Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
What is The Lost City?
Ciudad Perdida (“The Lost City” in Spanish) is the ancient ruins of a city first settled in the 7th century and inhabited for the next ten centuries with at times a population of 2,000 people in the middle of some dense jungle. It is located about a 45 minute drive North East of Santa Marta at the very Northern tip of Colombia. The local indigenous people called the Tayrona’s were the inhabitants who were wiped out by the Spaniards in their search for gold in the 15th Century.
It was then lost for the next four centuries until it was accidentally found by locals in 1975. The true story seems a little unclear as we were told it. The initial family who found it was looking for land to grow marijuana. They then stumbled across the city and began looting all of the treasure including large amounts of gold. Their neighbours in their home city noticed this new found wealth and followed them to the location and began doing the same looting and selling. A conflict quickly began between the families where they began murdering members of each other’s families. One of the family members then told the government that the place existed to end the feud.
The name of the lost city then apparently comes from the fact that it took quite a number of times for the government to then find the city using helicopters because the forest had so thickly covered the location.
There are no traditional access roads or nearby human settlements, so the only way to get there involves a 4 to 6 day guided trek through the jungle. The company charges the same $300pp fee for an all-inclusive trek regardless of whether you do a 4, 5 or 6 day trek. We opted for the 5 day trek as it was a good balance of hiking, relaxation and exploration. The fee includes all transport, meals (including snacks), accommodation (typically hammocks or bunk beds), porters, guide and access fees. You only need to bring a small day pack with some clothes, towel, swimwear, water bottle, camera and flashlight.
There are three companies to choose from:
We choose Expotur, as they guaranteed an English speaking translator and had reasonably good reviews online. The tours offered by each company are very similar in style.
The first day we met at the tour office to load our gear into the 4WD. This is where we met our other travellers; 2 American males, a couple (Colombian and Canadian), a Canadian female, and an Italian guy. This made for a total of 8 guests including us plus a native guide, an English translator and a cook. We were glad it was a smaller group as we’ve read many stories online of groups having up to 14 people.
It took around 1 hour on the road to get to the turnoff for the mountain access road. It was then another 1 hour up and down very steep dirt roads with sheer cliffs on the edge of the road to finally arrive to the start of the trek. Here we had a light lunch of ham and cheese salad sandwiches, and then started our 5 day trek to the lost city.
At the start of the trek the guide showed us on the map the plan for the group for the next couple of days. As we had one guy that was on the 4 day trek, instead of going daily from camp 1, to 2 to 3 we were going to go to camp 1 for the first night then directly to camp 3 for the second night so we could all stay together. This seems to be a typical situation with all companies, so be prepared for it, or be prepared to tell them you want to take a more relaxed schedule.
Now it was time to start the trek with some relatively flat walking and some small creek crossings where you jumped across some rocks. We hiked for about 45 minutes at a relatively slow pace to keep the group together until we reached our first swimming spot. Straight away people were jumping in the water to cool off from the heat of the hike. Rodora on the other hand took the chickens way and climbed in down some rocks. The water was freezing at first and took a while to get used to, but once your head was in the water it was nice and refreshing.
After a 20 minute break it was time to head off again. This time it was going to be uphill most of the way and quite steep moving up 300m(1000ft) of elevation in under 1km(3000ft). As there is not much shade and it is very humid within we were completely drenched in sweat. Rodora doesn’t know the last time she ever sweat so much. The group then split up with the slower people drifting to the back and the faster people (us) at the front with the guide. We passed by beautiful lush green hills and farmland, which was contrasted by the bright orange dirt path we were walking on.
On the way we encountered our first indigenous local. He had a bit too much to drink so wasn’t in any state to answer any questions or have a conversation but was happy to smile and pose for a photo.
The path was very sandy and I had to stop a few times to get sand out of my shoes. After about another hour of hiking we reached our first rest stop on top of a look out to eat some watermelon. This gave the rest of the group time to catch up and provided a beautiful view of the mountains we were hiking in. We also saw what we think is a black and white hawk-eagle that wasn’t moving much so it almost looked like a robot, but it definitely was real.
After resting we hiked onwards for about another hour until we reached camp number 1. This was probably our favourite of the camp sites and we luckily stayed here again on night 4. It consisted of numerous huts aligned across a river, joined by a small suspension bridge.
We crossed the bridge to reach our beds for the night consisting of bunk beds covered in mosquito nets. We also had the option to sleep in hammocks if we wanted but the beds looked way more comfortable. I don’t know if it was the hiking, and being exhausted from the heat, but we both had a fantastic night of sleep.
Our guide then took us to the swimming spot near the campsite to clean off the dirt of the day, much more fun than a shower. It was like a tiny little oasis consisting of a swimming hole and waterfall; however the only way into it at first glance was jumping. After the whole group, including Toby had jumped in and Rodora was standing at the top deciphering how she could avoid jumping in, she saw there was a rope and ladder to help get out of the swimming hole. Rodora was overjoyed that she didn’t have to jump again, even though it was slippery and difficult to climb down. Wow, the water felt amazing. We were so happy to get all the murky sweat, sand and dirt off our bodies.
After our swim, it was time to head back for dinner where we found some delicious fish, fried plantains, rice and salad.
After dinner, Toby went hunting for animals and found some frogs that were happy to be captured on camera.
We were woken up at 5.30 am for breakfast consisting of eggs, toast, fruit and coffee. It was an early start as it was going to be a long day of hiking, nearly 15km (9.5miles). We were treated again to beautiful panoramic views of the lush green mountainside
We then walked past our first indigenous village. According to our guide the village is a mix of a Wiwa and Kogi tribes but our memories are a little unclear on this. Wiwa tend to have more white traditional clothing while the Kogi are identified by more brown clothing. They live in hand built huts on the land. Part of why the tour costs so much is some of the money goes toward these tribes as we are hiking through private property.
Learning about the native people
Kogi men receive a “poporo” when they become a man at the age of 18. The “poporo” is a small, hollow gourd that is filled with “lima”, a type of powder that is made by heating and crushing shells to produce lime. The men also continuously chew coca leaves. As they chew the coca leaves, they suck on the lime powder in their poporos, which they extract with a stick, and rub the mixture on the gourd with the stick to form a hardened layer or crust. The size of this layer depends on the maturity and the age of the Kogi man. Our guide explained that the shamans can read any poporo and will know all your thoughts and secrets, and can also predict future events and weather.
After visiting the village we were soon at camp 2 for lunch of pasta and hot dogs. Rodora wasn’t a fan of this pasta as it had a distinct celery taste and she doesn’t like celery. We also had an opportunity to swim again and wash off all the sweat and dirt. This was again a beautiful oasis of clear fresh river water.
After a refreshing break we were on our way again. As we had come down the valley quite a bit, this meant we had to walk up the steep valley to the other side. This hike consisted of a lot of ups and down through the jungle and had a lot more vegetation then the previous day’s hike. This part of the hike also had the steepest inclines and declines, hence was the most difficult day of the trek. Along the way we followed the beautiful river on a narrow path were you could only walk one by one with barely enough room to walk across (and a steep fall into the river if you took a wrong step).
We also got very lucky and heard a Toucan before the guide then spotted it to show us all. It’s taken 8 months, but we have finally seen our first Toucan in the wild. Such a beautiful and colourful creature.
We then got to our first river crossing. Rodora was first to take her shoes off no questions asked and was the first one in the water (having practiced this many times in Canada in much colder water).
After what seemed like hours, we finally made it to camp 3, just before it got dark. We had another swimming opportunity but after testing the water out, it was too cold and we opted for a shower instead.
There were two American guys in our group, one of which had been struggling with the heat and cramping up. We’d been told he was going back to camp 2 for the night at one of our rest stops. However after it started getting dark we were then told they were still coming and that a group of the guides would go back to help carry him into camp. When they all eventually came into camp, he looked like he was in really bad shape, not just from cramps but from heat exhaustion as well.
Day 3 – Time for the Lost City
The morning started with a 5am wake up call. There were two other groups staying at this campsite (closest to the lost city), and when one group wakes up everyone tends to wake up from the noise. We were told we were going to join another group as our guide needed to look after the injured American.
For breakfast we had a traditional breakfast of cheese arepas. The Colombian tourist in our group, said he preferred this for breakfast over anything else.
The other groups (the other two companies) all had the same breakfast as us. From what we saw everyone basically eats the same thing on the trek regardless of what company you went with.
We then headed for a short trek around 30 minutes until we reached a river crossing. There were only a few river crossings that didn’t have stones you could walk on to avoid taking your shoes off however this wasn’t one of them and at 7 in the morning the water was cold!
When we crossed the river we saw the start of the 1200 steps we needed to climb to get to the city.
Rodora decided to take her mind off the long climb by counting all the steps. However, as there were some very small steps that we weren’t sure counted as a step, she missed a few as she only ended up counting to 700.
This is when our tour of the lost city began. Yay; we finally made it. The city was absolutely breathtaking. This city in the middle of the jungle use to be inhabited is mind blowing. There were countless photo opportunities, but this one was our favourite.
On the way back we met a toucan who had hurt his wing.
The last couple of days were chilled as we didn’t have to walk as much and had plenty of time to swim and jump into water holes. The American unfortunately didn’t make it and had gone back to Santa Marta while we climbed up to the city. This also meant we didn’t have a guide for two days, but it was just unlucky.
On the way back we also passed numerous mules carrying supplies back from the trek. This is how all our food is transported during the hike.
We made it back
Yay; we finally make it back to the starting point. We heard loud bangs as we entered the little town and knew pretty quickly it was the game of Tejo we’d read about. Our guide was happy enough to show us how to play. This is a traditional game for the working class in which a metal puck is thrown into a board covered in clay. In the middle of this board is a circular metal ring in which there are two triangles (the gun powder). The aim is to get the highest points and hit the gun powder. The loser buys the winner a beer.
In summary, with our current physical condition being quite good, the hike was not too physically challenging. However, it was definitely worth doing as the experience of hiking through the jungle, country side while swimming in a beautiful oasis to get to an amazing ruin site is priceless.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/