The Lost City, also known as Ciudad Perdida or Teyuna, was first discovered in 1972 by two Spanish explorers searching for hidden treasure. They accidentally stumbled upon the steps leading up to the Lost City and discovered the ruins.
The Lost City was built by indigenous communities around 800 A.D (650 years before Machu Picchu) but was only lived in for a short period of time before it was abandoned, when the tribes moved and set up their communities in a different location.
The Lost City is situated deep in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, located close to the city of Santa Marta, along with the Caribbean coast in northern Colombia.
The rounded stone archaeological marvel has never been truly ‘lost’ with the indigenous communities of the Wiwas, Koguis, Arhuacos, and Kankuamos, using it still to this day once a year as a sacred place to perform ceremonies. These indigenous communities were once rich with gold and jewels, and as part of their ceremonies, they used these riches in celebrations and also buried their loved ones with gold after they had passed away. The indigenous communities kept the location of the Lost City a secret to prevent outsiders from discovering the gold.
Once the Lost City was discovered it was subsequently destroyed as looters invaded to dig up the gold and sell it. You can find many pieces of gold from the site in the Gold Museum in Bogota, which has been restored to their original quality. In 1976 archaeologists began the reconstruction of the village with the help of the Colombian government.
The city was restored with the help of local indigenous communities to how it stands today, and it was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1979.
WHAT TO EXPECT
During the trek, there are numerous camps pre-set upon the path. These camps are set up with bunk beds, mosquito nets, kitchens, dining areas, toilets, and showers. Which camp you stop on the trek depends on the tour operator you choose, but each camp is set up so the tour guides, chefs and staff arrive at the camp and utilize the facilities. Some camps have space for up to 100 people at one time, with multiple tour companies staying there at the same time.
The camp closest to the Lost City is called El Paraiso Camp and is located just 1 km from the entrance to the Lost City. This camp tends to be the busiest with the majority of tour companies stopping here at the same time. The camp has a series of bunk beds and open spaces for hammocks to utilize as much space as possible. There is also a large kitchen and dining hall.
Each camp is clean and well kept, and all food, bedsheets, and mosquito nets are provided. The bunk beds are set up with open beds covered by mosquito nets, roofs and hanging spaces to attempt to dry clothes. Some camps along the way are located close to rivers or natural pools, which are a great place to cool off after a sweaty day’s walk.
Each camp has limited electricity, with occasional plug sockets and lights. The toilet facilities at each camp are basic but each camp has proper toilets with running water (utilized from the rainwater), flushable toilets, sinks, and showers. Each camp has a small shop that sells drinks, snacks and occasionally beer available to purchase in the evening.
The trek to the Lost City is 46.6 km or 28 miles in total, and you will walk the same way there as you do back. The path to the Lost City is often narrow, though sometimes it is big enough for 3 people to walk next to each other. Along the pathway are the overnight camps and stops to purchase drinks or snacks.
Each day the walk is split up into small sections three or four hours long. The trek will begin after a bumpy ride from Santa Marta and hearty lunch in the village of Machete, followed by a four-hour trek. The second day will be split into two with a stop at a camp for lunch and a break before proceeding onto the El Paraiso Camp. The 3rd and 4th days are following the path back to Machete. The last day (if you do the 4-day trek) is the longest stretch.
Along the trek, the path winds past indigenous communities who are still living in the way they once did in the jungle. It is important to respect these people and often the guides will stop to talk about the tribes and explain the history of them.
The Lost City trek itself is challenging, rewarding, (sweaty!) and just incredible. The scenery is breathtaking: there are endless mountain views, rivers, waterfalls and the stunning landscapes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The terrain varied immensely but even the uphill battles are made easier by supportive guides and regular fresh watermelon breaks! The path moves around mountains, through rivers, and over bridges.
THE LOST CITY
After a 4:30 am wake-up call the journey to the Lost City begins, watching the beautiful sunrise between ancient trees, clambering over rocks and wading through a river, before you reach the bottom of the steps up to the Lost City. Here you can understand why the city was hidden for so many years. After 1,200 ancient and small slippery steps, the Lost City shows itself.
Most tours spend between 2 and 3 hours walking around the archeological site, taking pictures and the endless mountains surrounding the city, unique spiritual feeling in the air, sense of history and sanctity make looking out over the city an awe-inspiring experience. Some tour companies even offer the chance to meet a Shaman who lives beside the village and learn about their culture.
The Lost City is over 12,000 square meters and was once home to over 2,000 people. Parts of the city are still hidden beneath dense jungle, but each year more is being discovered. A major part of the city was discovered when a hurricane came through the area, blowing over trees and clearing parts away to reveal more of the site and a completely new area.
It is said that they have only discovered 10% of the city’s actual area. The Lost City is one of many archaeological sites within the area, but it’s the only one known by non-indigenous communities.
For those who are concerned about safety along the tour, you shouldn’t be. In 2003 there were some issues with local guerilla groups, but the area was closed and reopened in 2005, and from then on the area has been perfectly safe for visitors.
In the Lost City itself, there are a small number of Army guards there to offer support and protection but this is just a precaution from the Colombian Government. There is no danger at the site. The tour operators have been through every possible situation and scenario. They have donkeys along the path which carry food and supplies to camps, but they are also available to transport people if they have an injury or problem and need to return to Machete.
FOOD AND DRINK
You will not go hungry on this trek, lunch and evening meals are usually rice, plantain in some form, meat or fish, salad and a dessert. Breakfast is normally fresh fruit, eggs and cheese toasties. They also offer fresh watermelon or pineapple at stops along the trek and provide water, coffee, fruit juice as well as the other drinks and snacks available for purchase at the camps.
They have big tubs of water that you can fill your water bottle up with. It is important to not drink the water from the rivers or lakes and only drink the water provided by the tour companies.
To take part in a Lost City trek you have to go with an organized group complete with a guide. Over the years the tour has adapted and developed but to keep visitor numbers down and tours controlled, there is only a very limited number of local operators organizing and leading the treks. These local tour companies all have their own guides, translators (upon request), chefs and camps along the trek.
While all these local tour operators essentially offer the same service there can be big differences between overall tour experiences, and some tour companies have indigenous guides. The tour companies employ guides from the local area who have excellent knowledge of the area and its history.
Every tour company has a similar price for the tour between $300 and $350. The tour is the same price no matter if you choose the 4, 5 or 6-day trek. The 5 and 6-day tours have more rest time and less walking each day on the return journey. Big worldwide tour companies offer treks to The Lost City but anyone charging more than $350 is just making a profit, so it is best to contact one of the four tour local companies who run the tours: Turcol Travel, Expotur Eco Tours, Magic Tours, and Guias Y Baquianos.
You can also find some Colombian travel operators offering the tours in partnership with these operators if you are looking to pre-book. One example is Impulse Travel, which offers tours in partnership with hand-picked tour companies and guides. They can also arrange all requests including bilingual tour guides or translators. Every trek has at least two guides, chefs who walk in front of the group to the next camp to set up for the group’s arrival.
WHEN TO GO
The Lost City is open year-round except in the month of September to allow communities to visit the site and perform ceremonies and events. Be aware even though the temperature is roughly the same year-round, the rainy and dry seasons will make a big difference. In the dry season, the rivers will be low, paths solid and only occasional rain. However, in the rainy season, the rivers could be waist-deep, paths muddy and torrential tropical rainfall could happen.
The dry season in Colombia is December to early March and the rest of the year will have wetter conditions. The National Park and Reserve have a cap on numbers but to avoid crowds in camps and in the Lost City try to avoid the holiday periods which tend to be busier.
WHAT TO PACK
The trek is sweaty and as soon as you put on new clothes and begin walking you will sweat more than you ever have before. It is advised to pack very light as you will have to carry everything you need for the journey. You do not need to pack food or bedding. Quick-drying clothes are recommended as it’s so humid in the jungle nothing will dry quickly.
- A reusable water bottle (they have water available throughout the trek which they purify with tablets)
- Bug spray (high DEET)
- 1 set of clothes for each day trekking (2 or 3 tops/shorts)
- 2 pairs of long trousers (for the evening, to avoid mosquitos)
- 2 long sleeve t-shirts (for the evening, to avoid mosquitos)
- Hiking boots or good walking shoes and socks
- Rain jacket
- Quick-dry towel
- Toiletries including toilet paper (some camps offer toilet paper but others do not and it’s limited)
- Sandals or flip-flops for the evening
- Rain cover or a black trash bag to cover your backpack if it rains
- Waterproof bag to put your valuables
- Bag for wet items
- Portable Battery Charger
- Sleeping Bag Liner
- Cash for snack purchases along the journey
Trekking to the Lost City in Colombia was one of my favorite experiences and I hope this guide has inspired you to make the trek yourself one day!
Have you ever been on a trek? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Intern Anny Wooldridge of AnnysAdventures.com
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Awesome post, thanks! I’m doing the lost city trek with my boyfriend in February. We are booking with Wiwa tours, because they are indigenous. You didn’t mention them in your post. Reviews are few but decent. Did you meet anyone who went with Wiwa? Also, is February going to be overcrowded? Thanks so much!