Around the year 800 AD, some 600 years before Machu Picchu, Teyuna was chosen by precolombian indigenous culture as political and spiritual center of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Colombia). At its peak, the city was home of 2000 people, living in harmony with nature and working on precious metals. Today, the only way to admire the ruins of this ancient city is to trek through the mountainuous jungle of the Sierra Nevada for 4 days.
Machete, a small village of the Sierra Nevada is the starting point of this amazing journey, and also your last contact with the civilization. You reach Machete after 1hour of drive on a bumpy road in a 4X4 -in our case, an old Land Cruiser with meter and speedometer stuck to 0 for eternity- that you will already make you feel a bit closer to your 6-12 companions of adventure.
What to expect when you trek in the jungle
To reach Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), also nicknamed “Green Hell”, you will need to hike 23 kilometres within the dense jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, cross rivers and bridges, survive heat and humidity. You will encounter dozens of different birds, mosquitoes, frogs, bats, and potentially serpents and scorpions. As walking is the only way to reach the ruins, you will also have to come back the same way, bringing the total distance of the trek to 46 kilometres. You may trek under sun or tropical rain, on steep dusty or muddy paths to complete 1100m of elevation in 2 days. It may be challenging but do you think Indiana Jones ever had it easy? And also, what a reward to actually complete the adventure!
The Ciudad Perdida trek over times and today
Travellers have visited Ciudad Perdida for 30 years, but the conditions have changed a lot over time. Some tourists used to arrive in Ciudad Perdida directly via helicopter which is totally forbidden today. Up to 3-4 years ago, travellers even used to camp in the Lost City itself for 2 nights of their 6 to 8 days hike! This was producing lots of trash and was damaging the ruins quite heavily. Also, some tourists did not always act at their best in this place that indigenous communities still living in the Sierra Nevada consider as sacred. To protect the site, the camp sites are today located outside of the city, separated by a small path, one river crossing and 1200 stone stairs.
Today you can choose to complete the trek in 4, 5 or 6 days depending your level of fitness and the amount of time you have. If you are in good condition and are looking for a challenge, the 4 days should satisfy you: you will walk up to 7h a day, but will still have a few hours at the camp to relax the natural refreshing pool or a read a book.
The camps are basic but clean and -surprise!- you will be able to sleep in real beds with mosquito nets and shower everyday. There is no electricity except in the first camp and cooks prepare the meals on wooden fires.
A unique experience
I just loved ever minute of this trek. Yes, my legs got tired. Yes, we were sweating so much that our clothes never dried and yes, it was though. But each minute I could just get amazed by the fantastic surroundings, the exotic flora, our baths in natural pools and the all feeling of being in a really really remote place. The Sierra Nevada is full of history -from precolombian cultures, to Conquistadores, campesinos of coca, paramilitaries or indigenous communities- and trekking there made me feel like being part of it. Climbing the last 1200 stairs up to the ruins was the climax of the journey and we all walk the 23km back with a big smile of our sweaty faces!
If you are travelling on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia and love active travels, do this trek! There is so much packed in these 4 days.
Make it happen: Ciudad Perdida trek
It´s not possible to do the trek by yourself, the site being still today an indigenous reserve. There are 4 operators with a similar offer for a same unique price of 600,000 COP/person ($220), regardless of the duration chosen.
The trek can be organized from Santa Marta or Taganga and you will be picked up at your hotel.
We trekked with Magic Tour and have been really satisfied. Our guide Pedro grew up in the area and was really knowledgeable . We have been impressed also by the quality and quantity of the food (you could always get a second plate and we got plenty of fruits and snacks every couple of hours while trekking). Expotur group joined us in the camps and from what we could tell, everything was identical.
What to pack for the Ciudad Perdida trek
Your agency will probably provide you with a packing list but here is what we recommend not to forget.
- hiking outfit (short + teeshirt)
- hiking shoes (sneakers are acceptable)
- swim suit
- hat and suncream
- mosquito repellent
- evening outfit (long sleeves and trousers)
- head lamp
- drybag to protect your stuff in case of rain
- towel and small toiletries bag
- toilet paper
- a small pharmacy: painkiller, anti-diaeric, bandages and protection for blisters
- (bed linen)
- and don´t forget your camera!