Tag Archives: waterfall

Minca, or thereabouts…

Finca Carpe DiemThe small town of Minca is a reasonably popular destination in the hills of Colombia South-East of Santa Marta. My plan was to head to Minca, but with last minute bookings I ended up staying on a small coffee Finca called Finca Carpe Diem in the hills south east of the tiny town of Bonda. While the hills of Bonda and the hills of Minca are different places, they offer the same things. Relaxing in the jungles, visits to coffee farms, cacao farms, hike to hilltop viewpoints and hikes to swim in waterfalls and natural jacuzzis.

Finca Carpe Diem is a very relaxing place to be. It is completely surrounded by trees and jungle, set alongside a river in the hills. The hostel has several rooms and bungalows around the property. Central to the hostel are the outdoor swimming pool and the nearby dining room. While many activities are in walking distance of the hostel, many people spend a large amount of time sitting around chatting and/or swimming.

Available for your perusal is a book of the activities available in the area, some are self-guided and others you can pay a guide for. At the suggestion of the book I did a little local exploring of waterways and waterfalls, but also engaged in two paid activities. A visit to the local Cacao Finca and a Waterfall tour.

Finca de Cacao

Approximately 30 minutes walk through the jungle is where Finca de Cacao can be found. It is a very small family run cacao finca. The farm has been in the family for many generations and is currently run by Diana and her family.

Ripe and freshly opened cacao podAs we strolled onto the property, Diana jumped from her hammock to give us a super friendly and enthusiastic greeting to the farm. She welcomes you with a piece of her organic, artisanal handmade chocolate before launching into the tour options – 30 mins for 10,000 pesos or 1.5 hours for 15,000 pesos. With the heat and the fact that Diana did not speak a word of English, we opted for 30 minutes.

Even though Diana is unable to speak English, she is absolutely brilliant at choosing the language relevant to people who only speak a small amount of Spanish, and despite our fears, we understood the entire tour!

The Cacao Finca has 1600 entirely organic trees. They harvest throughout the year but some months are ‘high season’ for harvest. All the cacao beans are fermented for 4-8 days after harvest, followed by drying in the sun for 4-5 days and eventually being roasted. The roasted beans are stripped of their outer shell by hand, before being manually ground through an old fashioned coffee grinder. The cacao paste is kneaded by hand and has sugar and cinnamon mixed through for sweetening. Maria may then add additional ingredients depending on what she is making at the time.

We had the opportunity to try the fresh fruit as well as the cacao beans in all their stages of development, right through to the terribly bitter cacao paste and then the sweetened version of it.

Colombia is a big exporter of chocolate, not so much in terms of quantity, but it is known in the world as some of the best quality chocolate.

Waterfall Tour

Swimming in a remote waterfall in the jungleFor 35,000 pesos each we headed off with a local called Luis, to traipse through the hidden jungle trails to a couple of large and private waterfalls. Luis also didn’t speak any English, but wasn’t as good as Diana as simplifying his language. So apart from a few stilted exchanges we mostly walked in silence.

We first walked past several local fruit farms, before jumping across a river and heading into the unknown. Being amongst the trees in the jungle, no where near other people is a brilliant feeling, and it’s fantastic to listen to the sounds of the jungle nature around you.

Within minutes of starting the walk you are dripping with sweat from every single inch of your body. So arriving at the waterfalls with icy fresh water was quite a nice contrast to the humid sticky air around. We splashed about in each of the waterfalls for a while, enjoying the cooling water and the stunning environment, before heading back. The tour in total takes around 3hours.

Getting There and Away

I headed to Finca Carpe Diem from Santa Marta.

Heading there we got a taxi to Bonda for 50,000 pesos (it turns out we got ripped off and it should have been 10,000). From Bonda we got bumpy motor-taxi ride up a dirt road to the hostel for 10,000 pesos.

Returning to Santa Marta we got the motor-taxi for 10,000 pesos back to Bonda and then a local bus for 1,400 pesos.

I did not pay too much attention to the time of transit, but I would allow at least 1 -1.5 hours.


Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador

Baños is a small town four hours south of Quito by bus. The full name of the town is Baños de Agua Santa, which translates to Baths of Holy Water. The town got it’s name from the abundance of natural hot springs and waterfalls in the region.

The mountainous region developed into what is essentially the adventure capital of Ecuador. It is here that you can engage in all sorts of outdoor activities, such as the adrenaline pumping sports of Canyoning, Puenting, White Water Rafting, Mountain Biking through to more sedate activities such as swinging over a cliffs edge, hiking, visiting waterfalls and bathing the natural hot springs.

The number of activities you engage in obviously depends on time, budget and interests. During my time in the rural Ecuadorian town of Salasaca, I made two weekend trips to Baños.

In that time I only got around to completing a few of the activities on offer…

Hiking Chimborazo

Cost: Free

Hiking up ChimborazoMy first weekend adventure was spent together with eight other volunteers from the volunteer house in Salasaka. We headed to a volcano called Chimborazo, which claims to be the highest mountain in the world, 2 kilometres taller than Mount Everest when measure from the centre of the earth.

We caught the bus to a starting point at 4300 metres, signed in at the office and started walking upwards.

While we could see the volcano was snow-capped, the starting point was dry, dusty and to me, moon-like. There was very little vegetation and a few wild vicuñas on the lookout for food.

With the high elevation, walking was very slow going, but the company was fabulous and the views simply spectacular.

At 4800 metres we stopped for lunch and a hot drink, as we were all completely frozen and had burned all our energy with the uphill hike. After the brief respite, we continued onwards past the second refuge to the lake at top, Condor Cocha, our highest point of elevation at 5100 metres.


Cost: $20 + $5 for the cd of photos and video

Puenting over Rio PastazaIn Spanish the word Puente means bridge, the activity referred to as Puenting is a pendulum bridge swing.

There are a few bridges in the Baños region where you can go puenting, I simply walked to the bridge over Rio Pastaza behind the bus station and local market. I spoke to the people running the operation on the bridge, paid and jumped off.

You can book and pay for a puenting experience at any of the Adventure Centres around town.

Casa Del Arbol

Cost: $1

Swinging off the edge of the worldCasa Del Arbol is a treehouse on top of the hill overlooking Baños, with some swing attached. Perched on the hilltop, it appears as though you swing off the edge of the world.

Swinging off the edge of the world was Bucket List Item 35 for me, and despite it not being a particularly high thrill activity, I loved every second of it!

You can either book a trip to Casa Del Arbol with one of the adventure companies or catch a local bus up and down. With a company it may cost around $12 or more, independently using public transport will add up to a total of $3. Buses are infrequent, so check the times carefully.

Pialon del Diabolo

Cost: $1

Pialon del DiaboloIdeally with enough time and good weather I would recommend renting a bicycle and cycling Ruta de Los Cascadas – the waterfall route. Alternately you can book a trip on a camioneta with any one of the adventure companies and they will transport you from place to place for approximately $6, not including entrance fees..

There are so many waterfalls in the area and they are all simply stunning and worth a visit.

Due to time limitations not to mention the incessant rain, I caught a local bus to Rio Verde for 50 cents each way, and walked the short distance to Pialon del Diabolo, the Devil’s Cauldron.

If you want to have a really good look at the waterfall and explore the area, then ideally you should wear a swimsuit and leave your electronics at home. Pialon del Diabolo is an incredible waterfall, with a huge volume of water. No matter how far away you are, you will be splashed as the water rushes down the mountainside.


Cost: $30

Canyoning Rio BlancoOn the recommendation of so many people I have met, Canyoning was added to my To Do list in Baños. Again, basically every company offers half and full day canyoning adventures.

Canyoning involves descending through a canyon, in the water, by means of rappelling, zip-lining, jumping and riding natural water slides. It is absolutely truck loads of fun!

A good friend of mine highly recommended the company Natural Magic for a canyoning trip, based on the professionalism and safety standards of the company. I was not disappointed at all!

My guide John was fantastic, there were no issues along the way, we all felt safe and had a brilliant adventure. We chose the half day canyoning adventure down Rio Blanco for $30.

My preference would have been the full day adventure down Cashaurco Canyon, but with temperatures of 2 -4 degrees celsius forecast, I was unwilling to spend quite so much time in the cold.

Food and Drink in Baños

It feels like there are literally hundreds of food and drink options in Baños. Some places I have been and like are:

Honey – good food coffee and cake
Hickory – delicious, good value, burgers
Pizza Al Pazo – reasonably good pizzas, well priced, quirky decor and friendly staff
Casa Hood – cosy atmosphere and a good range of cuisine at a reasonable price
Stray Dog Brewpub – some decent food such as burgers, also a nice (but expensive) range of beers
In one of the main food streets you will also find an opportunity to taste the local delicacy “Cuy”, known in the English language as Guinea Pig. A whole one costs $22, but assuming you just want to taste, a piece costs $3.