The Lost City Trek, or Ciudad Perdida to use the Spanish name, has been at the top of my Colombian ‘to do’ list since I arrived. Despite reading a lot of different blogs and speaking to others I still felt unsure what to expect leading up to the trek. So, to help you be as prepared as you can for taking on this challenging hike here is my complete guide to The Lost City Trek.
In this post I’m going to cover:
- A general introduction to the Lost City Trek
- Choosing the right company to go with
- Preparing physically and mentally for the trek
- What to pack
- A day by day guide to the trek
What is the Lost City Trek?
The Ciudad Perdida trek is a 46 km (28 miles) hike through the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is a jungle trek, so think hot and humid! After day one you will be completely ‘off road’ and the only mode of transport other than your legs is a mule. The trek takes you through the jungle to visit the abandoned city known locally as ‘Teyuna’.
It is believed that the city was founded in 800 CE (FYI that’s 650 years before Machu Picchu). The Lost City was ‘rediscovered’ in 1972 by a father and son who began to loot the site. After the ancient artifacts began to appear on the black market Colombian Archeologists found out about the site and began reconstruction, which was finished in 1982.
Adventurers began to visit the site in the 70’s navigating through the jungle alone. Formal tours didn’t begin to take place until later. A government program to help displaced farmers began training them to be tour guides and take groups of tourists to visit the site. It is now compulsory to go with a local guide and money from each tour goes to help support over 400 families in the area.
The trek was relatively unknown to mass tourist until in 2003 when the ELN kidnapped 8 tourists. Ironically, after this, people began to flock to Colombia to see the Ciudad Perdida for themselves. Don’t worry the trek, and Colombia, in general, is now very safe. In fact, there is even an army unit based in the city. You can rest assured that it is now safe for tourists.
Who is it for
This tour is not recommended for beginner hikers or people with a below average level of fitness. One thing I would say is that it’s not an easy trek, you need to be prepared for a lot of walking in some difficult conditions. Therefore this isn’t a trek you get talked into doing by your friend. You need to want to do it. And you need to be prepared for it. It is one of the best things I have done, but it was hard! So if I haven’t already put you off, keep reading for more information. Of take a read of these inspirational quotes to find some more motivation!
How to choose the right tour operator for the Lost City Trek
When the government put conditions on the trek to make it fair all of the operators have to charge the same price. This means what you need to look for in a tour operator is the service you will get. There are 6 main tour operators running tours to Teyuna, so you only have to choose between the 6! I decided to do with Magic Tour Colombia for 2 reasons. 1, I took a tour to Punta Gallinas with them and I was seriously impressed with the service I received and 2, they had great reviews. I can’t speak for the other operators but here are some things to look out for and my experience with Magic Tour:
Some of the operators provide hammocks to sleep in. With magic Tour, I slept in a bed all 3 nights. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but after hiking for 7+ hours a day the thought of sleeping in a hammock didn’t appeal to me! The temperature in the jungle drops at night and the hammocks are more exposed to the elements.
As a vegetarian food on tours is always a bit of an issue for me. When you are doing something this physical you need to be well fed to sustain your energy. I can honestly say that I was really, really well fed over the 3 days. In fact, I was so well fed I didn’t eat my snacks! I ended up giving away all my snacks as I didn’t want to carry them around anymore. We had a whole catering team who traveled with us. They were total rockstars! The food was incredible and we were told right at the start that if we wanted more food all we had to do is ask.
English or Spanish
This is a general thing in South America. If you don’t speak Spanish you need to make sure you communicate this to the tour operator. Some operators will charge you extra for having the tour in English. Either because they will need to provide you with a translator or they will need a guide who speaks English, this is seen as an extra skill so the guide could be better paid. With Magic Tour, we had both a Spanish and English speaking guide at no extra cost. If you need the tour in English make sure to request this when booking.
If like me you are a bit of a history geek, and love learning about the history of a place, then take this into consideration. Our guide Tomas was pretty amazing. I learned so much over those 4 days about the local area, culture, history and especially about the indigenous people. It was the highlight for me.
Health & Safety
If there is one thing I’m always a bit worried about it’s getting injured doing something like this. As far as I know, all of the guides have to do first aid training before starting the job. My worst nightmare happened on the way back and I fell spraining my ankle and knee. The team was great and got me strapped up quickly. Luckily I was able to finish the hike (more about this later) and one of the guides stayed with me (at the back) to make sure I was ok.
Getting ready for the hike
If there is one thing I wish I had done before the hike it would be to be better prepared physically. Don’t get me wrong I’m not in bad shape. BUT I had just spent 4 weeks in Spanish school sitting on my backside. I think if I had just gone for a run once or twice a week that might have helped! So if you know you have been sitting on a lot of busses and not been very active then get yourself outside and go on a few long walks or runs. Your body will thank you for it!
What to pack
Rule number 1, only take what you absolutely need! You are going to have to carry this stuff on your back for 4 days. This is what I would suggest taking with you.
- Small hiking backpack – make sure you have a waist strap (for comfort) and a place to keep your water for easy access.
- Quick-dry towel
- Hiking boots/ Hiking sandals/ sneakers with a good grip
- Flip flops
- 4 pairs of socks
- 4 t-shirts to walk in (ideally these would be quick dry)
- 2-4 pairs of shorts/ long pants/ leggings (you want 2 as a minimum 1 pair of shorts and 1 pair of long pants. Things don’t dry in the jungle so if you don’t like the idea of wearing something damp and dirty take 4). I took 1 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of leggings and 1 pair of long trousers that could turn into shorts.
- Swimsuit – You get to swim every day so don’t forget this!
- Something to wear in the evenings and to sleep in – I took some lightweight bottoms and a long sleeve T-shirt which I wore each night for dinner and to sleep in. Remember it gets cold at night.
- Something warm to wear in the evenings – My only regret was not bringing a jumper with me! A lightweight fleece would have been perfect.
- Underwear – I’m not a fan of bras, so I just took 2 bikini tops 2 bottoms and 3 pairs of panties with me. I wore the bikinis to hike in as they are not only quick dry but it also meant I was ready to swim at any time!
- Headtorch – you will need this in the evenings
- Bug spray – super important!
- Toilet paper
- Mini first aid kit (Make sure you have ibuprofen and plasters)
- Earplugs (jungles are noisy and you sleep very close to others who could be snoring)
- Energy powers to add to your water – get something with electrolytes in it to help keep your energy up.
- Water 2L minimum – if you have a Camelbak bring it!
- Hiking stick
- Shampoo (I didn’t take this as I kept my hair braided for 4 days)
- Lavender oil (Great for bug bites, cuts etc and it will help you get to sleep)
What to expect
In this section, I’m going to talk you through each day of the trek. To be clear this is my personal experience of it. Everyone experiences it differently depending on their fitness and preferences, I have tried to be a neutral as possible, but this was my experience of the Lost City trek with Magic Tour.
Be sure to get a good night’s sleep and eat a decent breakfast! I was told to be at the office in Santa Marta at 8:45. This is to sort out the paperwork, pay the final balance and listen to the pre-trip brief. We didn’t leave the office until 10:30, but there was coffee, so I was happy!
You will go in a minibus first before changing into a 4X4 to make the rather bumpy journey to Mamey or Machete as it is locally known. You will have the chance to grab any last minute supplies at both stops.
We had lunch at Resturante Edel Mira in El Mamey at 1 pm followed by a more detailed pre-hike talk from our guide Tomas. Using the map, he talked us through each day of the trek letting us know what to expect. Then we started the hike, from here you will have no phone service until you return after the hike.
On day one you have 3 hours of hiking. This was the worse day for me. The hike was brutal! It’s all uphill, you are at a low elevation so it’s still very hot, there is little shade and my bag was at its heaviest due to water. Plus it was a bit of a shock to my body after being sat in class for 4 weeks prior to this.
In some ways, it’s easier as you are mostly on the road so you don’t need to be quite so alert to where you are stepping, but the lack of jungle coverage made the sun pretty unbearable. For me, nothing over the 4 days got worse than this.
The good thing is at the top of each hill was fresh fruit and at each place we camped, we were able to go swimming! I can’t even tell you how good it felt after hiking it jump into that water and cool off!
Be warned you will have early starts every day! We were up at 5 am, breakfast at 5:30 and on the trail by 6 am.
Although this may feel like a shock if you aren’t a morning person the mornings were my favorite hikes. Hiking before the sun is high was so much easier! You are well and truly in the jungle now and honestly, I felt like Indiana Jones! The path is pretty easy to follow and as I lagged behind filming and taking photos a lot there were times when I found myself alone waking the path. Although I wasn’t ever alone for long I really enjoyed these moments.
Expect a lot of uphill in the morning, but as you are shaded and it is early it’s pretty cool. We stopped at an indigenous village to learn more about it. This village is still in use but just for special occasions and celebrations.
After 3.5 hours of hiking, we then stopped for a swim and lunch. BEST. THING. EVER. after all of that walking. If you get lucky and it is sunny you can hang your clothes up to dry. We did get lucky and in an hour managed to dry everything off. This was the only time this happened during the trek! From here on expect to be wet!
The afternoon hike was tough (but not as tough as the day before). The views are spectacular during the pm so take your time and soak it all in. You will have to walk through a river so make sure you wear shorts on day 2! If you have hiking sandals now is a good time to wear them! Otherwise, you will need to take off your boots to cross the river.
Word of warning, go slowly and be careful! I saw 2 people fall in the river, one of the girls got her boots soaked and had to walk for 2 days with wet boots! Not fun.
On night 2 everyone for all of the tour groups stays together in Paradise Camp. Because of so many people, a lot of the groups slept in hammocks. Lucky for me Magic Tour made sure most of us had a bed. A few of the younger group members who volunteered to sleep in a hammock. There was a river to swim in here, but as you are at a higher altitude it is COLD. So I gave it a miss, the cold shower was enough for me!
We ate a lot of popcorn and then spoke about what to expect the next day. I can’t even tell you how happy I was to find out I wouldn’t have to carry my bag up the 1000+ steps to the lost city haha.
The big day! Be sure to get up early and get ready to leave at 6 am. You will be able to lock your bag up in a storeroom and all of the groups leave at a different time to avoid ‘congestion’ on the trail. The hike to Teyuna in the morning is pretty short compared to the other days. But it’s 1000+ steps up! Great workout for your butt though.
It actually wasn’t so bad. But save some energy for when you get there as the Lost City is built on the side of the mountain so you will keep climbing up if you want to get the iconic photo.
As we were guided around Thomas gave up so much information about the city and the history.
After this, we were given some time to explore on our own before meeting back up for snacks!
Once we had finished exploring the Lost City we continued on to see a traditional casa up close, where If you get lucky you will get to meet the Mama (leader of the Kogi people living in the area).
Sadly he wasn’t there but we did get to meet some of his children.
Here we learned more about the indigenous people of the 4 tribes Kogi, Wiwa, Kankuamo, and Arhuaco. After passing many Kogis and Wiwas it was so interesting to learn more about them.
We then took some time to go for a swim before beginning the descent back to camp!
My ‘little’ accident
On my way back not long after leaving the camp, I fell pretty badly and I managed to sprain my ankle and twist my knee. It was a bit of a shock and I’m not going to lie I was pretty worried! Mostly because I knew I had another 22km to go and my only option other than walking was to get a mule! Having had many injuries as a dancer I’m well acquainted with ankle sprains so I knew my best bet was to get straight up and keep walking.
So that’s what I did. I activated my yoga breathing and just kept going. It was hard, I was in a lot of pain but Tomas stayed with me checking in and making sure I was OK. When I got back to camp I cried! I think part relief I’d managed to do it and part pain! I was worried about it swelling and not being able to walk the next day so I went to bed early with a tone of arnica and ibuprofen!
Because of my ‘little accident’, I was pretty nervous about today. Especially as I knew a lot of it was downhill (which was so much more painful than uphill). I’m pretty stubborn so I decided I was going to try and at least walk the first 3 hours back to camp 1 and after that, I would be able to get a Moto back. I did send my backpack on a mule for 20Mil though!
I was slow and careful and it wasn’t much fun. So I can’t really tell you much about day 4 as I spent most of it heavy breathing with my head down focusing on putting one foot in front of the other! When going uphill I felt nothing and dreaded going downhill. In some ways, I think my focus and breathing actually made it easier!
Anyway, after making it back to camp 1 I decided I had to finish this on foot or I would just be super disappointed in myself. So I just kept going! I may have been slow but I made it all the way back and felt so proud of myself. It wasn’t a terrible time either and I wasn’t the last in our group back surprisingly!
I got a round of applause from my group for making it, we all had a beer and another great meal before heading back to Santa Marta!
This hike was a huge challenge mentally and physically. But I LOVED it. Even with my injury. I’m also really glad I went with Magic Tour, once again they were incredible and I felt so well looked after by them. All of the groups have the same cost, they don’t all have this level of service though. If you are planning on doing the hike I highly recommend choosing them as your tour guides.