We knew we had to visit Minca with our kids; it’s simply our kind of town… An up-and-coming backpacker haven nested in the ultra-lush Sierra Nevada mountains, home to organic coffee and cocoa farms, waterfalls with swimming holes, great hiking and more.
You can learn a lot about a town based on the highway signs you see leading up to it. I just had to smile as I saw animal crossing warning signs for monkeys, iguanas, squirrels and some creature I simply couldn’t identify. I knew we were headed in the right direction.
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Minca with Kids
Things to do in Minca with Kids
We visited Minca, Colombia in mid-December with our two kids, aged 4 & 6. There are tons of fun things to do in Minca with kids. Here’s how we spent our three days:
La Calendaria Organic Coffee and Cocoa Farm
We love coffee, so were naturally very excited to hear that Minca is in the middle of one of Colombia’s coffee growing regions. There are a few coffee plantations in the area which accept visitors and offer tours. We chose to visit La Calendaria as it also offered cocoa farm tours, which we thought the kids would find more interesting than coffee.
How to Get to La Calendaria
The best way to get to La Calendaria is to hike up. Sure, you’ll see lots of backpackers taking the easy way up by taking a moto-taxi, but they are missing out on a huge part of the experience. Besides, if you have kids, you may not be comfortable taking the kids up a super bumpy mountain dirt road on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet.
The hike to La Calendaria is so much fun. It starts at the street leading away from town at the police station. The path to La Calendaria is well marked with signs; if you come to an intersection without a sign, simply go straight.
This Minca hike is just over 1.9 miles (3km) long and it’s uphill the entire way with over 1,150 feet (350m) of elevation gain. The jungle is quite thick, providing a decent amount of shade, but it’s not complete, so be sure to wear a strong sunscreen as well as insect repellent.
You’ll pass many beautiful patches of bamboo, many different types of orchids and tons of butterflies. We even saw a hummingbird, but it dashed off in a hurry. Along the way, you may be lucky enough to see baby ducks and turkeys at a small poultry farm. If you know what you are looking for, kids will have a ton of fun looking for and then playing with “Sleeping Grass” (plants which ‘go to sleep’ when you touch the leaves).
Keep an eye open for large colonies of leaf cutter ants; there is an especially interesting colony of them across from the only waterfall you’ll pass on the way up. Look for them along the edge of the retaining wall and then follow their trail before and after this spot. You’ll be amazed at where they go!
Keep an eye out for breaks in the trees as the views are amazing. Sometimes the views are of the massive tree covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, while other times you’ll grab an amazing view of Santa Marta and the kid-friendly beach resort of Rodadero.
Always listen for the sound of motors as the moto-taxis can be driving pretty fast along this road. They will always slow down and move over when they see you though.
Visiting La Calendria
The grounds of La Calendria are beautifully landscaped. You’ll pass many coffee trees, with many interesting plants interspersed, including poinsettias.
Coffee tours are given twice a day at 9:00 and 2:30. We arrived at 11:30 (about as far from the coffee tours as you can get), so we sat on the back deck and ate our packed lunch while we waited for the next cocoa tour to begin (which begin every hour, on the hour). Tours cost 25,000 COP (~$8USD) and kids are free.
There’s a small selection of refreshments on offer on the back veranda including coffee brewed with their own beans. They also offer chocolate cake made with their own cocoa.
La Calandaria is a small organic cocoa farm. It grows cocoa trees on 2 hectares and produces approximately 1 ton of seeds per year.
We really enjoyed our 1-hour cocoa tour. Our guide spoke very good English and was great with the kids. He walked us through the growing process for cocoa plants, the various types and where they like to grow.
We then moved inside to watch him take us step-by-step through the process of making cocoa. We got to try the product along each step of the way, from the unprocessed seeds, to a roasted seed, to using it in a freshly made hot chocolate.
You try it first without milk and sugar and marvel at the powerful flavors. You then add milk and sugar to get the more familiar flavor. It was great fun trying how the product changes at every step of the way.
We finished the tour by getting a mask of cocoa painted on our faces. The kids loved this and thought it was so funny!
Swimming under Marinka Waterfalls (Cascadas de Marinka)
Swimming underneath a waterfall in a beautiful jungle setting is a must-do activity in Minca with kids. There are two main swimming waterfalls to choose from in Minca: Pozo Azul and Cascadas de Marinka.
Pozo Azul is the more popular of the two with three layers of waterfalls to choose from. We don’t always enjoy dealing with hordes of people at nature outings, so we elected to walk to the Marinka Waterfalls instead.
How to get to Marinka Waterfalls
It’s pretty easy to find Cascadas de Marinka. Simply walk south on the main road in town and keep on walking… If you pass the church and it’s on your left, you’ll be going the right way.
If you enjoy being in nature (and we assume you do if you are in Minca), it’s easy to walk there, although most people seem to take the easy way out and take a moto-taxi.
We love hiking and our kids were too small for a moto-taxi, so we walked the 2.8 miles (4.5km) to the waterfall. It’s uphill most of the way there, but it’s a gentle incline with only 790 feet (240m) in elevation gain.
This Minca hike is enjoyable, but it is along a road, so you’ll be dealing with the occasional motorbike or truck going past. The road is lined with dense trees most of the way so you’ll enjoy a decent amount of shade.
The road follows a beautiful river for the second half of the hike there, offering an additional layer of scenery to enjoy. You’ll also have to cross a small river via a series of about 10 stepping stones.
The road is muddy in spots and uneven in others. Despite being on your way to swim, we don’t recommend wearing flip flops on this hike. A good pair of hiking sandals is perfect for this outing.
When you reach a small cluster of restaurants and stores, you’ve nearly reached your destination. Turn left and you will need to hike a rather steep incline for about 10 more minutes before you reach the Cascadas de Marinka entrance.
Visiting Marinka Waterfalls
Entrance to the waterfalls costs 5,000 COP (~$2USD). Our 4 -year old was free, but our 6-year old had to pay. There is a decent amount of services available to you in exchange for your nominal entrance fee.
There are change rooms, bathrooms and a covered eating area. Attached to the eating area are several 5-person hammocks, where you can chill with your friends or family and enjoy views of these beautiful falls.
They created a small man-made dam downstream of the waterfall to create the swimming hole, so it’s not 100% natural. That said, they did a good job keeping a natural feel to it. Most people change then bring their stuff down and leave it on the rocks next to the swimming hole.
The water is much colder than you’d expect in tropical Colombia, so be prepared to scream as you enter the water. It’s can get up to 5 feet deep in spots, so you may need to hold little ones while in the water. The pool is about 30 feet long and you can walk right up to the base of the waterfall and enjoy the powerful spray.
Getting into Minca with Kids
Minca is close enough to Santa Marta that you can simply take a taxi there. It should cost roughly 40,000 COP (~$10USD).
We paid 70,000 COP (~21USD) for a private transfer from Rodadero (next door to Santa Marta), which our vacation home rental host arranged for us. Benefits of a private transfer is they will pick you up at your hotel and the ride will generally be in a nicer vehicle than a taxi.
You can also take a collectivo or shared taxi from Santa Marta, but these are geared towards single travelers. You won’t save a ton of money as a family using these more inconvenient methods of transport.
If you don’t have time for an overnight stay in Minca, you can book one of the many Minca day tours from Santa Marta.
Knowing we had a fair amount of car travel planned in Colombia, we brought some travel-friendly mifold booster seats with us for the kids. Despite being a travel-friendly size, they meet or exceed NHTSA standard in the USA. The mifold website says its ok to travel with these seats outside your home country.
For more thoughts on bringing car seats, read our Traveling with Car Seats post.
Hotels in Minca
Minca is still new on the gringo trail, so accommodations can still be quite rustic. We opted to rent a house around 0.3 miles (0.5km) outside of town – we picked it because it had three bedrooms, even though it didn’t have air conditioning.
We were quite unhappy with the house, so we won’t recommend it to you here. Luckily there are still plenty of alternate family-friendly Minca accommodations on VRBO and Booking.com.
Where to Eat in Minca
Casa Cristi Restaurante sits at the south end of Carrera 5a. It’s a cute little steakhouse with an outdoor patio. We noticed they had a few kid-friendly options and a decent Google rating, so we decided to give it a shot.
The kids were overjoyed that they had a small pile of toys for them to play with. Celine ordered the Mediterranean burger, while I ordered the Argentina burger – both were quite good, although they were a bit chintzy on the fries. The kids devoured the chicken nuggets, while the kids burger went basically untouched.
Arabesca Minca: We were intrigued to find a middle eastern food restaurant in Minca. We’re suckers for hummus and chicken shawarma, so we had to give it a try.
The tables are set in a beautiful little garden facing a side street, creating a rather peaceful setting. The kids enjoyed their falafel and hummus, while Celine and I split orders of hummus and bread, chicken shawarma and a falafel wrap. It was all very good and we left quite full.
Smoothies Restaurante: Sometimes when we travel to new countries, we are unsure whether the kids are getting enough food they like, so we like to give them a regular dose of pizza just to make sure.
Smoothies Restaurant is a bright & colorful restaurant near the major intersection in town (yup – there’s only one main intersection here). They specialize in smoothies, but they also serve pizza, burritos, sandwiches, etc.
As usual, the kids devoured their Hawaiian pizza, while I enjoyed my Mexican burrito (which strangely came with French fries). Of course, we had to try their smoothies, so we ordered a few different kinds. The kids loved the banana, mango and cocoa one, while my strawberry, mango, blueberry was excellent.
Tips for Minca with Kids
Despite being high up in the mountains, there are still a lot of biting bugs. In the five minutes between getting out of our private transfer and getting into our rental house, we all got a ton of bites on our legs. We don’t think they were mosquitoes, but tiny black flies that bite. Be sure to use insect repellent religiously here.
Minca is a small town which hasn’t caught up with its sudden popularity. There are tons of mototaxis, car taxis and trucks flying up and down the few streets in town. There are not many sidewalks to be found, so you’ll need to hold onto your kid’s hands as you walk through town.
If your kids are too small for moto-taxis, you will likely find yourself walking everywhere. The taxis here are tiny little cars, which can’t navigate the dirt roads which surround town.
We walked everywhere with our kids and it wasn’t a hardship at all; in fact we loved the slow walks through nature enjoying the many amazing things it offers here.
There is a nice, new playground in front of the church where your kids can play side-by-side with local kids. We got lucky and got to listen to a choir of local kids sing songs through the open doors of the church next door.
We loved spending a few days exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains around Minca with our kids. From Minca, we traveled to Cartagena with our kids for a few days before heading to Isla Mucura for Christmas.
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