top of page
  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

Hike Cerro Kennedy, Minca | The best hike in Minca!!

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

The little town of Minca on the outskirts of Santa Marta is a relatively new addition to the Gringo trail. Minca was, until fairly recently, controlled by the guerrilla group, FARC, until a peace treaty was signed making it safe to visit. Minca was one of our favourite places we visited in Colombia. Being up in the Highlands means it has a much cooler climate than the coast, boasting numerous hiking trails and the hills are filled with coffee plantations and jungle.

At first, we were a little reluctant about the Cerro Kennedy hike as it looked to just be walking up a road, read on to find out why our fears were unfounded, and why the Cerro Kennedy hike should definitely make its way onto your Colombia itinerary.

Cerro Kennedy, Minca at sunrise
Cerro Kennedy, Minca at sunrise

What is the Cerro Kennedy hike?

Cerro Kennedy is a mountain summit in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The summit sits at 3,100m above sea level. The hike up the mountain is an out-and-back trail and has become popular due to the stunning views offered at the top. Sadly, it is not possible to reach the true summit as there is a military base perched on the top, however, the views on the approach to the base are truly worth the trip. Whilst it is possible to hike up and down in a day, the main attraction is witnessing sunrise over Cerro Kennedy so the majority of people hike up, spend the night at one of the two hostels up there, enjoy a stunning sunrise and then make their way back down the following day.

Key facts about the Cerro Kennedy hike

Trailhead (La Y) elevation – 1517m

Summit of Cerro Kennedy elevation (well the closest point you can get to) – 2,602m

Total distance – 11.86km (one way)

Recommended time required – 3-4 hours to Hostel Donde Mocho, another hour to the closest point to the summit you can reach.

Hike difficulty - Moderate difficulty and absolutely doable for anyone with reasonable fitness levels.

Map of Cerro Kennedy Hike

How to get to the Cerro Kennedy hike trailhead

We are ignoring the fact you could walk all the way from Minca Town to the top of Cerro Kennedy as it involves a lot of road walking and a friend of ours attempted it and turned back as it was just too long and dull! Alternatively, you have a few options of transport for taking on the Cerro Kennedy Hike. The trailhead for the hike is at Mirador La Y, which can be reached by public bus, moto taxi or 4x4.

Public Bus

This is the budget option and therefore the one we recommend. In all honesty, we didn’t even realise this was an option until the way back down after the hike, as everything online only mentions the moto taxis. The public bus leaves from the Cootrasminca - Minca-Transportadora Sierra S.A.S stop in Minca (just over the bridge) where the bus from Santa Marta to Minca terminates. The cost of the bus is COP 10,000 and takes about 20 minutes to reach La Y. The buses leave roughly every 2 hours, I’d advise taking the 9 am or 11 am shuttle to give plenty of time for day one of your hike and enjoy the views on the way up.

The times from Minca to La Y are;

6:00 am

9:00 am

11:00 am

3:00 pm

Then after your hike, the return times are;

8:30 am

12:00 pm

2:00 pm

5:30 pm

Moto taxi to La Y

MotoMink price list

The moto taxi is a popular way to get to the surrounding attractions of Minca. Moto Minca is next door to Cootrasminca, so it is a great backup option. The negative is that although the driver has a helmet, I’ve never seen him carry one for the passenger. I have heard reports of people asking the driver to use their helmets, but I guess that will depend on the driver you get. For the most part, you will be on a windy road up to the trailhead with no helmet for the 20-minute ride. The cost of a moto-taxi to the trailhead is COP 30,000.

4x4 Jeep to La Y

This is a good option if there is a group of you. Again, the jeeps depart from the same location, the price for a jeep is COP 120,000 for 1-4 people so if there are 4 people it’s the same price person as the moto taxi and much safer.

Where to stay overnight on Cerro Kennedy

There are two options of hostel near the top of Cerro Kennedy. The first is Hostal El Ramo about an hour and a half from the highest point you can reach, and Donde Mocho, a further 20 mins along the trail, slightly closer to the summit.

Dog at Donde Mocho
Dog at Donde Mocho

We stayed at Donde Mocho and whilst it was nothing too special we had a bed for the night and were fed and watered whilst we were there. They did have some very cute pets to keep you company! Friends of ours stayed at Hostal El Ramo, they described it as nice. The main problem with staying their is the distance to do the sunrise walk meaning an even earlier start!

Prices and how to book at Hostel Donde Mocho, Cerro Kennedy

Dorm bed: COP 60,000 (6 beds) (£11.80/$15.20)

Breakfast: COP 15,000 (£2.95/$3.80)

Lunch: COP 30,000 (£5.90/$7.60)

Dinner: COP 25,000 (£4.90/$6.30)

WhatsApp number: +573142383733

Our experience hiking Cerro Kennedy

Day 1: Hike to Donde Mocho then the summit

We left our hostel in Minca just after 8 am and made our way to the Moto taxi office (at this point we didn’t know about the public bus, see ‘How to get to the Cerro Kennedy hike trailhead’). The Moto Minca has fixed prices for all the key attractions around Minca. We paid the COP 30,000 per person, our drivers were hollered over, and we were on our way. The ride up to La Y trailhead took just over 20 minutes, by which time Becca’s hands had turned into claws as she was gripping so tightly to the handles at the back of the bike. The road up to La Y is paved all the way, fairly quiet and our drivers drove very carefully. Becca just isn't a fan of motorbikes, especially when the ride involves her not having a helmet on! I enjoyed the ride up taking in the surrounding coffee plantations.

The walk starts opposite the Mirador café, directly up an unsealed road. Having completed the hike now I would describe the road more like a bumpy farm track with the occasional passing vehicle. On our whole ascent, we saw 2 bikes and the same car twice as it took supplies up the mountain and returned back down.

Early on we passed a small number of houses and an eatery with a group of local women sat outside putting the world to rights. The ascent was steady and due to the early hour of our departure not too hot. We both agreed we were happy to have set off early as the hike will have been much sweatier approaching midday! After 30 minutes or so we had passed the final tienda on the ascent and the last motorbikes we would see. The majority of the hike was shaded by the surrounding jungle keeping us relatively cool on the continual ascent. Around an hour in we decided to have our first break, sitting on a comfy-looking rock in the middle of the road.

Becca very happy with her snacks for Cerro Kennedy Hike - Sat in the middle of the road with jungle all around
Becca very happy with her snacks for Cerro Kennedy Hike

Every 5/10 minutes from this point we had to cross a stream in the road, there were always rocks to use as stepping stones, but there would be a risk of getting wet feet in trainers after a particularly heavy rainfall. We didn’t see much in the way of mammals during our walk but speaking to another couple we saw walking the opposite way, they had been lucky enough to see howler monkeys, so keep your eyes peeled! Our list of nature consisted of an abundance of butterflies, several different hummingbirds and a few different types of parakeets.

We continued to take a 10/15-minute break every hour to take in the surroundings. About 2 hours in we reached the clouds, so our visibility was reduced to around 10 meters. There is something special about walking through the jungle in the clouds, it adds to the mystery and makes your mind wander thinking about what could be hiding just out of sight.

Friendly butterfly which came to land on our backback at one of our snack stops.
Friendly butterfly at one of our snack stops

The terrain changed not long after passing through the clouds and the road got a little steeper. The waterfalls and streams were behind us, and although the land was far from arid, the air was noticeably less sticky the higher we climbed. At this point, we stopped to talk briefly to a woman and her very smiley daughter. It turned out to be Mocho’s wife (of Donde Mocho hostel) and daughter and they said that we had about another hour's walk and that when we pass Hostal El Ramo (the other hostel option to stay at) we would know that we were 20 minutes from Donde Mocho. Her estimates were pretty much bang on and we arrived at Hostel Donde Mocho at 12:45 pm. Upon arrival, we were offered coffee or sugar cane tea which, after dropping our bags, we gladly accepted.

When we arrived we opted to have the lunch on offer for COP 30,000 (£5.90/$7.60). We had one chicken and one pork which was accompanied by rice, lentils and salad. The food wasn’t anything overly special but all food tastes great after a hike!

We took advantage of the shower in the afternoon, which was warm but not hot. About 4.30 pm we continued up to the closest point to the summit you can reach for sunset. Upon reaching the army base we were told that we could go no further. Unfortunately, there is no viewpoint from here so we decided to walk back to the hostel to see if we could catch the sunset from there. On our way back down, we were rewarded with some great views over Santa Marta and sunset from above the clouds.

Sunset above the clouds on Cerro Kennedy hike,  Jungle silhouette with setting sun in the background
Sunset above the clouds on Cerro Kennedy hike

Dinner consisted of tomato pasta with cut-up hot dogs, the veggie option being tomato pasta. Dinner was fine but not great, lunch had been better, but it was food. The cost of dinner was COP 25,000.

We headed to bed at about 9 pm due to needing to be up at 4:30 am for the sunrise hike. When we first went to bed we were all a little cold from sitting outside, but the blankets soon did their job and we got to sleep.

Day 2: Cerro Kennedy sunrise and back to La Y

The ungodly alarm always makes you question whether the view will be worth it & in this case it was! Mocho’s son took us to the viewpoint for sunrise as seems to be the custom judging by the reviews of the hostel. The walk to the viewpoint took about 20/30 minutes. We would have never found it without him as it involves climbing up a rock to the right of the road, before continuing up a rather overgrown path. We were rewarded with views of Pico Simón Bolívar and Pico Cristóbal Colón in the distance, both being over 5,700 meters, you can see the snow glistening at their summits. Although the sunrise is behind Cerro Kennedy peak, we at first thought this would be a negative, but it turned out to give an amazing silhouette and a beautiful array of colours with the sunrise above the clouds. We were at the sunrise spot just after first light and we were at the top for around an hour, during which we were all glad to have our layers on until the sun's heat kicked in. In the distance to the north we could see Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea, and in the south as far as the eye can see, mountains with clouds rolling through. A truly magical experience!

Breakfast at Donde Mocho
Breakfast at Donde Mocho

We went back to Donde Mocho for breakfast which consisted of scrambled eggs, arepas and coffee or hot chocolate. All very tasty for only COP 15,000 (£2.95/$3.80). We opted against the offer to order a moto-taxi in 2 hours from La Y on departure as we weren’t sure how long the descent would take. It took us a surprisingly long time, nearly 3 hours, to get down. At the bottom, we crossed over to the Mirador café to ask about ordering a moto-taxi. The owner advised us that there was a bus passing at 12:00 pm for only COP 10,000 so we opted for a coffee and a slice of chocolate cake whilst taking in the view.

What to wear to climb Cerro Kennedy

Walking boots/trail runners – We wore hiking boots, but you would be fine in trainers. There are several streams running over the path so you would need to tread a little carefully if you are in trainers to avoid getting wet feet.

Shorts/zip-off walking trousers – Year-round Minca has warm daytime temperatures, day 1 of the hike is all uphill so shorts will be best to keep you cool.

Walking t-shirt – Merino wool or synthetic is best for moisture wicking, avoid cotton.

What to take with you for the Cerro Kennedy hike

Sun cream - whilst a lot of the trail is shaded by the trees it is a good idea to apply sun cream.

Insect repellent - in the jungle there be bitey things! We would always recommend a repellent containing DEET.

Pack layers – It gets cold overnight, you’ll be staying at nearly 3,000m (10,000ft). We had a soft shell and a waterproof, we were fine but if we had our down jacket, we would have put it on. If you have the layers with you pack them.

Waterproof coat – All those luscious green hills don’t get that colour without rain.

Waterproof bag cover – we hiked with our daysack which we both have a cover for, if you don’t have one it’s a good idea to put your clothes in a bag just in case of a downfall.

Camera (and remember the charger!) – It would be sad to get up at 4:30 am then not be able to capture the sunrise.

Water - We ended up carrying more than we needed. There are regular streams/waterfalls on the way up until the last hour. We carried 3 litres each if you are not happy drinking from the stream. They sell water bottles at the hostel, but it will be at a premium.

Cash - The hostel only accepts cash

Snacks – Your body needs fuel!

Sleeping bag liner – This is another hindsight one. We left ours down in Minca and wished we hadn’t! We arrived at the hostel and there were only sheets and a pillow on the beds. We asked for blankets and they gave them (no idea why they aren’t just out) and we were fine. However, if we had our sleeping bad liners, we would have been much more comfortable.

Trek towel and wash stuff – There is a warm-ish shower at the hostel. Trek towels are great as they are lightweight and quick drying.

Change of clothes – We will often plan to wear hiking gear for more than one day, especially when it means you have to carry less! You will want a change of clothes for this hike though as Minca is prone to rain and it would be very uncomfortable in the evening with wet clothes on!

Summary of Cerro Kennedy overnight hike

The Cerro Kennedy overnight hike totally surpassed our expectations and turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Colombia. The family who own Donde Mocho are incredibly friendly and the 360 view for sunrise totally makes the 4:30 am alarm. For those not fancying the hike but wanting to see the sunset it is possible to get a moto-taxi all the way up to Donde Mocho for COP 80,000 or a 4x4 for COP 350,000, but the journey is advertised to take 2 hours 45 minutes as the road is so bumpy!


bottom of page