Trekking to the Lost City of the Taironas

Ciudad Perdida Travel Blog

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The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) are the ruins of an ancient city in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of the northern coast of Colombia. They were discovered by looters in the early 1970s, and then the site was announced to the world by archaeologists in 1975. Since the 1990s backpackers have been trekking there, although there was a respite in the early 2000s after tourists were kidnapped on the trail. Now it is considered quite safe because of the military presence in the area.

I signed up for the 5 day trek to the Lost City starting on the Friday with the company Turcol. In the morning I got met at my hostel and walked the short distance to the office. Not long after I met our guide Wilson and got in the back of their 4WD vehicle to pick up the others. We went most of the way out of Santa Marta to another hostel where we picked up Mick, Stef, Ena and Fi.
We drove out past the town of Tayrona and then off the main road down a very bumpy road towards the start point. Along the way our 4WD broken down temporarily from overheating.

At the start point we had lunch and the other member of our group, Matt, joined us coming from Taganga. We met some others waiting there to head back after completing the trek. They told us how wet they got but that the walk wasn't especially hard.

The first day of walking was from just after lunch until as it started to get dark at about 6pm. The walk is really stunning, there are some great views over the mountain ranges and along the river side it is almost entirely untouched. The weather was mildly hot but very humid. There were some steep climbs that took a lot of stamina to get up.
I didn't find the climbs all that hard on my legs - I thank previous hiking for that - but the humidity was really tough. I was basically bathing myself in sweat as soon as we hit any uphill. The others were finding it the same too. Not too far into the day's walk we had a spot to swim with a small jump. At the site for the night we had a couple of open buildings, one for cooking and the other for sleeping. We were very lucky that it hadn't rained because almost every day it is sunny in the morning and raining in the afternoon. We had hammocks, which I had already assumed we would have all the way through the trek. I slept pretty well in my hammock.

On the second day we all woke up in our hammocks quite early because the sun had started to show up around 5am.
The first part of the day was an optional trip to see a 'cocaine factory'. It was roughly $20 to check it out. We walked about 10 minutes through the jungle to get there. What it really was was a place to demonstrate how cocaine paste is made, which is a couple of steps before making pure cocaine powder, and is a substance that is not illegal to possess, smoke, etc., in the area. The guide demonstrated how it is all done, using baking soda, petrol, potassium, and I forget what else. The final product looked a lot like cocaine, at least compared to the initial green coca leaves!

After getting some photos we went back to the camp site to have breakfast, and then took off for the day. We had a similar walk to the day before through the jungle and along the river and up and down some steep mountain sides to get to the camp site.
We went swimming again, this time with some much bigger jumps. We got to the camp site there at about 2pm, and not long after it started raining hard and kept going all afternoon. The site was another open building set up, but this time we got beds with mosquito nets. Up to now I had been kept from the mosquitos by staying vigilant with my 80% DEET, but I let my guard down a couple of times and got a lot of bites. Thankfully they are not as bad as sand flies!

The third day was relatively short and sweet. We only walked for 4 hours to get to the camp site closest to the Lost City. There were a few river crossings that day, at worst just above my knees, although the current was strong. After the first crossing my camera wouldn't turn on and I had to resign myself to no more photos of my own for the rest of the trek.
When I got back to Santa Marta it started up again when I recharged the battery - maybe the humidity shorted it out? Oh well.

In theory we had plenty of time to go see the ruins but the afternoon rain was likely to come, and just as predicted it came down hard. So we sat around all afternoon playing different card games and talking until we had dinner and went to bed. At about 2pm that afternoon a group came back late from the Lost City because a girl in their group had twisted her ankle so bad she couldn't stand on it, and had to be stretchered out of the camp site back towards the start of the trek. I don't know how long they kept that up for, but the only other option is helicopter evacuation, which they say they only use in serious emergency.

The fourth day was in two parts - going to the Lost City and then walking back to the second night's camp site.

After breakfast we left at about 7am to head to the ruins. We had a few more river crossings to get there. After about 20 minutes you could see the start of the stairs up to the Lost City sticking out of the thick jungle. There are something like 1200 steps in total, which takes about 15 minutes to get up. I decided to be precise about it and made sure I stood on every single step I could interpret as being a step, right up to the 'reception' area that starts the city. It was tough because the steps are small, so it was awkward to try to step on them all, and I ended up going a lot slower than the others.

From there Wilson showed us around the Lost City. It is an absolutely remarkable place. The area is so remote and on such a steep mountain side.
The majority of the remaining structure are foundation walls and ornamentally laid out stones, such as around big trees. From about half way up there were Colombian soldiers with big guns posted to ward off looters from the treasures still buried underground. They were friendly though and were happy to take pictures with us. At one point we saw them in a group with their superior getting them to do army chants. We walked around for about an hour, and had a bit of a history lesson from Wilson in Spanish for about half an hour, and then made our way back down the stairs. At the camp site we had lunch and then took off back the way we had come the previous day.

Being now the afternoon we had the threat of rain to worry about. We had plastic bags over our packs to keep them dry.
Pretty much as soon as we started to walk it started to rain really hard. I haven't walked through rain like that since going through the Amazon in Brazil back in January. During one of the river crossings I was holding my hiking boots in my hands when I slipped on a rock in the water and my boots went straight in. I was fine but my boots were now full of water. Resigned to my fate I put them on and continued the march through the heavy downpour. The upside to it all was that the stifling humidity was gone, so I had a lot more energy on the climbs. It was a huge relief though to get to the camp site and be able to take off my waterlogged boots and socks. I met some girls there going towards the Lost City who I had met at the Santa Marta hostel a few days before.

The final day was definitely the hardest.
We had to walk back all the distance we had covered in the first two days. This was the price to pay for doing the 5 day trek instead of 6 days. We left just after 7am and slogged it out until about 2pm. I found the day really tough, I think my body was just getting tired because for the first time my legs were starting to complain about the steep uphills. That along with the humidity made me constantly exhausted. The rest of the group were able to forge ahead so I did a lot of it on my own. It was great to get back to the first swimming hole we had done and get all the horrible sweat off me.

After we made it back to the start point we had lunch and then took the 4WD back to drop us all off. It was a really great experience, the walk itself is fantastic, it is a good physical challenge, and the ruins are well worth going so remote for.
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Ciudad Perdida
photo by: melsadventure