Marinka Waterfalls – Minca

It’s amazing what you’ll find if you follow some random road.

Mi novio is in love with our motorbike and so when we had a Sunday with no plans, he suggested a trip to the beach. Being smack bang in the middle of high season with the beaches jammed with visitors and locals making a paseo, I suggested we head for the hills instead. So we set off in the direction of Minca.

On the ride uphill we passed a number of balnearios, or swimming holes in the river that are much like your local swimming pool. Some have been fortified with concrete and have restaurants and bars. All have loud vallenato music blaring and so it’s best to press on to find nature at its best.

Minca is a lovely and tiny town in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and sits at about 600m above sea level. The climate is fresh and the area abounds with coffee farms, forest and bird watching. If you’re looking for a place to chill out, Minca certainly offers that.

After crossing the bridge over the Minca River, we took the road to right and rode past the church and a few small market stalls set up under the trees. At the end of the strip of buildings, the road continued and was paved – or rather the two tyre ruts were paved. I asked mi novio what was up ahead and he didn’t know, so we decided to find out. We followed a 4WD ute with a bunch of Colombians in the back for a while and as the road got steep, bumpy (and unpaved) and too much for our little scooter with 2 passengers, we passed a group of people on foot. Clearly there was something worth seeing up ahead, but what, we had no idea so we asked. It turned out there were waterfalls.

I am a sucker for waterfalls. I really love them. Mi novio had no choice but to continue and I had no choice but to get off and walk a few of the steeper sections of road to avoid overheating our poor motorbike. After a good 20 minutes on the motorbike we came to the turn off to Marinka Waterfalls. A vendor was selling snacks on the roadside and as we stopped for a coca-cola I got bitten by tiny little mosquitoes which made me wish I had brought repellent as well as sunscreen. The mosquitoes only seemed to be at that one spot, and as we parked the bike and walked the last 400m to the waterfalls thankfully they disappeared.

As with most natural attractions in Colombia, you couldn’t just discover the waterfall in its natural setting. A couple of roofed huts have been added, with one serving a rustic set-menu lunch. I was pleased to be charged the Colombian entrance fee rather than that for foreigners. If I just keep my mouth shut and let mi novio do all the talking, I can often get away with this.

The waterfalls have two drops, a cascade of about 20m and a drop of about 10m, into pools that you can swim and relax in.

We didn’t really spend much time there, but had a bit of a swim and relaxed while marvelling over our random discovery because even mi novio didn’t know about this waterfall.

As we were leaving the site we came across four almost elderly people who we’d seen struggling at the turn off. They had walked all the way from Minca to the waterfalls and then refused to pay the entrance fee and so were turning back around. They argued that you shouldn’t have to pay to see nature and the guy collecting the entrance fee said that the site needed to be maintained. Whilst I agree with their sentiments,  I know it is common to have to pay. During my roadtrip in the US, I visited a lot of national parks and each had an entry fee (although buying an annual pass is much more cost-effective if you plan to visit a few US National Parks). However at the end of the day, I think if I’d spent an hour or more walking uphill in the heat, I would pay the small entrance fee to cool off rather than turn around in stubborn defeat.

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Want to go to Marinka Waterfalls?

What’s there: Waterfalls, swimming and a walk in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

How to get there: Take a collectivo to Minca that leaves from Calle 11 and Carrera 12 near the Mercado in Santa Marta between 8am and 5:30pm (COP$6000, US$3.40), a mototaxi or taxi (COP$40,000, US$22.60 from Santa Marta). Cross the bridge over the Minca River and take the road forking to your right past the church. Continue following this road uphill for about an hour. Just after you ford the river, you will see a stall and signs to Marinka Waterfalls on your left. If the walk is too much, you can also hire a mototaxi from Minca to take you there.

Entry fee: COP$2000 per person (US$1.10) for Colombians or COP$3000 per person (US$1.70) for foreigners

Hike difficulty: Moderate. The path doubles as a road but the walk to the waterfalls is uphill.

Walk time: Approximately 1 hour from the church to the waterfalls.

What to take: Sandals or walking shoes, water, sunscreen, snacks, money, bathing suit, towel and camera.

Roadtrip to Quebrada Valencia

We finally stretched the legs of our new motorbike with a day trip to the cascades at Quebrada Valencia.

With $3 worth of petrol in the tank, we headed east along the Troncal Caribe in the direction of Riohacha. I am not the best pillion passenger as I have a tendency to dig my nails in and yell into the ear of mi novio should we approach other vehicles too quickly, go over speed humps (or dead policemen as they call them here) without braking, overtake trucks or buses and I curse and scream “I don’t like this” when we weave in and out of traffic. But, after leaving Santa Marta’s city limits, we were suddenly quite alone on a well paved highway and riding under a canopy of green forest.

The air was cooler and the scenery divine. The wind blew all of the weariness and frustrations of the city away. Instead of screaming in mi novio’s ear to slow down or pay more attention, I was conversing with him, constantly exclaiming “This is so lovely.”

While I marvelled over the scenery and breathed in the fresh air (any odd insect or two), I realised that it must be quite tedious listening to me rabbit on about the scenery when he has passed by this same route thousands of times for his work but he told me that it was a completely different sensation on the motorbike where you really feel your surroundings to that of watching out the bus window.

50km and a bit over an hour later, we arrived at Quebrada Valencia, with an internationally recognised tourist attraction brown sign announcing the destination. The entrance to Quebrada Valencia is right beside the highway with a small pull-in on either side, a local store and a market stall selling aqua socks to the Colombians from the interior who can’t bear crossing the river in their sandals or bare feet.

Quebrada Valencia, with its impressive range of cascading falls, is a 20 – 30 minute walk from the entrance and our first task was to cross the river. During dry season, the river is clear, shallow and tranquil, making the crossing (and subsequent crossings) quite easy. On the other side we passed by vendors selling coffee and fresh cooked arepas and walked alongside a banana plantation for a little bit. Not far into our walk we came across an enormous tree blocking the path, forcing everyone to walk around it. The tree has great clumps of root-like vines dangling down, and looks rather like you would imagine a tree relative of Mr Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.

We continued our easy walk in the forest and crossed the river another five times to reach the lower swimming pools and rocky cascades of Quebrada Valencia.

It’s a popular spot for tourists and locals who take along picnics, and even their own hammocks. The falls drop over a rocky vein that obstructs the river’s flow and creates pools at different levels and some great jumping points.

We were instantly enamoured, and climbed the rocks to find a little ledge under a shady branch to leave our belongings while taking a refreshing dip in the rock pools and a slide down rocks beaten smooth by the water current. It is a great spot to relax and unwind and enjoy the company of family and friends. I couldn’t believe when mi novio said he hadn’t been there before. Not even on a family outing with his parents or with other friends.

Further up were more water pools and great views of each waterfall and all the way down to the end of the cascades, but we couldn’t climb up to the very top as it was cordoned off with plastic ‘do not enter’ tape and had a guy posted beside to enforce the no climbing rule.

After an afternoon of bathing in the lovely rock pools, we followed the easy trail back to the entrance and our motorbike, all the while exclaiming that we will have to bring D and la suegra here one day. Quebrada Valencia really is an all-round great day trip for lovers, families and groups of friends.

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Want to go to Quebrada Valencia?

What’s there: Waterfalls, swimming and a short hike in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

How to get there: Take the Troncal Caribe from Santa Marta towards Riohacha by car or motorbike (parking COP$2000 – $3000 at the entrance) or by a public bus that leaves from Calle 11 near the Mercado in Santa Marta that also passes by Parque Tayrona (ask to be dropped at Quebrada Valencia) and then flag down any return bus.

Entry fee: COP$3000 per person (US$1.65)

Hike difficulty: Easy but must be able to cross the rivers, the walking path is flat and well looked after

Walk time: 20 – 30 minutes

What to take: Sandals or flip flops, water, sunscreen, snacks or money to buy from vendors along the way, towel and camera.