Our next stretch of road in Colombia took us to three very different climates: The cloud forests of Minca, the hot and humid swampiness of Mompox, and the dry deserts around Los Estoraques.
Coming from the hot and humid coast, Minca felt like heaven. It is only a 30 minute drive from Santa Marta, but you gain enough altitude to leave a lot of the heat behind and enter a green and comfortable cloud forest. The town itself is quite small with only a few restaurants and coffee shops, but it has plentiful hostels and campsites. The proximity to the Caribbean coast makes it a popular destination for backpackers and overlanders alike. In spite of this, we found Minca charming.
We only stayed in Minca a few nights. The first morning Ben used to do some car maintenance in the first cool temperatures since we got the car back in Cartagena. Sarah had brought Ben some spare parts for the Landy so he could fix a few things before we hit the long drives ahead.
The second day we hiked up to the Finca Victoria. The little unassuming spot has a restaurant and delicious coffee, plus they brew some really nice beer up there. Our plan to have a quick coffee turned into an early lunch and we set out back to camp around 11. With the cool temperatures in Minca comes the risk of afternoon rain showers, so we wanted to be back before 1, when most of the rain starts. But our luck today… the rain came early. And hard. We were only halfway down when it started to rain a bit. Nothing a seasoned Seattleite and Swiss can’t handle. But then the skies opened up and it dumped. We were soaked, and poor Mitzi shivering for our last half hour walk. On the plus side: We weren’t hot!
From Minca, we drove back down towards the coast and said our goodbyes to Caribbean as we drove away for the last time on this trip. We then had a long drive towards Santa Cruz Mompox. Between the Caribbean and the main cities in the center of the Colombia, there are a lot of flat, hot, muggy and sparsely populated regions. As tourists this means not much to do other than drive. We stopped in Aracataca to see the house Gabriel Garcia Márquez was born, then drove on to Santa Cruz de Mompox.
Mompox is as hot an muggy as Cartagena even though we were pretty far inland. The Magdalena River valley is an important transport route from Cartagena to the interior of Colombia, but it is all very swampy. There was no chance we could get any sleep in the Landy in that weather, so we checked ourselves into a hotel. Coincidentally our friends Megan and Tyler were there too. We hung out and had dinner with them in town after the sun had set and got to exchange a bit of ideas on where to go in Colombia. Turns out we were all heading to the same destination the next day!
It was another long drive day from Mompox to the town of La Playa de Belén. We had dirt roads out of Mompox, well maintained highways for a ways, then winding mountain roads up to the town. The views on our last hour of driving were beautiful! These long drive days are painful when we just go through flat regions, but once we hit the hills and mountains the views make it worthwhile.
The village La Playa de Belén is tiny but adorable. We immediately parked the Landy and had a look around – and found some ice cream. The climate is warm but dry – perfect after hot and humid. We liked it so much we spent two nights camped in a parking area by Los Estoraques Natural Area.
Los Estoraques are a protected area with tons of hoodoos, like a smaller version of Bryce National Park. Visitors aren’t allowed to visit most of the park, just a small hiking trail on the edges with views into the rest. The area we camped and hiked was privately owned, which the Park boss isn’t a fan of. We got to witness the park boss try to scare us away, but the land owner stuck around in the evening to make sure he the guy left us alone. Weird situation between those two guys. We guess the park boss doesn’t like someone making money off his proximity to the protected area. Well, whatever. No problems for us, and we really enjoyed this spot and the adorable town of La Playa de Belén!