A visit to Minca and birdwatching at Hostal de la Montana
Less than 14 miles south of Santa Marta, the village of Minca sits as gateway into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Fewer than a thousand people live year-round in this jungle jewel that beckons to international adventurers keen on connecting with nature and experiencing the region’s awe-inspiring biodiversity.
Minca is nestled in some of the world’s richest shade grown coffee habitat. And in recent years, local growers have embraced how, if properly managed, the coffee landscape can be a life-sustaining boon for birds. Many farmers here have integrated plants in the understory of the coffee trees—like mango, avocado, and banana—while also planting native trees and preserving old growth ones. This diversity cultivated within and beneath the canopy supports birds and even more animal species.
As you might imagine this landscape is bustling with all kinds of avian antics especially between October and March when migratory species have returned and share space with the endemics present here year round.
One spot I really like to visit is Hostal Alto de la Montana, about a mile-and-a-half up the mountain from Minca. Though I could stay here, I prefer staying in Minca because I like the small shops, restaurants and easy river access in the village. Plus, I like to walk and enjoy the uphill trek getting here. But if you’d prefer, Alto de la Montana is spacious, well appointed and serves great traditional Colombian food and coffee.
When I’m here, I like to arrive between 6:45 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. before the sun creeps over the mountains.
The hostel has an east-facing patio and restaurant area designed for catching early morning rays. And attracting birds.
And that’s something the owner has paid great mind to. He’s thoughtfully arranged hummingbird feeders around the edge of the patio and placed wooden trays in the tops of his coffee trees. With a quick twist of hand, each morning he throws chunks of banana and papaya into the trays.
That’s when the magic begins, bringing in a bevy of different beautiful birds!
A trio of one of my favorites, blue-gray tanager, arrives first, and on this occasion not so much to eat the fruit but instead insects that are beginning to buzz around the avocado trees. I love this bird. It’s a light shade of blue and has a fun, squeaky chatty song that always makes me smile. The locals call it “pico gordo,” which in English means, “fat beak.”
A mealy parrot drops in to partake of the banana pieces along with a buff-throated saltator. They aren’t excited to share the space, so they take turns separately at the tray.
Then a pair of black-crested jays swoop in focused on the coffee tree’s tender new leaf shoots. A black flash and series of
distinct metallic, robot-like clicks give away a crested oropendola landing out of sight in the dense foliage of an avocado tree. And all the while, a squadron of hummingbirds commands the sugar water feeders hanging around the patio.
It’s peaceful yet teeming with activity, and I catch the owner standing silently as if in stoic reverence of the nature happening all around him. It’s obvious he loves this place.
Around 7:45 a.m. the bird activity begins to dip, and I opt for a cup of coffee and traditional Colombian breakfast of arepas and eggs, which do not disappoint.
When I order another cup of coffee, the owner smiles and in Spanish I understand when he explains that the coffee he serves comes from trees on the property. He emphasizes it is organic, no chemicals.
And in the best Spanish I can muster, respond that it is delicious and that I am glad he has this place where the birds love the sunshine and trees.
“El café es delicioso y yo estoy feliz porque tienes este lugar donde los pajaros aman el sol y los arboles.”
Would you like to visit Hostal do la Montana? You can!