At the heart of the world, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, rises Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain in the shape of a pyramid with high snow-covered peaks reaching 18,700 ft. This is the tallest coastal mountain in the world. Source of 36 rivers and home of 30,000 indigenous people from the Arhuaco, Wiwa, Kogi, and Kankuamo tribes, as well as habitat for countless rare, endemic and endangered species of plants animals and birds, Sierra Nevada, covering a territory of 17,000 sq km, is Colombia’s finest national park, designated a Biosphere reserve by UNESCO and the world’s most irreplaceable park for threatened species.
Here, deep in the impenetrable jungles, rest the ruins of La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City), founded 650 years before Machu Pichu by the Tayrona people. Today the archeological site is a national heritage comprising hundreds of stone steps and terraces carved on the mountain side (it resembles Machu Pichu but in a far smaller scale). Visitors can go there only with an organized excursion and only if they are in a good physical shape, as the hike is 4 to 6 days and is rated moderately difficult. Such a trip starting form Santa Marta costs $300 per person and includes a guide, food and water, and sleeping accommodations along the way. But unfortunately it was too expensive for us, even though we really wanted to go and tried to find ways of getting there without an organized excursion, on our own. But this is not an option. The only legal and safe way to visit the Lost City is by joining an organized trip, as the trail passes through indigenous territory and the organizers of the hike have exclusive rights to be there. There are even signs on the entrance of the villages: “Access to non-Indians forbidden”.
Instead, we visited Minca, another popular tourist destination in the Sierra Nevada, a trip we organized ourselves and it cost us $20 for the three of us (transportation and entrance fee).
Minca is a small mountain village at 650 m altitude and to get there you need a 4×4. You can take the public transport there for $3 per person- jeeps starting at the market in Santa Market but they only leave when they collect at least 7-8 passengers. We had to wait for 1 hour for the vehicle to get full before we started for the mountains.
Soon after departure, the jeep left the highway and the landscape around us changed. The dry lifeless hills of Santa Marta- yellow thirsty grass and low cacti- ended. Bamboo forests, banana and coffee plantations and thick tropical forests rose around us. The green became thick and intense and after an hour on the bumpy mountain road we arrived in Minca. We were greeted by a few local people and dogs sitting at the terrace of a small restaurant. A few houses, a couple of hostels and restaurants, a deserted football field and the inevitable church.
We started for the first waterfall, la Cascada Marinca. We walked past fincas and coffee plantations, through a shady forest filled with sounds of tropical birds and insects. Hidden in the trees, thousands of cicadas were adjusting their string instruments getting ready for a concert.
The area around Minca is world renowned bird-watching destination and we spotted many colorful birds we never seen before, including a toucan!
After an hour and a half we got to the first waterfall hidden in the jungle, Cascada Marinca, with two terraces forming two pools of fresh water one on top of the other. There was a shed overlooking the falls where we had to pay entrance fee – $1 per adult, free for kids.
We spent some time at Marinka Falls, chilling, resting, eating our sandwiches for lunch, and then returned back to the village from where we took another trail to another river guided by a random dog who self-appointed himself to be our Minca guide. He took us to El Pozo Aul, a series of cascades, falls and pools on Minca River with delicious transparent cold waters.
On the way there , about two hours of hiking through beautiful hilly countryside, we were once again offered spectacular panoramic vistas.
As we approached the river we heard the muffled booming sounds of the waterfalls. There was a group of tourists with rented bikes at the first pool, so we decided to keep going and find a more secluded spot upriver. Our guide, Mister Perro, took us climbing on the muddy shores, jumping over rocks, waiting for us patiently, as we were a lot slower than him.
Our efforts were rewarded at the end. We got to a small waterfall with a nice deep pool surrounded by flat big rock walls- perfect for jumps. Ivo and Maya never skip an opportunity to work on their jumping and flying skills, demonstrating supreme grace and elegance in mid-air before splashing in the water below.
Tired but satisfied we walked the two hours walk back to the village center, where our awesome guide El Dog left us unceremoniously, the same way he had joined us, not looking back. And we kind of missed him… Good bye, Mister Perro! Good bye Minca! In our memories we will always keep the freshness of your waterfalls.Share