When I say Colombia, most people think about a notorious drug lord and the most dangerous comuna in the world. But when I hear Colombia, my mind drifts off to the one thing that is able to wake me up in the morning: coffee.
Colombia is often regarded as one of the top leaders in producing world-class arabica coffee. But what makes Colombian coffee so good to be considered the best in the world?
Minca, the Town
Of course, Colombia has the perfect climate for growing coffee. The mountainous terrain, tropical temperatures and the perfect combination of high rainfall and just enough sunlight all have input in creating the perfect coffee-growing country. And now I was finally here myself. After several years of dreaming of coming to Colombia, I was able to discover first-hand what makes this country so special.
There was a small language barrier, given the fact I don’t speak a word of Spanish and most Colombians don’t speak English that well. After doing some research online, I was able to find a local guide with excellent knowledge of the English language, Juan Carlos from Bukap Travels. We drove through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, right into the small town of Minca. This little town used to be under the control of the guerrilla group FARC, but when they left, more and more backpackers found their way into this picturesque area. There are several hostels around with breathtaking views, surrounded by wild mango trees. Something I can only dream of back home, being able to wake up and just pluck one right out of a tree for breakfast. Not only wild mango trees can be found here. I also saw plenty of avocado trees along the way, another Colombian fruit of success for the country.
I can understand why this place is so alluring. What better place to understand how people can live in this jungle, than a town where time seems to stand still? This area is not only known for its exquisite coffee, but also for producing world-class cacao. I had my opportunity to try some of that in a cute little French bakery called La Miga, right in the centre of town. The chocolate bread that they created tasted like it was made by the local gods. It was so delicious that I even went back a second time when we arrived back in town after our tour. Just like most Colombian cities, mostly touristic ones, there is plenty of artwork to be found on the town walls. In this little town, I was able to see amazing pieces of street art in the theme of the town. Going from the production of coffee to their heritage of the indigenous people, the Tayrona.
Minca, the Waterfall
To fully experience what this town and the surrounding jungle have to offer, it’s best to hike all the way up the mountain, but since I’m a lazy European, my tour guide Juan Carlos arranged to switch to a 4×4. Given the state of the road, I clearly understand why he told me this was the only way you could get up there by car. Another option is driving a motorcycle, or use one of the locals to drive you up there. I saw some tourists hiking as well as using the back of one of the friendly local’s motorcycle. On our way up, he arranged a little stop for me, but he didn’t tell me I still had to hike for about half an hour in the blistering heat to reach that place. The only thing he told me beforehand was to bring swim gear. He provided me with a freshly cooled bottle of water and up we went.
Hiking in these tropical temperatures is basically a death sentence for me. But seeing all the different birds along the way, made me forget I was running out of breath most of the time. This is the perfect place for birdwatchers to spot some gorgeous birds like the yellow-tailed oriole, condors and several hummingbirds. My goal was to finally spot a toucan, but so far I still haven’t had any luck. After a serious hike, I finally arrived at Marinka waterfall. It wasn’t the most spectacular waterfall I’ve ever seen, but being able to swim in one in the middle of the Colombian jungle is a once in a lifetime moment of freedom. As soon as I jumped in that ice-cold water, which I wasn’t prepared for, but definitely welcomed after that hike, I was being assaulted by a bunch of hungry mosquitoes.
The hike back to the 4×4 went a lot easier downhill, but for convenience sake, I was still wearing my swim shorts, even though it meant being a buffet to the aggressive mosquitoes. As I continued the drive to our final destination, I smelled something else than coffee and cacao, something you wouldn’t expect in the middle of the jungle. Well, to be honest, it is exactly what you would expect in an area once controlled by guerrilla soldiers. My guide Juan told me we must have been close to a marihuana plantation. So it is true you can find pretty much everything in the Colombian jungle.
I finally arrived at our main goal of this day trip, La Victoria. One of the oldest, still working coffee farms of North Colombia. The one thing that makes this place so special is that they still use the same equipment as they used back in 1892. Being a coffee lover myself, I loved learning about the whole process of coffee making. From bean to liquid gold, I learned it all. If you really want to indulge yourself in the know-how of La Victoria, they offer an arrangement where you can work as a guide on the farm in exchange for accommodation in their hostel. My guide was a French backpacker who was staying at the farm for a couple of months while he was exploring this part of Colombia.
My Minca Takeaway
At least I did find out that Colombian coffee is indeed one of the best in the world. La Victoria is a prime example of that and how can it not be? Their coffee is protected by one of the most vicious animals of the Colombian jungle, a black house cat, which you can usually find napping around their custom-made coffee table, embedded with artwork made of coffee beans.
During my stay in Minca, I gained a friend and found inner peace around the wildlife of the jungle. I not only lost milliliters of blood by mosquitos, but I also lost my heart, and breath, in the jungle of Colombia.
Written by: Nick Van Loy
Nick is a writer from a small town in Belgium who likes to combine these two passions: travel and writing. He has written two novels and is currently writing his third.