On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, lies a wild and mysterious mountain range: the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In the heart of the jungle-covered mountains, can be found one of the top archaeological sites in South America, the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). All the ingredients are there for a fantastic but challenging trek! The trail goes up and down mountains, crossing countrysides, rivers and rainforests for about 22 km one way, 44 km in total.
Along the way, wooden huts were built, allowing trekkers to take a break, buy cold drinks and enjoy some fresh juicy fruits. Make sure to bring enough cash with you, in these shops the drinks are overpriced (5000 pesos – double of the normal price) but you will still need to buy them because it’s very hot and you will be incredibly thirsty. Various camps were also created for the hikers to have lunch, dinner, a shower and spend the night.
I didn’t really know what to expect for the camps. Will they be small? Big? Comfortable? Or just an old hammock between two trees? They are actually much bigger and more developed that I imagined. All the camps have a dormitory area with two levels of beds, each with a mosquito net. Each camp also has flushing toilets and simple showers, and also a “restaurant” area with a kitchen and large tables. The camps are built along rivers and most people enjoy a nice swim after a long day of hiking.
GPS (Ciudad Perdida): 11°2’17.56″N, 73°55’30.55″W
How to go: Trek with local travel agency in Santa Marta. I personally chose Expotur.
Cost of the trek: 800,000 Colombian Pesos (around US$280)
Duration of the trek: 4 days. 5 days possible for the same price but doesn’t bring anything new, in my opinion 4 days feels just right.
Trekking distance: 44 km (27 miles) in total.
Best season: December to April
In this page I will try to share my experience of this awesome trek in virtual tours, photos and a map. I chose to show the whole trek in this page, dividing it into 4 phases and virtual tours:
- Day 1: Trekking Across The Countryside
- Day 2: In The Jungle
- Day 3 Morning: Visiting The Ciudad Perdida
- Day 3 Afternoon & Day 4: Walking All The Way Back!
Day 1: Trekking Across The Countryside
Machete, 63 km west of Santa Marta, Colombia. It’s in this village that I got to know the group of people I was about to share this adventure with, with a nice lunch. We didn’t know it yet, but it was also the last time we would be dry, and wearing dry clothes in 4 days! On the first day of the trek, the goal is to reach the Adán Camp, built along the Río Honduras. That’s an 8 km hike, more or less.
This first day is, in my opinion, the hardest of the trek. The culprit? A really sweltering heat that surely doesn’t help when you need to climb challenging, long steep slopes. The result: all your clothes quickly get drenched in sweat. And they will stay that way for the whole trek (bring enough clothes!).
The fact is that on the first day, you need to cross the countryside; and this heat is the direct result of the heavy deforestation that took place in this area. Not many trees left to provide some shade and preserve some “coolness”. The whole day, I bet everyone kept thinking of the wonderful natural pool awaiting us near the camp to escape the heat!
Nevertheless, the scenery is already stunning as we keep getting closer to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, with its mysterious peaks hidden in the clouds.
Day 2: In The Jungle
The programme for this second day is to first walk to the Mumake Camp for lunch, then reach the Paraíso Camp which is the closest to the Lost City. The total distance is about 14 km.
This day is also an opportunity to learn about the Kogi and Wiwa tribes, which have survived the Spanish Conquistador invasion, unlike the Tayronas. They are trying hard to preserve their culture and their lifestyle, and are not very happy about getting more and more trekkers crossing their land – but they got involved in the tourism economy and they are able to make some money out of it.
Some of the mountain views were really stunning! Untouched forest and mountains as far as you can see. As we slowly gained altitude, the heat became more and more bearable.
Day 3 Morning: Visiting The Ciudad Perdida
Finally! The legendary Lost City is now (almost) within our reach! From the Paraíso Camp, a last small effort of 1200 steps is needed to get to there.
As soon as I arrived at the site, I saw something very different from what I had imagined. Before going, I was just imagining a few small terraces lost in the jungle – I soon realised that it is much more extended than that. But what I did imagine correctly is the incredible view to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, still largely untouched. When you think about it, it is often the surrounding scenery that makes an archaeological site stand out. It is the case for Machu Picchu for example, and it is also the case for the Lost City.
It is a fascinating to imagine the Tayrona people building all this and living in these mountains. I will keep this post reasonably short but you can read more about the history of the Lost City here.
Day 3 Afternoon & Day 4: Walking All The Way Back!
After walking 22 km to the Lost City, it is now time to walk these 22 km back to Machete. If we had to find a negative aspect of this trek, it would be that we take exactly the same path to go to the Lost City and come back, instead of making a loop for example. However, I wouldn’t consider it to be a really negative aspect – the landscapes are gorgeous enough for you to bear seeing them twice!
We had been lucky with the weather so far but in the afternoon of the third day, thunderstorms burgeoned and before we knew it, we got caught in an insanely heavy rain only the tropics can produce. As a result, the once swimmer-friendly rivers were in spate, violent and muddy. As for the mountains and jungle, they were caught in an elegant mist.
After spending the night at the Mumake camp (where we had lunch on the second day), we crossed the overheated countryside back to Machete and the trek was over! Exhausted and sweating but feeling happy and satisfied with what I had just accomplished, I was sitting at the restaurant in Machete, watching the new batch of hikers getting ready for the trek, all fresh and dry, thinking “if they knew all the heat, the sweat and the slopes that are awaiting them…!”.
In any case, this trek is an awesome challenge to take, as it will make you hike in a mind-blowing landscape, make you discover an interesting local culture, and make you meet a lot of really cool people!
Here is the positions of the virtual tours’ panoramas on the map, along with the camps and the huts where we could buy cold drinks along the way.