothing. Oh yeah this was our ride to Minca... Perfect.
We crawled up the hill to Minca in our beaten up old Trooper not-so-swiftly dodging 1m deep potholes as we went. Wade was in the back of the truck behind our seats, sitting precariously over the rattling gas tank while simultaneously attempting to hold the back door closed to avoid losing himself, our gas tank and our luggage! I'm sure the look on his face throughout the trip was one of genuine fear.... And probably for good reason! Haha
The drive up took us through small villages and some lush green scenery but nothing compared to the view from the top. I had found a place online that said they have tree houses, chalets and hammocks all up on a mountain side in Minca with an incredible view over the nearby coastal city of Santa Marta. How could we miss it!
The part that I had only vaguely mentioned to Wade and Hanna was that this place is up a mountain.... With walking access only! As we stepped out of the Trooper, our bodies still shaking from the bumpy drive up, we spotted a sign on a telegraph pole that said "Casa Loma"
"Follow the path behind the church. Stroll up the hill, past the school and then follow the signs to Casa Loma!"
We found the old white church in town and then creeped around the outside of it looking for the path to what would hopefully be our accommodation for the night. We followed a dirt road until we saw a Casa Loma sign where we turned off the road and up a smaller dirt track. Soon, the dirt track became a steep winding staircase that zigzagged its way up this mountain. Stroll up the hill. Really Casa Loma??? This was a freaking MOUNTAIN! The three of us were a sweaty mess after a day of walking around in 30 degree heat and finally this killer staircase was just the icing on the sweaty cake!
As the three of us battled the epic stair climb to Casa Loma we passed a small guesthouse and a cool looking bar. Our mouths were watering at the thought of a cool beer to break up our journey, but as we excitedly skipped our way up the last few steps to the bar our hearts sank as the closed sign came into view. A sip of water and a sigh of disappointment was all we could muster up so without a word we all put our heads down and continued the climb.
The signs to Casa Loma beckoned with promises of food, cool drinks and "The Best View in the WORLD"! By the time we reached the top I think the managers first words were "Hola! Please sit, here's a drink" closely followed by, "don't worry, we have cold showers". We must have looked even more rough than we felt! Casa Loma, you had us at hello!
Wade and I booked into a tree house and Hannah had this incredible little outdoor bedroom in the forest area at the top. We loved it and we hadn't even stopped to take in the view for all our efforts.
Heaven on earth! The beautiful Casa Loma treehouse perched on the top of the hill overlooking Minca and Santa Marta and our beautiful balcony complete with rocking chair and hammock!
We only booked in for one night so decided that in order to make the most of our time, it was best to drop our things and head straight out to one of the many natural features in Minca. It started pouring before we even decided where to go so we chose the closest which was a river with natural swimming pools. While we were standing by the bank of the river catching tadpoles and discussing whether or not to go in for a swim, a sudden wave of water began thundering in front us in a flash flood and the river rose around 1m in 2 minutes! It was one of the craziest things I've ever seen and we were all pretty glad we hadn't been swimming at the time.
We decided to chill out in a local pub and wait for sunset as we had been told that the sunset from our "treehouse" was supposed to be absolutely breathtaking. As the rain set in we decided sunset was not going to be anything too spectacular tonight so before it became too dark, we began the steep incline to our home for the night. As we reached the small cafe/bar/restaurant we saw earlier in the day, we realised much to our delight that it was now open. Wade hadn't noticed and almost walked straight by when we were greeted by a beautiful little Labrador-cross puppy. The owner came running out with a huge smile spread across his face and invited us in for a drink. How could we say no!
This little establishment, as little known as it is, is by far one of the coolest places I have ever lounged around while sipping ice cold cocktails. It was more or less a treehouse with the ground level being a bar/kitchen, then upstairs was a stunning balcony with the same incredible view of Santa Marta as we had from our tree houses. The balcony had a few beanbags, cute candles scattered around us and some awesome chill out tunes playing. If you closed your eyes and ignored the fact that the "clientele" consisted simply of the three of us, the bar owner (who also lived there) and 3 dogs, you could've been fooled into thinking we were in any classy cocktail bar across the world. After our third round of cocktails, the owner brought us up a bowl of hot, buttery popcorn and discovered that we had also not-so-subtly kidnapped his 3 month old puppy! It was such an awesome place, we could've sat there all night but eventually gave back the puppy, slurped our last cocktail and stumbled our way in the dark up to our tree house.
The following morning we ate breakfast while watching the sun glimmering off the city of Santa Marta in the distance. Immediately after breakfast we descended back down our dreaded hill and set off for "Pozo Azul" another set of natural pools only this time we read that they were bigger and more beautiful than the flooded river from the previous day.
As always in Minca, no walk is complete without hills and Pozo Azul didn't let us down. The views were incredible as we climbed up for a solid hour before reaching a sign that pointed straight down a long and winding path. We had gone from an open forest-type environment to suddenly find ourselves in thick, damp rainforest. We couldn't wait to dive right into the welcoming waters of Pozo Azul.
As we neared Pozo Azul we began to get the feeling that perhaps we wouldn't be alone as five, ten, fifteen moto taxis whisked by us. When we finally reached the sign for Pozo Azul and began our descent towards the river our fears were confirmed. We had completely ignored the fact that it was Sunday and from everything we had heard this was one of the locals favourite weekend destinations. There were people everywhere in the beautiful pools and cascades! We also should have taken another hint when we saw come coke bottles and beers being placed up against a rock in the river. I thought this was an odd place to store them and then I dipped my toe into the water. The water was FREEZING!!
I think my heart may have stopped for a minute as the ice cold water sent a shiver all over my body. Wade was game enough to go for a swim but Hanna and I opted for the smarter option and sat on the rocks dangling our feet in the water purely so we could say we did! Before too long, the three of us were reaching hypothermic levels so packed our things and left the crazy locals to swim in their icy pools.
We stopped a small hillside restaurant on our walk back to town where a local man took us into his rustic outdoor "kitchen" and showed us the variety of meats he was cooking in a large mud brick BBQ. He had homemade chorizo, tender roast chicken, beef and pork. Our mouths were watering immediately and he knew we were sold.
After stuffing ourselves with a shared plate of all the different meats and washing it down with a cool beer, we decided it was time to go and walk the remaining 2km back into town.
While we only spent around 24hours in Minca, it was well worth the effort and although we could've easily stayed another night in this quaint hillside village, we decided to pack our things and leave in time for an overnight bus to our next destination. As luck would have it, once we had paid our bill, packed our bags and said our goodbyes to the friendly treehouse hosts, the rain started and this time it wasn't just a sprinkle. We all tip toed as quickly as possible back down the steep and slippery bush staircase back into town, all fully loaded with our bags. By the time we reached the bottom we were soaked to the bone and happy to jump into the nearest dodgy-looking ride to Santa Marta! We jumped into the first available car and waved goodbye to Minca.
Photo: The main lodge at Casa Loma and the incredible view over the surrounding mountains
Our next destination, San Gil, had been suggested by Hanna in the previous days and Wade and I loved everything we read about it. It's an adventure sports and natural paradise down the eastern side of Colombia and an overnight bus trip away. We were stoked to be able to continue travelling together for a few more days so celebrated with a combination of Aussie and Swiss card games and some cold beers to kill time while waiting for our bus.
With two nights locked in at San Gil, our biggest decision from here was going to be choosing between the array of adrenaline filled activities on offer once we arrive - canyoning, white water rafting, waterfalls, hiking.... Yes please!!
Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.