What to Expect from the Trek to the Lost City of Santa Marta
March 20, 2019
by Hannah Connery
Whether visiting Colombia for a few weeks or living in one of the country’s beautiful cities, the trek to “La Ciudad Perdida” (The Lost City) is an unforgettable experience. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Santa Marta near Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the trek offers stunning vistas and lush foliage from start to finish. If, like I was, you’re itching to explore this hidden gem, read on to learn all you should need to know to make the best out of your trip.
Planning Your Trip to Santa Marta
Go With a Guide
Not only would it be impossible to find your way through the jungle alone, but it’s also prohibited. Much of the hike crosses through indigenous land. In order to preserve the area and respect the homes of the indigenous people, all visitors must go with an organized group – however, this in no way felt like a downside. The tours are extremely well organized and lead by amazing guides.
Choosing a Company for the Ciudad Perdida Trek
I personally went with a company called Baquianos (highly recommended) and had a great experience. The other companies have great reviews as well though and follow almost exactly the same itinerary. You can’t really go wrong. Once you’ve chosen a group, they’ll provide you with plenty of more specific information about logistics, payment information, etc.
How Many Days to Choose
Each company allows you to choose from either 4, 5, or even 6 days. However, the longer hikes don’t follow a different trail, nor do they really provide more sights to see; they simply go at a slightly slower pace and break up the harder portions of the hike into separate days. If you’re not in the best physical shape, the five-day hike might be the best option. However, the four-day option still accounts for plenty of rest time and chances to take in the scenery – making it the most popular choice by far. Many people who choose the 5-day, simply end up switching to the four-day while on the trek. Once you see the Lost City, your tired legs and stinky clothes are pretty eager to get back as quickly as possible even if it means pushing your physical abilities.
Arriving in Santa Marta
All tours start at the company’s headquarters in Santa Marta, making it easy to arrive by either bus or at Simón Bolivar Intl. Airport. From there, you’ll be driven roughly two hours to a small pueblo where the hike begins. You return to Santa Marta in the same way at the end of the trek.
What to Bring on the Trek to the Ciudad Perdida
Trust me, a light backpack will be a big blessing after hours of walking uphill. Don’t worry too much about rain gear, toiletries, speakers, etc. because chances are, you won’t use them. Even if it rains, you’ll likely be glad for the cool rinse. However, your clothes will be covered in sweat and dirt every day. Even in the shade, the humidity is high enough that you’ll sweat quite a bit. At each campsite, you can hang rinsed clothes to dry, BUT it’s very unlikely they’ll actually dry because of the humidity. Consequently, I wouldn’t plan on re-wearing any of the clothes you hike in.
Hike in whatever you want, but shorts and t-shirts are ideal. I recommend bringing one pair of leggings/sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt to wear in the evening each night in order to avoid reapplying bug spray after showering. Bring a swimsuit if you want, or simply swim in your dirty hiking clothes. For shoes, bring one pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots, and a lightweight pair of flip flops for going swimming and wearing around the camps. None of the “river crossings” were extreme enough to warrant carrying heavy water shoes for the whole trek.
Extra Packing Recommendations
Sunscreen and heavy-duty bug repellent are essential!! The Nopikex soap bar is intense, but a very effective repellent (definitely worth finding). Bringing a towel isn’t worth the backpack space, but a small quick-dry towel meant for hiking is perfect. Otherwise, just air-dry. I recommend buying a small bottle of biodegradable soap for bathing in the beautiful waterfalls – much nicer than waiting in line for a shower at the campsites. Bring some small bills (~15.000 pesos per day) for snacks and beers throughout the trek. Some campsites offer wifi for purchase, but most people enjoy the opportunity to unplug. You’ll have some time to relax after hiking so a book or deck of cards is much appreciated. Lastly, bring a bottle or “bladder” for water! Each campsite has filtered water to refill, so stay hydrated!
Hiking to the Ciudad Perdida
Be Prepared; It’s a Tough Hike
This trek is exactly what it’s called: a trek. Every day, you’ll face intense uphill walks. However, everyone is encouraged to walk at their own pace and the guide stops regularly for fresh watermelon, pineapple, drinks, etc. For reference, my boyfriend’s 53-year-old parents did the hike, and although his dad went slower than most people, he still really enjoyed the experience.
The Ciudad Perdida Campsites
Each campsite is cleaned daily and managed well. Every person gets a twin bed with sheets, a blanket, pillow, and a mosquito net, except at one campsite where a few people might be asked to sleep in hammocks (also with a blanket and mosquito net). The sites are by no means luxury, but perfectly nice considering the only way for the owners to bring supplies is by mule.
Colombian Food on the Hike
Each tour group has a personal chef to provide all meals during the trek. Our food was surprisingly tasty with large serving sizes and accommodations for dietary restrictions. In terms of snacks along the trial, there’s no need to bring in any of your own. Almost every stopping point has fresh fruit, cookies, juice, and/or coffee.
Although the hike is difficult, it’s definitely worth it. Being removed from the rest of the world is such a freeing experience, so enjoy it. Soak in the incredible scenery, search for exotic wildlife, learn the history of the indigenous Wiwa and Kogi tribes, and talk with your hiking companions. After ascending the 1200 ancient steps to La Ciudad Perdida, you’ll be met with the amazing ruins of a civilization that most of the world has never heard of. If this hike isn’t already on your bucket list, it should be.