Lost City Trek to Ciudad Perdida
The Lost City Trek in Colombia is a challenging but fascinating journey through the Colombian jungle to reach the mysterious Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City of the Tayrona people. Trekking for 4 days through the forest, across rivers, and up and down mountains is beautiful, sometimes strenuous, and always sweaty, but definitely worth the effort! The Lost City Trek is one of the best treks in South America, and the highlight of many people’s visit to Colombia.
What is the Lost City?
The Tayrona were inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada region of Colombia and lived deep in the jungle. It is thought that they built their city, known as Teyuna, around 650-800 AD and abandoned it during the Spanish Conquest. Teyuna was lost to the outside world for centuries until it was rediscovered in 1972 by local treasure hunters. The descendants of the Tayrona, (Kogui, Aruacos, Taironas and Wiwas) still live in the area, as the city was never lost to them, just to outsiders. On the trek, you will learn more about the culture of the indigenous people who live here, and you might even get to meet the Shaman of the Lost City.
The Lost City Trek
The trek begins from a small town called Machete Pelao, two to three hours’ drive from Santa Marta, on the northern Colombian coast. Here we’ll have a good lunch, and the chance to buy last-minute snacks and extra water.
Each day we’ll hike for several hours we reach the Lost City on the third day, a total of 23.3km (14.5 miles) from our start point. You’ll sleep in hammocks or bunk beds with mosquito nets in camps along the trail, listening to the sounds of the jungle around you as you drift off to sleep.
All the camps are close to the Puritaca river, where you can take a swim and cool off after a hard day’s hiking. While you swim, admire the nature around you, from the yellow and white butterflies flitting above the water to the fish darting through the water in the shallows.
We’ll pass indigenous villages on our trek to the Lost City, where the Kogui and Wiwa people live. You’ll recognise them by their white tunics, long dark hair, and woven bags. The round houses have pointed thatched rooves, and chickens scratching in the dirt outside. The children play under the trees and splash around in the rivers, enjoying their lives in the fresh air without video games and TV shows. For each visitor who treks to the Lost City, the tour companies pay a contribution of $30,000 COP (approximately $11 USD) to the indigenous community, so you can come to the Lost City safe in the knowledge that you are making a difference to the local people here.
At rest stops on the trail, you can buy drinks, and we’ll have snacks of fresh fruit to replace some of your energy before setting off again. You can also pause to admire the views and spot some of the local wildlife. The Sierra Nevada was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1979, so there are plenty of animals and birds who make this region their home.
The hike is a mixture of ups and downs, flats and jungle, with some spectacular views from the tops of the hills, before descending again into the valleys. There are places to cross the river, usually no more than ankle deep, although it can get higher after heavy rain. The Lost City Trek is an adventure in itself, and one that will stay with you long after you leave Colombia.
The Lost City
On the 3rd day, the excitement builds as we get closer to Teyuna. 1200 stone steps lead up through the trees, a sign that we are about to find the Lost City. The steps are slippery from moss, follow them higher and higher until you reach the city. Take a moment and ask permission from the gods to enter Teyuna and make your way to the terraces. Climb yet higher to finally look back and gaze upon the ruins below. Circles of stones mark the foundations of houses that once stood here, surrounded by thick jungle and palm trees. As we explore the Lost City, our guide explains the significance of the city, sacred stones and rituals that the Tayrona people performed. Since Teyuna was re-discovered, archaeologists have found evidence of more than 200 structures in the city, across an area of around 30 acres. Homes, roads, stalls, plazas, ceremonial and assembly buildings, and storage areas were all built here.
Some people believe that the Tayrona had the power to move rocks with their minds, and that is how they came to build their city here in the forest. Whether that is true or not, it is hard not to be impressed by the scale and beauty of the ruins, and to feel the magic that lingers here. A sacred river runs through the city, where you have the chance to cool off in the water and connect with the ancient power that used to reside here. The Lost City is a magnificent place, filled with mystical energy that purifies the spirit and revitalises you for the return hike.
When it is time to leave, we’ll walk back down the steps, and you’ll wonder if you will ever be quite the same again.
Important information for the Lost City Trek
The trek requires a reasonable level of fitness, as it involves steep climbs and descents, and two river crossings. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of mosquitos, so bring some repellent.
Good footwear and a waterproof jacket are essential, especially in rainy season.
You will carry your own clothes, water and personal items, so pack light! However, changes of clothes are recommended as the clothes you wear will not dry overnight due to high humidity. Bring long pants for the Lost City, to protect yourself from the mosquitos.