Most Important Facts
- Disclaimer: Be prepared for the most sweaty trek in your life! And forget about all the usual comfort you are used to, these things do not matter in the rain forest. But if you are up for an adventure of a very special kind, this trek might be of interest to you.
Yes, we were exhausted. Besides Dani, who was still able to spare a smile for the pic… 🙂
- Organize: You have to book a guided tour as it is not allowed to do this trek on your own. There are several tour operators based in Santa Marta. We booked our tour with Magic Tour Colombia, another big agency is Expotur or Guias y Baquianos.
- Costs: Depending on how big your group is, prices range between USD 300 and USD 450. This is, in comparison to the general price level in Colombia, rather expensive.
- Distance: The whole trail (backtrack) is 46 km long, with an elevation gain of approximately 900 meters.
- Hours needed: You are hiking roughly 5-7 hours a day, depending on how many days you need to reach Ciudad Perdida.
- Infrastructure: Trails are maintained, but at some parts rather slippery and you have to cross rivers (by foot) several times. Night camps are very basic and not really clean. There are flush toilets and cold showers.
- Useful links: Lonely Planet and an article in German.
Our Packing List
- Small day backpack with a rain cover
- Light trekking shoes
- Sandals (for crossing rivers)
- Silk sleeping bag
- One T-Shirt per hiking day
- One or two short hiking pants
- One light, but long hiking pant against the mosquitos
- One trainer pant and one long sleeve for the night
- Bathing suit
- Enough socks, underwear and bras to change every day (once or twice)
- Few snacks
- Camel bag and water for at least one hiking day
- Mosquito repellent: We used both Anti Brumm® Forte and NOPIKEX®. Pro tip: Buy the soap based Nopikex and apply it every morning and evening on your body. Like that we came out of the rain forest nearly without any mosquito bite. Prior to the trek, treat all your clothing with «Nobite» or a similar mosquito repellent for textiles
- First aid kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Water purifier tablets
- Toilet paper, wet-wipes, toothbrush, soap, towel
- Sun cream, sun glasses, sun hat
- Camera gear
- Torch light (at 9 pm, there is no more electricity in the camps)
- Zip-loc bags or dry bag for all your stuff (as literally everything gets wet during the trek) and a plastic bag for wet and dirty cloths
- Money (you can buy water, other soft drinks and additional snacks in small shops during the trek)
Our Way of Hiking to «Ciudad Perdida»
Date of hike: August 13 to August 15 2018 – During our first ten days in Colombia, we were exploring the capital Bogotá, the rural coffee region Armenia, the beautiful Valle del Cocora and the colorful cities of Medellín and Cartagena. (Mirko shares the best pictures of our journey in this blogpost.) After that, time was right for another hike. With our friends Mirjam and Daniel who travelled with us for two weeks, we decided to hike to the “Ciudad Perdida”, which is located deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. This trek is recommended by many backpackers and hiking in the midst of the jungle was to all of us something completely new.
On August 13th we got picked up at our hostel in Santa Marta at 6 am. After a 1.5 hours’ drive, we reached the entrance of the national park and continued on a bumpy jungle road towards the small city of Machete Pelao. Here we ate breakfast and got ready to start hiking. To our surprise, our guide organized motorbikes for us in order to overcome the first 10 km. As we did the trek only in three days (most groups book a four day trek), we had to catch up with the group that started the day before. Sitting on that motorbike driven by a friendly Colombian teenager, we felt a bit like Che Guevara and his friend in the movie Diarios en motocicleta… After the 25 minutes ride on a motorbike, we hiked roughly 3 hours until lunch break. After a refreshing swim in the river, we continued hiking for another 3 hours through the rain forest and reached Paraiso Camp at the feet of Ciudad Perdida around 4.30 pm.
On the second day we got up at 5 am and reached Ciudad Perdida just before 7 am. We spent two entire hours at the ruins, taking pictures, exploring the surroundings and eating some snacks. On our descent back to Paraiso Camp we took another swim in the river and then ate an early lunch at the camp. From there on, our way back to civilization started. After another 4 hours of hiking through the rain forest, we reached the camp where we ate lunch on the first day. Here we spent our second night.
On the third and last day, we got up at 5 am and started hiking around 6 am. During the night it rained a lot and we had to cross two rivers with alarmingly high water level. Also, the trails were muddy and slippery. We reached the place where we started our trek after 3.5 hours of hiking. Finally, after a short ride on the motorbikes, we were able to take this finisher selfie at Machete Pelao.
Highlights and Lowlights
Reflecting on these three days in the rain forest, these were our highlights:
1. Swimming in natural pools.
In order to cool down and to relax our sweaty bodies, we were able to swim in various beautiful jungle pools during the trek. We enjoyed these moments away from other tourists, listening to parrots in the palm trees, being surrounded by lianas and colorful flowers.
2. Stunning views over Ciudad Perdida.
In our small group, we were able to get up earlier and move quicker than the larger tourists groups. This allowed us to reach the Ciudad Perdida very early in the morning of the second day. We felt a little bit as protagonists in an Indiana Jones movie as we climbed the 1200 slippery stone steps that lead up to the Lost City. The landscapes and the sense of remoteness were amazing. These pictures taken by Mirko speak for themselves:
For those who are interested, I summarize here some historical facts about the city: Ciudad Perdida is the archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada. It is believed to have been founded about 800 CE, 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu.
Ciudad Perdida was again discovered in 1972, when a group of local treasure looters found stone steps rising up the mountainside and followed them to an abandoned city. Once ancient gold figurines and ceramic urns from the city began to appear in the local black market, archaeologists reached the site in 1976 and completed reconstruction between 1976-1982.
Members of local tribes at Sierra Nevada (the Arhuaco, the Koguis and the Wiwas) have stated that they visited the site regularly before it was widely discovered, but had kept quiet about it. They call the city Teyuna and believe it was the heart of a network of villages inhabited by their predecessor, the Tairona. It was probably the region’s political and manufacturing center and may have housed 2,000 to 8,000 people. During the Spanish conquest, it was abandoned by the local tribes.
Nowadays, the area is patrolled by the Colombian army actively and is therefore being regarded as safe for tourists. But not long ago, Ciudad Perdida was affected by the Colombian armed conflict between the Colombian National Army, right-wing paramilitary groups and left-wing guerrilla groups like National Liberation Army (ELN) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In 2003, ELN kidnapped eight foreign tourists visiting Ciudad Perdida.
3. Cultural insights.
During the hike, we had the chance to meet and talk to members of the indigenous Kogi tribe and learned about their culture. The Kogi are descendants of the Tairona culture, which flourished before the times of the Spanish conquest. Until today, the Kogi have remained in their home in the mountains and jungle of the Sierra Nevada. This allows them to preserve their traditional way of life.
On the other hand, I also want to name three lowlights:
1. Poor sanitary conditions.
As a strong opposite of the beautiful nature during the day, we were confronted with poorly managed camps in the evening. Already in the disclaimer provided by our travel agency we were warned that our beds might well be contaminated with bed bugs. Sure, we did not expect any luxury bungalow in the midst of the rain forest, but from our point of view, more could be done to have cleaner beds, bathrooms and kitchens. Also, we learned that various hikers get sick during the hike, be it because of food prepared in unsanitary conditions or impure drinking water. Sadly, also Mirko got sick after the second hiking day.
2. Working conditions of our guide.
Our guide was fluent in English and knew the hiking trail very well; it was already her 32nd trip to the Ciudad Perdida within roughly two years. She however did not make a secret of her packed working schedule, having sometimes not one single rest day between two strenuous treks. We could feel that being a guide under these circumstances was for her more a duty than a pleasure. So we missed the “extra mile” or at least a spark of positive mood in her way to guide us through the rain forest. Also we had the impression that the tour operator did not put enough effort in training the guides how to lead a group, how to communicate plans and how to make visitors feel safe in a challenging environment.
3. Lack of safety regulations.
In 2008, only 1000 tourists hiked to Ciudad Perdida. In 2017, there were already 23’000. Knowing that so many people are on the trail every day, we excepted certain safety standards to be in place. However, during the trek we encountered rather difficult and dangerous parts; steep, slippery stone stairs without any railing for additional safety and rivers with high water levels and strong current that had to be crossed by feet.
- Try to do the trek in three or even less days. If it is not raining a lot and if you find a private guide who would offer the trek in two days; do it.
- Be very careful with what kind of water you drink during the trek. We only bought bottled water at the shops. It is however known that some sellers hand out untreated water. If you want to be on the safe side, treat ALL your water with water purifier tablets.
- Bring a book and a card game to the camps. We normally reached the camps several hours before sunset as the daily walking distances are not too big. As there is no WIFI whatsoever, you need some other things to keep you busy.
- Ask your tour operator, if you can talk to a representant of the Kogi tribe during the trek. It is a great and interesting opportunity to learn from their cultural beliefs and exchange your thoughts.
- Relax and recover after the trek in the cozy little town of Palomino. We can highly recommend the Casa Chapolin, a Swiss owned hotel in walking distance to the Caribbean Coast, offering delicious breakfast.
- And last but not least, think twice! I have read an interesting article in El Tiempo talking about the risks and negative effects of the increasing amount of tourists visiting Ciudad Perdida every year. There are many more options for treks in the rain forests of Colombia. It might be wise to change plans, and instead of hiking to the Ciudad Perdida find another adventure that is just perfect for you!
Our Trek Rating and Résumé
- Technical difficulty: 6/10
- Necessary fitness: 9/10
- Scenery: 9/10
- Wildlife: 2/10
- Fun: 5/10
If you are interested in doing this trek, do not hesitate to reach out to us. We can tell you more details and help you in your travel planning.