Colombia: The Lost City (La Cuidad Perdida)
January 1, 1970
by Jess Whiteman
Colombia: The Lost City (La Cuidad Perdida)
Imagine spending four days deep inside a remote, tropical jungle, away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Add to the mix a diverse range of fauna and flora, rainfalls, fresh water rivers where you can swim to escape the heat all while being surrounded by majestic views of enormous mountains.
Sounds invented right? Well, it’s not.
But before your start dreaming of a relaxing getaway, put on your trekking boots.
In the north of Colombia, all of the above is possible on The Lost City trek. On this trek you will spend 4-6 days making your way through the Colombian jungle to reach the ancient ruins of The Lost City, situated high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida), known as Teyuna by the locals, is an ancient, ruined city that to this day is home to local indigenous tribes.
The Lost City itself, situated 900-1,300 meters above sea level, can only be reached by a breathtaking trek though tropical wilderness over a few days. Now, honestly speaking, the trek itself is not easy, but it is absolutely worth it. As many commented to me before I left for the trek, it is the journey and the destination that make this trek so incredible. You traverse different landscapes, rivers and fields, passing through various climates while spotting different animals, birds and inspects. Add to that the fabulous people you will meet while on the trek.
Constructed by the Tayrona people during the 11-14th Centuries, Teyuna is one of the largest pre-Colombian cities found in the Americas. Sadly, this city was lost for centuries in the dense Colombian jungle following the Spanish conquests throughout the Americas. It was rediscovered in the 1970s by grave robbers (guaqueros) but was not safely accessible as Colombia continued to deal with conflict and rebel fighting in the region. It is now possible to trek through this gorgeous part of Colombia, to meet the indigenous people living here, and learn their history and culture.
The Trek Up To The Lost City
The four-day trek includes two days up, half a day at the ancient ruins and then another one and a half days trekking back. Five and six day treks are also available.
The trek includes ups, downs and flats, which will push you but it’s achievable. While it might be physically demanding, you will most likely find some much needed solitude and tranquility as you trek.
One thing I loved about our guide was that he told us what was coming up ahead for the next section or hour of the trek so we could mentally prepare. We found this helped me a lot psychologically! So don’t be shy in asking your guide to give you the heads up.
On the third day, you will wake up early in order to trek the last few kilometers to the top. Here’s where you climb the 1,200 stone steps in order to reach the ruins.
After spending a few hours discovering the ruins and learning about the local tribes, you will begin the trek back.
How To Get There From Santa Marta
Tours leave from the town of Santa Marta, Colombia’s first colonized city, located on the Caribbean coast. Your tour company will take you to the starting point of the trek (two hours by car/4WD) but not before a delicious lunch to power you through the first day. This is included in the cost of the tour.
How Much Does The Lost City Tour Cost
After years of competitive bargaining, which led to a reduction in the price and also the quality of the tours provided, the prices were standardized across the agencies (4-day trek $700,000 Colombian Pesos in July 2016/ approximately USD$240). You can also reserve your tour through a hostel which may cost you an additional $10,000 pesos.
You can choose to trek for 4, 5 or 6 days, (same route) with some variation in price. Tours run all year so you shouldn’t have trouble booking one with an agency when you arrive in Santa Marta.
Note: You cannot undertake The Lost City trek independently – only by guided tour.
What’s included in the price
All meals, snacks, accommodation, park fees, purified water, tour guides, and cooks are included in the above price. There isn’t much else to buy while on the trek apart from the odd bottle of water, soft drink or some snacks if you wish. So you don’t need to spend more than the tour price. However, you do need to bring your own water for the first day.
Throughout the day you will take breaks and be given fruit or juice and/or a chocolate bar/bread. The food is of good quality considering everything needs to be carried there by donkeys, horses or people. You certainly won’t go hungry! If you have dietary requirements, advise your agency when you book as we found these could be accommodated for (vegetarian, gluten free).
Accommodation In The Lost City Trek
On the trek you will stay in small camps that are set up with bunk beds protected by mosquito nets. If you wish, you can request to sleep in one of the hammocks (as some of the guides do) but these necessarily don’t have mosquito nets. Considering you are in the middle of the jungle, the beds are pretty comfortable and we managed to sleep well. However, some people reported being bitten by inspects while sleeping. All camps we stayed at had flushing toilets, running water and showers (cold). Only the first camp on our trek had electricity.
Climate and seasons
Located in a tropical region, it’s hot and humid with wet/dry seasons. Dry season is from December to April.
Lost City Tours Are In Spanish
It’s best to assume your tour will be in Spanish. Most of the time we noticed that there was someone in all of the groups that could speak both English and Spanish so they were able to translate for those who didn’t speak Spanish. Some guides speak some English but are not confident to deliver the tour in English.
What To Pack For The Lost City Trek
You should be able to fit everything into a small-medium backpack depending on your packing abilities.
- Camera (keep it handy throughout the trek)
- Trekking boots
- A pair of flip flops/sandals
- 4-6 each of underwear, pairs of socks and t-shirts
- One pair of shorts
- One pair of light trekking pants
- One long sleeve top
- Hat (a free cap was provided by our agency)
- Lightweight raincoat or plastic poncho (if you don´t have one, you will usually be provided with a garbage bag on the days it rains)
- Towel (ideally microfiber as they’re lightweight)
- Lots of repellent (and anti-itch cream as you’ll enviably be bitten anyway!) Repellent is especially important for the third day when you reach the top of the 1,200 steps as it’s full of mosquitoes.
- Toilet paper (1-2 rolls will get you through)
- 1-2 litres of water for the first day and/or a bottle or container to refill with water throughout the trek (purified water is provided throughout).
- Anti-gastro medication (just in case!)
- Any personal medication
Tips And Hints For The Lost City
- Pack light – You have to carry all of your belongings as you trek so you’ll be thankful for packing lightly!
- The heat – As it’s incredibly hot and humid, some people find this trek harder than some others treks they’ve completed in cooler temperatures.
- Payment – Some agencies/hostels say you can pay by credit/debit card but they may later ask for cash.
- Protection from water – Bring some kind of water proof bag/s to protect some of your valuables during river crossing and when it rains.
- Photos – Make sure you ask permission before taking photos of the indigenous peoples.
- Altitude – The Lost City itself is between 900-1300 meters above sea level so most people shouldn’t have any serious issues with altitude sickness during the trek.
- Storing your belongings – Ask your tour company or hostel to store your remaining luggage while you’re trekking. Note: some hostels will charge for this service.
What next in Colombia
This was an incredible highlight of our trip to Colombia but this country has so many more amazing places to visit. While you’re in the north of Colombia don’t forget to explore Santa Marta, Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Parque Tayrona, and the La Guajira peninsula.