The trek to La Ciudad Perdida or Lost City in Colombia is a challenging but fascinating journey that I highly recommend. Trekking through the Colombian jungle for 4 or 5 days is beautiful, sometimes strenuous, always sweaty and at times very wet! See how I got on when I did the Lost City Trek:
The Best Company for the Lost City Trek to Ciudad Perdida
Several different companies have permits to lead the Lost City Trek, and the price is fixed so there should be no difference between companies for the cost. It is also the same cost for a four or five-day trek, so if you have plenty of time you could get an extra day for free on the five-day option. Treks can be easily arranged from Santa Marta on the Northern Colombian coast, and some can arrange pick up from Palomino. After looking at the reviews online and on the company websites, I chose to do a five-day trek with Wiwa Tours. They had excellent reviews, and their guides are indigenous, so they teach you a lot about the Wiwa and Kogui cultures as you pass through their lands on the way to the Ciudad Perdida.
They were also quick to respond to my email enquiries about the tour, and were recommended by my hostel, the Dreamer Hostel, in Santa Marta too, so I was happy with my choice. You can pay for the tour online in dollars, but I would recommend paying your final balance in cash at their office, to make sure you get the best exchange rate from USD to Colombian pesos.
The Lost City Trek Day One:
Wiwa Tours offers a pick up from your hostel or from their office if you need to pay the final balance the morning of the tour. I had already gone to their office to pay the day before so was picked up from my hostel at about 9.15am. After an hour’s drive on asphalt and another hour on a horribly bumpy windy dirt track that made me want to vomit, we finally arrived in the town of Machete in the Sierra Nevada region of Northern Colombia.
A lunch of chicken, rice and salad was served, then we bought extra water and last minute supplies, used the bathroom and then set off. It was very hot when we left the town at 1pm; not the ideal time to start hiking, but what can you do. At the beginning of the trail to Ciudad Perdida we stopped at a map while our guide Jose Luis explained the route for the next five (four) days.
The first day we hiked 7 km from Machete to the first camp, nestled in a valley alongside the Puritaca river. The hike was a mixture of ups and downs, flats and jungle. We passed some Wiwa villages along the way and we had some spectacular views when we reached the tops of the hills, before descending again into the valleys. Finally we came down a steep hill to the river where the first camp was. We crossed the river on a wobbly bridge, to where we would sleep for the night.
The camps all have places to swim and cool off after a hard day’s hiking. La Piscina (literally “swimming pool”) at the first camp, was a waterfall and pool deep enough to dive into from 5 metres up. Needless to say, I didn’t jump but climbed down the stairs to the last rung, then splashed into the water in my usual graceful manner. The water was cold but clear, and beautifully refreshing after a sweaty hike!
This camp is not indigenous, the Colombians who live here have electricity and even satellite TV! The Copa de America was on when we were there and everyone gathered around to watch the match. The food was cooked by a Wiwa lady, and it was good too – fried fish with rice & salad. And a chocolate bar was a welcome treat!
As we were eating, it began to rain – a lot! Groups that arrived after us were soaked, and muddy from slipping down the hill that led to the camp so I was glad we arrived before the deluge. After dark, a plague of flying ants descended on the camp, I’m not sure if it was due to the rain, or simply the season. Huge toads came out from the river to feast on them, gorging themselves on the easy meal, and lazily sticking their tongues out to capture their next victims. The toads provided good entertainment for those who didn’t want to watch the football!
When it came to sleeping, a row of bunk beds with mosquito nets greeted us. We could have chosen to sleep in hammocks if we wanted but we all opted for beds. The beds weren’t the most comfortable but after walking with our packs they were better than hammocks! However, the beds smelt musty, here it seemed nothing properly dries out with the rain and humidity. I wrapped myself in the blanket provided, as it smelt fresher. I lay in bed listening to the toads’ croaking chorus, and the high-pitched shriek of cicadas, and tried to sleep.
La Cuidad Perdida Trek Day Two
Despite my tiredness, I didn’t sleep particularly well, and felt awful when we were woken the next morning at 5am. We ate a tasty breakfast, packed up our things and headed out. A steep hill out of the valley greeted us; luckily the rain had stopped but it was still slippery in parts. After that, the terrain varied up and down for an hour or so, then there was another steep downhill that would make me pay on the way back! It took us 2 hours to reach Camp Wiwa where we had a couple of hours break – to swim and to have lunch – and a quick snooze in the hammocks.
After lunch we set off again, my legs groaning in protest. It was another 5 hours till we would reach the next camp – Paraíso (Paradise) that was just 3km from Ciudad Perdida. It was a tough walk. The path wound through the forest, along the river bank then over mountains when the uphill stretches felt as though they would never end. Then it started to rain. It is common here to have rain in the afternoon. I had brought my waterproof coat, so wasn’t bothered by the rain – light drizzle was nice and cooling but the heavy burst luckily came as we were reaching a rest stop. The downhill that followed wasn’t too steep, and the path continued without too much variation, until we descended again to the river. But there was no bridge here. There was a kind of tarabata cable car on a rope and pulley system, but the guides weren’t convinced by its safety. Not disagreeing with them, we were faced with crossing the now raging river, filled with the rain that was still falling gently.
Another group arrived at the river around the same time, and the guides discussed the best option for crossing. One of them crossed with a rope, and tied it to a tree on the other side. Now we had a rope to hang on to as we waded across, one by one, slipping & fighting against the current as we went. On the way back, the river was much easier to cross, and was easily walked in sandals.
After 7 or 8 hours walking on day two we arrived at Paraíso Camp around 4.30pm. Next to the river, you can swim here too. It is the camp for all the groups, so busier than the others, and the bunk beds are just as musty and damp. By now I was so exhausted I slept slightly better, and woke excited to finally reach the Lost City!
Lost City Trek Day 3: La Ciudad Perdida
La Ciudad Perdida is a relatively short walk from the Paraíso Camp, perhaps an hour away from the actual city. Our group was the first to leave, we crossed the river again and made our way to the stone steps that led to the ‘discovery’ of the city in 1972. The steps are uneven, and slippy in parts due to the moss that covers the stone. Climbing the steps, I felt my excitement growing. Finally, we were here!
We arrived at a round terrace, and our guide Jose Luis explained a ritual we should perform in order to be welcomed in the city. We followed him around the stones and entered the city. We headed up to the highest point, to make the most of the spectacular views before the other groups arrived. We weren’t disappointed.
The Teyuna (Tayrona) people used the city they called Teyuna as their political and residential centre. The indigenous people believe that their ancestors the Teyuna people had black and white magic powers, and the ability to move the huge rocks with only the power of the mind – explaining how the city was built high in the Colombian rain forest. Whether you believe that or not, the city is an impressive feat of construction. Although it lacks the grandeur of Machu Picchu, the location is equally stunning, overlooking mountains and lush forests.
There is a military camp at the site – strange to us, but necessary to protect the site from potential grave robbers and ousted coca farmers, and guerrilla conflict. A huge portion of the area used to be dedicated to growing coca for the cocaine trade, but all that stopped when the government cracked down hard on such plantations, and the military took control of the area to prevent the illegal farms from returning. We had passed another outpost along the trail, marked with a Colombian flag and occupied by perhaps 10 to 20 soldiers. I later learned that in 2003 a group of tourists had been kidnapped here and held to ransom, and although the tours here have been continuing without incident since 2005, I was glad to have extra protection there!
We took some time to explore the city, swimming in a pool there, and meeting the Shaman. He explained more about the city, and his role, and gave us each a bracelet as a gift. Some of us gave a gift in return, a bracelet and a coin from their home country. There are still a couple of families who live in the city, but most are in the villages around.
All too soon it was time to leave, and as we descended the slippery steps, I felt the magic of this place slowly leave me. We hiked back to the Wiwa camp that we had rested in on day two, and had lunch there. Those who were doing the four-day itinerary then continued to the 1st camp to sleep. My legs refused to take me any further, so I stayed here for the night, resting in the afternoon & swimming in the river. At the Wiwa Camp the river flows around large rocks, perfect for jumping off. Again, I didn’t leap in, more shuffled as close as I could get and plopped in. It was gorgeous, with yellow and white butterflies flitting above the water, and small fish visible in the shallows.
The second time I visited this part of the river I was alone, and stood on a submerged rock as the cool water flowed over me, reviving my aching muscles. Soon after two of the Wiwa children arrived, splashing and swimming around, enjoying the water. They share a lot of the same loves as we do – and even have a small football pitch next to the camp.
The following day we hiked back to the first camp, and on the 5th day back to Machete. I was exhausted. I really should know by now that hiking is not my forte, but I simply couldn’t resist the chance see the Lost City!
What I loved about Wiwa Tours:
Wiwa Tours is the only company that has indigenous guides, so I felt we had a more ‘authentic’ experience. We learned a lot about the culture of the people, and met the Shaman, whereas other groups did not. This added an extra, fascinating dimension to the tour which we otherwise would have missed. Our guide Jose Luis was very knowledgeable and chatty, but not intrusive. On the last day, the others joined with another guide to hike the 4-day itinerary, and Jose Luis stayed with me so we chatted together some more.
What I didn’t like:
Their five-day itinerary was different than other companies as they spread out the walking instead of just splitting the last day into two. Or so I thought. The company had mixed our group of eight people – two of which were a couple who only had 3 days to do part of the trek then visit an indigenous village for an hour, 5 of us on a 5-day trek and one guy on a 4-day trek. With only one guide we had little choice but to follow the schedule for the 4-day itinerary, which I found very difficult – up until the fourth day when our group split. However, this seemed to be the norm with other companies too.
Have you done the Lost City Trek to La Ciudad Perdida? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below.
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