I’ll start by saying that I didn’t vibe with either Santa Marta or Taganga. In both towns tourism seems to be booming in spite of the local community, not alongside it. Poverty abounds and yet parties rage in the bars along the waterfront. We went to Santa Marta because it is the gateway to Tayrona National Park, but our plan morphed upon arrival.
I know that it’s a bit blasphemous to travel all the way to Santa Marta and skip Tayrona National Park, but we did. And I don’t regret it. In short, this was the thought process: it’s extremely hot outside for a multi-hour hike (93 degrees), it will take a few hours and transfers to get there and back in a day, and we live near spectacular beaches at home. With only two short weeks to explore this beautiful, huge country, I’d rather be relaxing in the mountains.
And so to the mountains we went—to the tiny town of Minca. It sits high above Santa Marta and is home to a handful of hostels that offer basic accommodations, oftentimes just a hammock. Terra had stayed at “Oscar’s Place” in 2012 and remembered it fondly, so we made our way there via a cramped one-hour ride in a 4×4 and 10 minute hike from the main road. Oscar’s Place is, you guessed it, owned by a cool dude name Oscar and was exactly what I was looking for. Perched on the mountainside overlooking the city below, with little electricity and no Wifi, it was simply magical. In an effort to summarize its charm, here are the highlights:
Oscar keeps honeybees and mixes a mean cocktail called a “Fixer Upper” that includes just four ingredients: rum, honey, fresh squeezed lime juice, and ice. For 8,000 COP (~$3) it cannot be beat. San Francisco friends, prepared to be wowed upon my return.
There are four sweet canine residents including Nu, a half Great Dane, half questionable mutt puppy who jumps on the furniture (including the dining table) and thinks he’s a human. My obvious favorite of the bunch was Max, who Oscar rescued and is Lady’s doppelgänger. The dogs used to fight over their bowls at feeding time so Oscar came up with a brilliant solution—he feeds them like chickens, scattering the kibble across the yard. For an hour at sunset the four dogs graze in peace. It’s brilliant.
The rest of the story, regarding the waterfall and my shoes, is relatively short. After bidding Oscar adieu, we decided to hike to the “Pozo Azul,” a series of small waterfalls and pools along a river, before heading back to town. At one point, in an effort to wade further upstream, I removed my Nike sneakers and tossed them to Terra thinking he’d put them in the backpack. Apparently he left both pairs right there along the stream, in plain view of the local teens that had also hiked up. We eventually made it to a very private waterfall, and upon our return my shoes (and socks—gross) were gone. The kids apparently had no use for Terra’s size 14 shoes. Shocking.
In typical vigilante fashion, Terra ran down the river, eventually catching up with some of the teens that we had seen along the way. One took off on his motorbike as soon as Terra came into view, and we think he tossed the shoes into the bushes, as he didn’t have them when Terra eventually caught up to him as well. In the end, Terra terrified a group of young Colombians by searching their bags and either taught them that a.) they shouldn’t steal peoples’ shoes, or b.) that gringos be crazy paranoid. The area is quite poor, so hopefully someone is now wearing a pair of gray and seafoam green lightly worn Nike trainers. They might be the nicest kicks in town.
In spite of our parting experience, I still thoroughly enjoyed Minca. I’ll just be sure to keep my $12 replacement pair of shoes on from here on out.
Want to have a similar experience? Here are the important details:
Transport – From Santa Marta go to the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 and you will find a number of 4×4 vehicles with drivers looking for tourists heading to Minca. The ride took approximately one hour and cost 7,000 COP per person, payable upon arrival.
Booking – You can request a reservation online, but the best way to book a room at Oscar’s Place is to call. He speaks perfect English, so don’t be scared. You can find more information on his website.
What to bring – If you’re returning to Santa Marta, consider packing a daypack with only the essentials for a night or two. That way, you don’t have to schlep all of your things up the mountain. You’ll need sunscreen, bug repellant, a bathing suit, and a light jacket or long sleeve shirt for the evenings.