Ever heard of La Ciudad Perdida, or the Lost City of the Tayrona? An archaeological site, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia? Hundreds of years ago this place was inhabited by the Tayrona indigenous people. Nowadays it is a unique place in Colombia because it can only be reached by foot through the jungle. Two and a half days to get there, a visit to the city and then the exact same way back. Everything you walk up, you walk down and vice versa. An incredible experience! In this article you can read everything you want to know about the Lost City trek and hike in Colombia, including a packing list + many useful tips.
Lost City trek Colombia: Day 1.
For the second time in my life I am going to do this trek. And again, I find it exciting. At 8 am we are picked up at the hotel in Santa Marta and taken to the office of Osprey Expeditions. After a short briefing and getting to know our guide Pedro, we get into the jeep. On our way to our adventure. I catch myself immediately looking at my fellow travelers. How fit are they? I won’t say that this is the most important thing, but after all, you do form a small team for the next few days.
It is about a 2 hour drive to the starting point of our Lost City hike and along the way we get to know each other. A super fit American/French couple and a couple from Bogotá, little to zero experience. After 1.5 hours we make a stop at the entrance of the National Park and buy some last things. And then it’s another half hour, via a bumby road into the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, to the village of Mamey, also known as Machete Pelao.
As soon as we arrive, we hear cheering and clapping from travelers who have returned from the Lost City hike in Colombia and made it. They look sweaty and worn out. Ai, this is exciting. After a nice lunch, we get ready for departure. We look one more time at the map. 48 kilometers doesn’t sound that much, but when you see how many hours certain parts take, you understand that it won’t be easy. In exactly 4 days we will be back at this point.
Mamey – Camp Adain – 4 hours
We slowly walk out of the village. Today is the least beautiful route, because we walk on a road where scooters regularly race by. Also, it is quite dusty and steep at certain parts. In addition, the sun burns heavily on our skin because there is little shelter.
As we progress along the path, the views become more and more beautiful. We look far out over the mountains and see the Caribbean coast in the distance. The guides stop a lot along the way to drink juice, eat fruit and rest. I would like it to go a little faster because sometimes you get more tired of stopping a lot. But you can tell that these guides are experienced. The good thing is that everyone can walk at his own pace. After 3.5 hours we reach the first campsite: Camp Aidan. I can’t believe we are already there. That went very well.
Camp Aidan is idyllically located on a river and surrounded by flowers. These rivers will play an important role in the coming days. After all, there is nothing nicer than to cool down after a few hours of walking and sweating.
Moreover, you share this beautiful place only with a handful of other travelers, which allows you to take the most beautiful pictures.
Camp Aidan is quite luxurious for a campsite in the middle of the jungle. There are bunk beds with real mattresses, blankets, pillows and a mosquito net. There are also showers (of course with cold water), including electricity and a bar to buy drinks.
After a dinner of fish and rice, an explanation follows about the area where we are. And then, around 9 PM, it is time to go to bed. Tomorrow we have to wake up at 5AM. Yes, really, every day at 5AM we have to get up, breakfast is at 5.30 AM and 6 AM is departure time. With the sound of the river, crickets, frogs and birds, we are in for a surprisingly good night.
Interesting is it that the local guides share a lot about their personal life: From the day they had to survive as a coca- and marihuana farmer (something the region was known for) until the day they received an education for becoming a guide. Still, only local people from this region in Colombia are allowed to guide the trek to the Lost City.
Day 2 of the Lost City trek in Colombia: Camp Aidan – Camp Mumake – Camp Paraiso – 8 hours
At 5 AM the alarm goes off. This turns out to be unnecessary, because guide Juan Carlos wakes everyone up by walking around and singing his daily morning song. I am not sure whether I like this way of waking up but it is a nice try. It is pitch dark and you notice that everyone gets out of bed a bit confused. I can’t imagine going on a 8-hour hike just yet.
After a good breakfast, we indeed leave at 6 AM. It is light and I notice that my body is ready for the day. Very soon we walk deep into the rainforest and it is beautiful: The sounds of nature, the beautiful vegetation, the colors of green and the idyllic streams.
After 3 hours of walking with some stops for fruits, we approach the first villages. It is a crazy idea that several indigenous communities live here deep in the Sierra Nevada. Most indigenous people are not waiting for the tourist. They quickly disappear into their thatched houses. I think it is a good thing that people decide themselves how they want to deal with visitors. It is nevertheless beautiful to observe daily life. Children walk with their mothers with little pigs and dogs on their arms and men pass by with mules.
In a Kogui village we get an explanation from one of the leaders about life in the Sierra Nevada, including local traditions and customs.
La Ciudad Perdida is part of the National Park Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This protected area consists of 401,480 hectares and is considered the center of the world by indigenous cultures such as the Wiwas, Arhuacos, Koguis and the Kankuamos. These communities still live here according to their own local traditions and customs.
After the visit, it is only a short hike to the camp where we have lunch (also the place where we will return tomorrow to spend the night). Upon arrival, there is time to take a dip in the river. And believe me, this feels like a reset. So refreshing. Especially because one of the toughest things about the hike is the heat and high humidity. After walking for half an hour, you are already completely sweaty.
The afternoon is dedicated to Happy Hour, as the guides call it. One hour of non stop hiking uphill. It is indeed a tough climb and there seems to be no end to it. Yet again, it is not so bad. And before I know it, I’m at the top and I’m eating the most delicious pineapple ever. The route afterwards consists of trails going uphill, downhill and is beautiful. You enter the green tropical rainforest, full of lianas and pass perfect streams, rivers and waterfalls.
Camp Paraiso is again situated on a river, at the foot of La Ciudad Perdida. Tomorrow morning is the day that we visit the Lost City and that is exciting. After dinner, an explanation of the city follows so we can fully enjoy our visit and the surroundings the next day.
Day 3: Camp Paraiso – Lost city – Camp Mumake
While enjoying the singing of Juan Carlos we wake up at 5 AM. Because we come back to the campsite for lunch after our visit to the Lost City, our belongings can stay behind.
The never-ending staircase
Today I do feel that my legs are tired. And today is the day of the 1250 steps, which leads to the Lost City in Colombia. The stairs go up steeply and the steps are uneven and narrow. Fair is fair. This staircase is tough and once again, there seems to be no end to it. After about an hour, we finally make it and reach a small house where we show our Lost City passport for a stamp. It is a small booklet with nice information about the Lost City, the guides provide you with.
The Lost City tour in Colombia
Then our tour of the lost city begins. And how beautiful it is here! There are so many different colors of green in one glance. Because it is so early, it feels like the city is still waking up. The first rays of sunshine and birdsongs are just magical.
Moreover, we are the very first visitors of the day and have the whole city to ourselves. Because I want to take beautiful pictures, I change my clothes every now and then: I change my sticky hiking clothes for long dresses.
We walk along various sectors and the dogs and cats, who live in the city, keep following us. It does feel special to be here. The Lost City in Colombia is only accessible by foot so you really have to do something for it. And after 2 days of hiking, you realize this even more. Even the helicopters are not allowed to land.
Iconic photo spots
After countless moments of joy, we come close to the iconic photo spots. You can see these images in all promotions. And the views are breathtaking. Gradually, the other groups arrive. But even with the maximum number of visitors per day, being in the city at the same time, it is still very quiet.
At the viewpoint, the guides prepare a a plate with chips, chocolate and lots of fruit. This way we regain our strength and continue our tour through the city. We also pass an indigenous community that lives here in the Lost City. Very special.
After our vist, we walk down the infamous stairs. Perhaps even more challenging than the way up. You really have to be careful. Everyone is relieved to be down.
Ciudad Perdida, was built as Teyuna by the Tayrona indigenous people around 650 AD. The Lost City is therefore older than Machu Picchu in Peru. The city was abandoned for unclear reasons between the 16th and 17th centuries and taken over by the jungle. Even though local people knew about its existence, it wasn’t until 1972 that the Lost City was officially rediscovered. For a long time, the city was unsafe to visit due to the political situation in Colombia. But today it is one of Colombia’s best places to visit. Ciudad Perdida consists of a series of 169 terraces carved into the mountainside, a network of roads and several small circular squares. The city is located at an altitude of 1200 meters and is one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements in South America.
Camp Paraiso – Camp Mumake – 4 uur
Back at the campsite there is time for a refreshing dip in the river and lunch. After this magical morning, the moment of realization comes: Now we have to walk the exact same way back for two days. With the beautiful memories in our heads we start the route. Everything we ascended yesterday we descend today. It is striking that you always think you have recognition points. But every time you think you are almost there, you are wrong.
After 3 hours we reach Mumake, the place of the lunch of yesterday. Today we sleep in tents on the second floor of a building, also on nice mattresses with blankets and pillows. Our last night in the jungle!
Day 4 – Lost city trek Colombia: Camp Mumake – Camp Aidan – Mamey – 7 hours
The last day of the Lost City hike in Colombia is there. With mixed feelings. On the one hand I am happy that we will arrive in the civilized world, on the other hand I am sad that this beautiful adventure is almost over. Strangely enough, this is the day I am nervous about the most. I have the feeling that today will be hard, also because my legs are more tired.
After about 45 minutes of walking, the first steep mountain starts, through mud and red sand. Somehow, no one can remember that we went down this steep part before. We walk past the indigenous villages where the morning is bustling with activity. The children are awake and waving which makes for nice pictures.
Again, it is best to consider the route as completely new. Several times I thought I knew or recognized something and it turned out to be completely different. Probably because you have already seen and experienced so much. After 3 hours, there is a short break with snacks and juices at Camp Aidan, our former overnight location of day 1.
The last part
And then there is another steep mountain before we approach the paved road. It just feels crazy to walk up a paved road again. Even though we think we are almost there, it is still a long way down to civilization. After a few hours of walking, we see the first houses at the edge of the village of Mamey. And then we see the restaurant, where we started the Lost City hike in Colombia. And we too are applauded for making it! What a fantastic hike!
How hard is the Lost City hike in Colombia?
Hard! How hard? That is different for everyone. But as the organization itself says: This is no walk in the park. You really need to be a bit fit and have the right mindset. Especially to be able to enjoy it. It is the trail that makes the Lost City hike so worthwhile.
I would say that it is the length and heat that make the hike difficult. You walk an average of about 7 hours a day and the humidity is enormous, about 85%. This ensures that within half an hour you are already completely sweaty.
Day 1 is fairly easy, day 2 is very long with a hard part hiking uphill. On day 3, you will feel your legs and you will experience the challenging stairs to the Lost City. And day 4 is long with two “secretly” heavy climbs. And the longer you are on the road, the more tired your legs are. Still, I found the trek to be fairly easy this second time around. In other words, I was able to really enjoy it at every moment, despite harder moments. If you don’t have any injuries and you make sure you are in a little bit of shape, this trip is doable and amazing.
If you are tired on the last day of the Lost City trek in Colombia, it is also possible to return by mule. A number of people in our group did this.
Campsites during the Lost City hike in Colombia
I mentioned it before. The campsites during the Lost City trek are simple but very well taken care of. And if you compare it to other campings during treks in South America, even luxurious. There are real beds with mattresses, blankets, pillows and a mosquito net. There are toilets with showers (of course with cold water), including electricity and there is a bar to buy drinks. In the evening you can even watch soccer and there is wifi for a fee. Something you probably don’t want to use at all, as you are in such a beautiful area.
Food & beverages along the way
The food during the Lost City hike in Colombia is included and great. You’ll wonder how they manage to prepare so much delicious food, deep in the jungle. All campsites have a kitchen and each group has its own cook who prepares the meals. Every day, there is breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the way you also stop regularly for delicious fruit. And upon arrival at the campsite there is popcorn and hot chocolate.
It is recommended to bring your own snacks and a good water bag. These can be refilled free of charge at all campsites during the Lost City hike in Colombia.
Yes or no for a porter
With every hike I am saying this again. I always spend some extra money on porters. Just to enjoy a long hike to the fullest. I am therefore happy to pay a penny more so that I only have to carry my daypack. Moreover, the porters are always local people who earn a little extra this way. And in the case of the Lost City trek in Colombia, the luggage is often placed on a mule together with the food.
Best time to go on the Lost City trek in Colombia
You can go on the Ciudad Perdida hike all year round, with the exception of September. However, the best period is from December to March. That is the dry period. During the rainy season, the Ciudad Perdida hike is even harder.
Keep in mind: The Ciudad Perdida hike is closed around September every year. This is because the area is spiritual cleaned by the indigenous Wiwas population. The amount of tourists affects the health of mother earth, according to local people. Mother Earth and other nature gods play an important role in the lives of the local inhabitants. The spiritual leaders, also called Mamos, make sure that Mother Earth can recover, by provinding a ceremonial cleansing.
What to bring – packing list for the Lost City trek in Colombia
My recommendation is to bring as little as possible during the Lost City hike. You don’t need much. Just keep in mind that everything gets wet and won’t not dry. Check out my useful packing list for your Lost City trek in Colombia.
- Good walking shoes
- Sufficient socks
- Mosquito spray and after bite (you can’t bring enough)
- Light clothing (keep in mind that clothes will stay wet because of thee humidity)
- Swimwear + water shoes
- Quick drying towels
- Long pants and long sleeved shirt for the evenings (because of mosquitoes, but also because it can cool down in the evening)
- A headlamp
- Flip flops to use on the campsite
- Powerbanks (there is electricity at the campsites but it is always good to have some spare)
- Blister plasters + medical kit
- Water bag (you can refill water at all campsites)
- Bags for dirty clothes
- Money for snacks and drinks along the way
- Sheet bag (this is not necessary but I found the blankets at the campsites a bit sticky because of the humidity)
- Daypack (if someone is carrying your large luggage) or a larger backpack (if you are carrying your own stuff)
- Rain coat (maybe in the rainy season, but since it’s so clammy and humid you’ll get wet anyway)
- Walking sticks – optional, there are often bamboo sticks available at the start of the Los City hike.
- A notebook to keep track of your experiences. Use discount code traveltheworld and receive 10% off all Miss Wood products.
Tip 1: put your phone on airplane mode. This way the battery will last longer. Tip 2: In the evening you want to put on a clean outfit. Since it won’t get dirty, you can put on the outfit from the night before every day. That way, you don’t drag along any unnecessary luggage.
How to go on the Lost City hike in Colombia
It is only possible to go on the Lost City hike in Colombia with a professional guide and organization. And that’s a good thing. This way, the safety of visitors, nature and local people is guaranteed, and the flow of tourists is regulated. I myself chose Osprey Expeditions because of the small-scale character, the professional service and the sustainable collaborations with local parties. You can choose from a 4 or 5 day Lost City hike, with the 4 day hike being done the most.
Looking for things to do in Santa Marta? Have a look in my city guide with many tips and things to do.
I love to spend the night in a comforatbale and luxurious place after a multi-day hike. Are you looking for a true paradise? Then you should stay at One Santuario Natural, also known as One Love hotel, near Palomino in Colombia. This eco resort is located along the Palomino River and is a place you will not easily forget. At One Love you experience nature in its purest form. The beautiful jungle surroundings, the flowers, the sound of the river, the delicious food and the sounds of the birds will make you relax and recharge for your next adventures. In this article you will read all about my stay at One Santuario Natural. You can find availabiliy and the latest rates here. Curious to find more hotels in Colombia? Have a look in my article with the most beautiful places to stay in Colombia.
About Osprey Expeditions
Osprey Expeditions is a renowned travel agency that offers different tours in Colombia and Venezuela. All tours are dedicated to nature, interaction with the local population, outdoor and unforgettable experiences. Curious about Osprey Expeditions? Then take a look at the website. You can also follow them on instagram and facebook.
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Intererested in reading more about Colombia? This is an article with the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia, including the best time to visit. Or check out the Colombia blog page with city guides and things to do in Medellín, Bogota and Santa Marta. Tips for lovely towns such as Salento, Mompox and Villa de Leyva. But also the Tatacoa desert and Valle de Cocora. Interested in archaeology? Read more about the mysterious San Agustín statues.
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