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If you’re heading to Colombia, you should be thinking about doing the trek to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City Trek). It’s one of the toughest yet most rewarding treks that I’ve done. Read on for a guide on trekking to the Lost City, including what to take, what to expect, and a few pictures from my time on the trek…
What is The Lost City?
The Lost City, or La Ciudad Perdida in Spanish, is an ancient archeological site that’s located in the Sierra Nevada in northern Colombia. It was discovered in 1972 by a group of looters, who stumbled upon the stone steps that lead up to the site. Historians think that the site dates back to 800CE, making it hundreds of years older than its more famous Peruvian counterpart, Machu Picchu.
Is the Lost City trek safe?
Yep, it’s now considered completely safe to do a trek to the Lost City.
As a tourist site, there were initially a few safety concerns regarding the hike and the area that it was located in. In 2003, a group of foreign tourists were kidnapped and help for ransom. However, since 2005, the area has been declared extremely safe. The Colombian army actively patrol the area, and tour companies frequently take groups on the Lost City trek without issue or safety concern.
If you’re after more safety details on Colombia in general, have a look at the article I wrote on safety and travel in Colombia.
About the Lost City Trek
The Lost City trek itself is around 41km long, and it can be done over 4, 5 or even 6 days. As a trek, I’d classify it as moderate to difficult. You need to have a reasonable level of fitness to manage it. There are a few steep climbs, and you probably spend 6-8 hours walking each day. As you’ll be trekking through the Colombian jungle, it’s generally fairly hot and humid as well, which definitely adds to the difficulty.
The trek can be done year round. It’s busiest from December to March, and that’s meant to be when the weather is best. I did it in August, which was also fine.
It’s also not a trek that you can do alone. You’ll have to book with a tour company, and there are around five companies that do the trek. I booked and went with Magic Tours. There doesn’t seem to be too much difference between companies though, so just chat with people on the road who have done it, or read up on other blogs and travel forums before you decide who you want to go with. All of the companies charge the same price for the trek, which as of 2018 is $335US. It seems to be going up more and more every year, so get in soon! The price includes:
- Transfers from Santa Marta to El Mamey (where the trek starts) and back
- Baggage storage in Santa Marta if you need it.
- A tour guide (don’t necessarily count on a great level of english, but people can always translate)
- All of your food (ie 3 meals a day)
- Accommodation (which is fairly basic but fine, and most importantly complete with mosquito nets.
- A contribution to the local communities
What to pack
Trekking to the Lost City, you have to carry all of your own gear. So you’re best to take as little as possible. I’d recommend packing all your essentials into a small day pack. The pack I took was around 20L which was perfect. Remember, the more you take, the heavier your bag and the harder the trek! Here’s a list of the essentials:
- Hiking Shoes
- A couple of pairs of shorts and a few t-shirts
- PJs / something to sleep in
- Sandals or flip-flops.
- 4 pairs of underwear and socks
- Toiletries and medications if you need them
- A towel
- Toilet paper
- Insect Repellent
- Flash Light
- Plastic Bag and ziplock bags (for your electronics)
- 1.5 Lts of Water (only first day)
- Identification document / passport
The Trek to the Lost City
As I mentioned, you can do the trek over 4,5 or 6 days. Most people choose to do four, which is what I did. So here’s what to expect each day.
The first day, you’ll leave your big bags at the tour company office in Santa Marta. It’s then a 2-3 hour jeep ride to get out to El Mamey, which is where the trek starts.
Once you arrive, the first part of the hike is a gradual climb up and into the jungle. It’s probably the most picturesque day of the lot, so take lots of photos! You’ll come back this way on day four again, so you do get another chance at pictures then.
Once you reach the top, it’s back down you go. The rest of the walk to your day 1 camp is downhill and quite steep in parts. It can be tricky if it’s raining or wet as it gets quite slippery. I spent a bit of time on or close to the ground on the way down, but that’s half the fun!
Day 1 all up is meant to be around 7km. I’m not totally sold on that though, it felt like closer to 10km, but unfortunately I didn’t have my trusty Garmin with me to track it. It’s also your first experience of the luxury accommodation on offer…
Day 2 is a big day of walking. You’ll be up at dawn, have some breakfast, and then head off. The initial walk is through reasonably dense jungle, before you come out into an opening after lunch for the second half of the day. It’s definitely a long day – we left camp at around 7am and didn’t get into our day 2 camp until about 5pm (although we did have a decent break for lunch). It’s around 14km all up.
There are a couple of river crossings on day two, which can be a little hectic depending on how much rain has been about! We actually had to wait half an hour for one of the rivers to calm down before we went across it, and I’m fairly sure that most of the group were a little reluctant to cross even when we did. Make sure you have your electronics in a ziplock bag just incase you take a tumble in the water.
Day 3 is the day that you’ll actually get to see what you came for: The Lost City. We were up and about early, having breakfast and leaving by about 6am again. The actual site is close by, but it’s up around 1200 stone steps, which is a little tough after two full days of hiking!
Once you get to the site, you’ll have an hour or two to look around, take photos, and get a bit of a talk on the site from your guide and also one of the locals from the area. Our guide spoke Spanish, but there were plenty of people there to translate for anyone who didn’t understand.
After you’ve had a look around, you head back to last night’s camp site for lunch. Then it’s a long afternoon of walking to the next camp, backtracking along the path you came along for a few hours before arriving.
On a side note, I actually had a bit of food poisoning this day, couldn’t eat lunch, and then had to trek a few hours in heat of around 34 degrees. Safe to say it was one of the tougher days for me! Don’t worry though, I think it was just a bad reaction as no one else in our group seemed to be suffering.
The last day of the trek you’ll wake up early again and start the trek back to El Mamey. It’s a long day, around 14km of trekking all up. Our group split up a little bit at this stage, as some people were a lot faster than others. The last few kilometres are really nice, as you’re getting the same views as day 1. Although the motivation to take pictures at this stage was waning a little, probably thanks to being so exhausted.
Once you arrive back, there’s a little cafe where you can grab food and drink while you wait for the rest of the group. The jeeps will then turn up again, and take you back to Santa Marta. Some people in our group were going to Tayrona, and the jeep drivers were happy to drop them off there along the way.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, the trek to the Lost City was one of the toughest but best treks that I’ve done. If you’re heading to Colombia, I’d highly recommend doing it if you have the time!
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