What is it and where is Ciudad Perdida?
Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), as one can sense from its name, it is a city that was found barely 50 years ago, buried under the dense jungle of Sierra Nevada in Santa Marta, in the north west of Colombia. It consists of a series of circular terraces made of stone and built at different levels, connected to each other through walls and stairs. Once, these terraces were filled with houses made out of wood, clay, palm trees and vines by a group of indigenous known as Tayrona. The Tayrona culture built Ciudad Perdida 600 years before Machu Picchu even existed and it is known its population reached up to 2500 indigenous.
History states that in 1976, after 400 years in oblivion, the “huaqueros” (treasure hunters) that went after the abundant gold in Colombia, discovered Ciudad Perdida by chance. But once they set foot in it, they made off with everything they could, as they found abundant treasures buried under each terrace.
How to get to Ciudad Perdida?
The option of doing the trek to Ciudad Perdida on your own, is off the table. The track to access the Lost City passes through some private lands owned by the indigenous. They are very protective of their land and have the power to limit the access to the jungle. Therefore, there’s no other way to visit than booking a guided tour with an agency.
There is a limited number of companies that offer tours to Ciudad Perdida, five to be precise: Expotur, Magic Tour, Guías y Baquianos Tour, Wiwa Tour y Turcol. You can book your tour either through their website or physically at each operator’s office in the city of Santa Marta. If you book online, you’re going to need to pay a deposit and once you get to the physical office you’ll have to liquidate the rest in cash or with credit card.
There are daily tours to Ciudad Perdida, which gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to decide when to go and how many days to spend.
What agency should I choose?
As the number of agencies offering the tour are limited, they all have a standard price, so as to avoid competition. Therefore, money won’t break the decision for you. Almost all agencies offer the same services, as there is only one track to the Lost City. Everybody sleeps in similar camps, eat the same kind of food and cross the same rivers with the same resources.
There are two agencies that perhaps stand out from the rest. Wiwa Tour for instance, in which the guides are indigenous from the Wiwa tribe. At first sight, it seems quite an attractive choice, isn’t it? Who better than them will tell you about the story of Sierra Nevada and will show you the jungle where they were raised? Apparently though, the Wiwa’s can’t speak Spanish very well, not to mention English, and an experience that would seem so enriching at the beginning, wouldn’t be so in the end.
Then, there’s Guías y Baquianos, which claims to be the pioneer agency to bring tourists to Ciudad Perdida, and therefore the most experienced in this matter.
Still, we chose Expotur because of all the positive references we read all over the Internet. And it didn’t let us down. The tour was very well organized, perfect timings, good and abundant food, very interesting conversations with the guide… Camacho, our guide (who spoke Spanish), it is native from Machete Pelao, the little village where the trek starts. He knew everyone around the area, he was saying hello to everybody that passed by during the 4 day trek. He seemed like a very loved person, you can tell he likes what he does from the passion he puts when explaining anything.
What is included with the price?
At first sight it may seem a bit expensive, but when you break it down to a list of services they offer, it seems pretty reasonable. The price is the same whether you make the trek in 4, 5 or 6 days and includes the following:
- Luggage storage service at their offices.
- Round trip with SUV from your accommodation to El Mamey.
- Entrance fee to the Teyuna Archaeological Park.
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner during all the days that the trek lasts.
- Fruit and snacks every journey.
- Purified water in every camp.
- Accommodation in bunk beds with mosquito nets.
- 24h guidance during all the days the trek lasts.
- 24h translation during all the days the trek lasts.
- Travel insurance.
- Contribution to the communities. Part of the money goes to the indigenous communities, to support the development of their region and to improve their life quality.
The price does not include:
- Alcoholic beverages → you can buy beer at the camps.
- Mule service → if your shoulders can’t take your bag anymore, you can hire a mule service to transport your luggage to the next camp.
How many days do I need?
The Lost City trek can be completed in 4, 5 or 6 days. The price is exactly the same in any case. The way to the Lost City is the same for everyone, on day 3 you reach the Lost City, and the difference is on the way back. Those who plan to stay for 5 or 6 days will sleep one or two more nights on their way back, so as to walk less distance each day.
If you’re in good shape I recommend completing it in 4 days. Specially if your time in Colombia is limited, otherwise you will invest too many days in the trek. Also, because it is not a circular route. You have to go and come back on the same trail, and this makes the way back not that exciting as the previous 3 days, as you have seen it all already. If on the contrary, your physical state is not that good, you can make the trek more calmly in 5 or 6 days.
If you wish, in the next link you can read my personal experience on my 4 day trek to the Lost City.
What to pack for Ciudad Perdida?
- 1-2 liters of water for each journey
- Trekking shoes
- Quick dry clothes (4 t-shirts, 2 shorts, underwear and 6 pairs of socks)
- Long pants
- Long sleeves
- Toiletries (toothbrush & toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, comb, etc).
- Insect repellent
- Solar protection
- Bathing suit
- Quick dry towel
- Basic First Aid Kit (plasters and Betadine, paracetamol, antibiotic and anti-diarrhoea).
If you want more detail you can check my article on What to pack for Ciudad Perdida?
Where can I leave my big luggage?
It doesn’t matter what agency you make the trek with, they all have a storage facility for that luggage you don’t need to bring to Ciudad Perdida. In my case with Expotur, we left the luggage in a flat adjacent to their office. There, we left our big bags on day 1 and there we collected them on day 4.
Another option would be to ask at your hostel/hotel if they can keep if for 4 days (as long as you return to the same accommodation after the trek). Otherwise, the wisest choice is to leave it at the travel agency.
¿Is it hard?
The trek to Ciudad Perdida is not difficult or dangerous, and anybody can do it. That being said, it’s always helpful to be in good shape. After all, we are talking about a 60 km trek (roundtrip) with an incline of 3000m. Personally I think though, the difficulty is added by the weather conditions: humidity up to 85%, fierce mosquitoes, downpours, fast-flowing rivers, a blazing sun and all that in just one day.
There will be times when you’ll be climbing up a hill for an hour under a burning sun, then the next minute you’ll be walking under a heavy rain with mud up to your knees. You will need to cross the Buritaca river 18 times (9 times in each direction) and the water level can rise within minutes, so be prepared to take off your boots every now and then.
The trek can be completed in 4, 5 or 6 days (for the same price), so the more days you spend, the less kilometres you’ll walk each day. So, all in all I wouldn’t consider it a hard trek but a nice trek with hard weather conditions.
¿When is the best season to go?
Colombia has dry season and wet season. The dry season runs between December and March and the most rainy season runs between October and November.
Each season has its pros and cons. During high season it doesn’t rain, but the number of tourists doubles. There’s a possibility that the camps are full and you need to sleep on a hammock instead of a bunk bed, and there might be a line to take a shower.
During low season it rains, but there’s not that many people, so the experience is more authentic. In our case, we had to travel in November in the middle of rainy season. It rained every afternoon/night, but never during our walk, so we were lucky! And our group, instead of being 30 people, we were only 11. So I was quite glad to have done this in November.
In September the Lost City remains closed for maintenance. The indigenous carry out some rituals in order to clean the city from the tourist bad energy.
¿What am I going to eat?
If something is abundant in the trekking to the Lost City, in addition to mosquitoes, that’s food. There’s a cook assigned to each. He also makes the trekking, carrying all the food, and he usually leaves 1h before us, so when we arrive at our destination, the food is almost ready on the table.
Breakfasts consists of fruit, eggs, toasts, coffee or juice. During the walking journey there’s always a nice surprise such as “pit stops” with fruit.
Lunch and dinner are quite abundant and with vegan options (you need to mention at the agency if you are vegan or vegetarian). There’s pasta, fish, meat, rice, “patacones”, salad…
Occasionally they gave us some treats such as popcorn or chocolate bars that I always saved for the next journey.
¿Can I get water on the way?
Yes, you can get water on the way. All along the way you will find stalls and even people with a portable fridge, selling water and other kinds of drinks. You can also buy water in any camp.
On the very first day, when leaving Santa Marta on the SUV, you need to bring your own water. But during the trek you will find tanks with purified water in each camp. Every agency owns a water tank with water purification tablets, for you to refill your bottle.
Me, personally I have a delicate stomach, and I only drank bottled water. I used to buy it every evening in the camp, for next day journey. And if I ran out of water at some point I waited to find a stall to buy it.
If you have a good stomach, you should be fine with refilling your bottle at the camp.
¿How are the facilities?
In the Lost City trek you will sleep in camps that you’ll find along the way in the middle of nature. The camps are built in wood with metallic roofs.
In every camp you will find an area with bunk beds and hammocks, another area with long tables for eating, and another area with showers and toilets. There are actual toilets in every camp, not a whole in the ground.
All bunk beds have their own mosquito nets around it, so not one insect sleeps with you. In the very first camp there were pillows, but we didn’t find them in the rest of camps.
Almost every camp has some socket for you to charge whatever you need, although not that many sockets.
If you are interested in knowing more, you can check the following posts on the Lost City: