THE LOST CITY TREK
When compiling your 'Must Do' itinerary for South America, most will feature the likes of Machu Picchu, Uyuni Salt Flats or Patagonia. All great choices! But, for all you intrepid, challenge-seeking trek lovers out there, we have another name for your list - The Lost City. Ciudad Perdida (as it's known in Spanish) can only be reached during a gruelling 4 day hike through the sweltering heat of the Colombian jungle. You'll want to prepare yourselves for this one, it's seriously sweaty business.
What is The Lost City?
There is no hidden meaning here. The Lost City is a city....which was lost...but has now been found. It is an archeological site in Colombia's Sierra Nevada which pre-dates Machu Picchu by over 600 years. It is believed that The Lost City was once home to over 4,000 members of the Tairona community until the Spanish invasion.
It was then left to be reclaimed by the jungle for 350 years until 1972 when it was stumbled upon by hunters. For the next 3 years the site would be raided by treasure hunters pillaging gold until the Colombian government claimed the land in 1975. Since then careful excavation and restoration efforts have taken place and transformed it into one of the most beautiful places on earth.
How to get to The Lost City?
Given its remote location and elevated location, the only way to reach The Lost City is to hike there. This is what you can expect over the 4 days.
The Lost City Trek Day 1 - 4 hours walking, 8 km
Starting at around 08:00 you will meet your guides and the rest of your group at the tour office in Santa Marta. After a safety briefing you will be taken by 4x4 for about 90 minutes to Machete Pelao - the starting and ending point for the trek.
Following lunch, the fun begins. You walk out of town before the village turns into fields and then jungle. The first 2 hours consists mostly of varying degrees of incline but there are plenty of rest and refreshment points along the way.
I'll just say now that for about 95% of this hike you will either be on an incline or a decline. Whenever you find yourself on level ground, savour that precious moment.
As you near the end of the first day you will be pretty well encased in the peaceful wonder of the jungle. Only the sounds of the animals and your own heavy panting.
At the first campsite you can follow a small stream for a few minutes until you come to a small clearing with your own private waterfall. Jump into the pool below to wash the day's sweat off before resting up for the next day.
The Lost City Trek Day 2 - 10 hours walking, 15 km
I'll briefly summarise day 2 for you. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. For the best part of 10 hours. It's an extremely tough day but you pass through some beautiful landscapes along the way. There is another gorgeous waterfall where you stop for lunch which is a welcome break from the heat and humidity. The campsite for the end of the day is right next to a large refreshing river. Take a swim before dozing off to the sounds of the river. From here you are less than an hour away from The Lost City.
The Lost City Trek Day 3 - 5 hours walking, 10 km
Despite being up before the sun, spirits will be high this morning. Why? Because all your efforts from the last few days are soon to be rewarded. From the campsite you have a 35-40 minute walk along the river until you face your final hurdle. The steps. 1,200 to be precise. These steep stone steps lead you up through the thick, green foliage and to The Lost City.
Your guide will give you a tour for about 60-90 minutes and explain the history and significance of this incredible place as you watch the sun rise up over the Sierra Nevada. You'll then have some time to yourself to explore the various platforms and take in some of the most breath-taking views nature has to offer.
Once your time in The Lost City comes to an end you make your way back to last night's camp site for lunch before continuing on to your final camp site. On this night our guide gathered us all around the fire and told us all about the history and culture of the indigenous tribes which still live in the Sierra Nevada. After a little Q&A with one of the community elders it was time to call it a night.
The Lost City Trek Day 4 - 10 hours walking, 13 km
Much like day 2 of the hike, day 4 consists entirely of walking. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Very tough work, especially considering you will already be exhausted from the previous days. Good news is the adrenaline buzz from your morning at The Lost City will help get you through most of it. Once you reach the point where it all began, you will be taken back to Santa Marta by Jeep where you'll have time for a few beers before passing out for once the best and most well deserved sleeps of your life.
Who do can do The Lost City Trek?
In short, anyone. But, there are a few things to do note:
- This is a very physically demanding hike. Not just in terms of the distance and almost continual ascending/descending, but also the heat and humidity of the jungle make this one the toughest hikes we've ever done.
- Conditions are far from luxurious. Expect campsites to be pretty basic. You'll be sleeping in either hammocks or very old and uncomfortable beds out in the open with only a mosquito net on the outside. Bringing us onto our next point.....
- Bugs. Lots of bugs. Especially mosquitos. You'll need plenty of repellant to keep these buggers at bay.
What to pack?
- Small day pack. Try and only pack the bare essentials as you'll have it all on your back the whole time.
- Comfortable shoes. You don't necessarily need hiking boots for this one (I did it in my Air Force Ones).
- Flip flops/sandals. You'll need these fro river crossings and to rest your weary feet at the end of each day.
- Socks & underwear x 4. You'll want a fresh pair everyday.
- Swimsuit x 1
- Trouser x 1 (to protect yourself from bugs in the evenings and its nice to put on something clean after trekking)
- Shorts x1 (for trekking in)
- T-shirt/vest x 2/3. You can alternate days and just bare the stink a little bit. You may want the third to have something clean and dry to wear in the evenings.
- Water bottle. Drinking water is provided although we did add purification tablets for extra safety.
- Sun cream
- Insect repellent
Which company is best and what is the cost?
There are a few operators in Santa Marta but we recommend you look at WiwaTours. Our 2 guides were absolutely fantastic throughout the trek and gave us so much information at various points of interest along the way. The food was delicious and plentiful (even if you are vegan or vegetarian), we couldn't have asked for anything more.
The Cost? No matter which operator you choose, the price is fixed at 950,000 COP (£260). We agree that this is pretty expensive in comparison to other multi-day hike in South America but excursions to The Lost City are still somewhat in their infancy. This price will undoubtedly reduce in the future as time goes on and more operators open up. For the meantime though, you can take pleasure in knowing that you were one of the first to make the hike and enjoy The Lost City with a very small group of people.