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Colombia Travel – Hiking Ciudad Perdida (Lost City)

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Colombia Travel - Main Terraces of Ciudad Perdida

Kristin of Coffee Calculations & Colombia shares her exciting hike to Colombia’s Lost City, Ciudad Perdida.

Within one month of my decision to move to Cali, Colombia, I knew I wanted to hike to Ciudad Perdida.  I found a friend who wanted to do the 5 night, 6 day jungle trek with me, we planned a trip for January 2010, and I started looking for flights to the nearby city of Santa Marta.

Colombia Travel

After she arrived to Cali, we prepared to leave for Santa Marta.  We packed our backpacks full of just the essentials.  Then we took a lap around my apartment.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel so confident in our survival skills for 6 days – honestly I questioned our ability to make it through day one with these backpacks on our shoulders.

However, we did make it, and emerged with a stunningly unique and memorable experience that I will never forget.  Yes, 6 days is a big commitment for the consistently on-the-move traveler, but this is one experience you cannot afford to miss.

Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)

A pre-Colombian settlement of the Tayrona people, Ciudad Perdida is located at the start of the Buritaca River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains surrounding the city of Santa Marta, Colombia.  Discovered in the 1970s, the site itself features intricate staircases, meticulously built terraces, a complex system of pathways, and gorgeous views of the surrounding landscapes.  The only way to see Ciudad Perdida is to hike there (or find yourself a private helicopter, I guess…), so research the various tour companies to find the one that best suits your needs.  We decided on TurCol, short for Turismo Colombiano, based on a recommendation from friends, and paid $500,000 Colombian Pesos ($275 USD) per person for the trip.

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Colombia Travel - 1 of 8 River Crossings During Trek

Put On Your Hiking Shoes

The trek takes 6 days to complete.  Although you can complete it in 5 days, I recommend the 6-day pace so you can take time to enjoy the journey.  Each day you will hike between 4 to 6 hours, with frequent enough breaks for water, snacks and fresh fruit.  While the trek is filled with hills, river crossings, and rocky paths, the hike is completely manageable for the average, generally fit person.  Prior to my trip I did not do anything extra to prepare in terms of physical readiness, and I felt fine the whole time.  There will be hills and hard times, but they always end with a gorgeous view, campsite, or a delicious snack!

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Colombia Travel - A Typical Campsite During our Trek

And You Thought Hammocks Were Comfortable

Each of the 3 pre-established (with rough “kitchens” and bathrooms/running water) campsites is equipped with either bunk beds or hammocks for your sleeping enjoyment.  Initially, I thought this would be an easy, efficient and fun way to enjoy some nature along the way.  However, by night three of sleeping like a banana in a hammock and waking up quite chilly, since apparently it’s cold in the mountains at night (whoops!), I felt a bit differently.  Overall, the sleeping accommodations were adequate for being in the jungle, but I haven’t looked at a hammock the same way since.  My friend and I had ditched our sleeping bags at the last minute, and while I didn’t regret the extra space and my lighter backpack, this choice definitely affected our sleeping at night.  Depending on your own preferences, you may want to consider a sleeping bag, although most tour companies do provide blankets at night, so in general I would not recommend bringing one as it is not worth the added weight to your backpack.

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Colombia Travel - Moss Covered Staircase in Depths of Ciudad Perdida

Don’t Leave Home Without Your…

Sturdy walking shoes – preferably ones that you can wear right into the water during river crossings!  Flashlight/head lamp. Dry/warm clothes for the nights – preferably kept in plastic bags to keep them dry.  Swimsuit (lots of natural pools to swim in along the way!).  Bug spray – with lots of DEET.  Sunscreen.  Good paperback book (lots of free time in the afternoons/evenings).  Lightweight snacks (guides provide fresh fruit, but you will want your own things too).  Water bottle or Camelbak.Yellow fever shot.  Quick-dry clothes – in the dense, humid jungle if it gets wet once, it’s staying wet…for 6 days.  Solid sense of humor.

Colombia Hiking Buddies

Nothing like a physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging experience to reveal people’s true sides and on this trip, we got to know one another quickly.  By the last night we were sitting around the campsite exchanging a few beers, email addresses, future travel plans, and promises to remember this incredible shared experience.  From the two university women from England and the adorably endearing British police officers to the French-Australian couple and happy-go-lucky man from Baranquilla, Colombia, our travel group included people from all over the world.  For 6 days we shared our stories, our accomplishments, our struggles, and our water breaks.  Along the way I kept reminding myself to enjoy the journey in case the end really wasn’t that cool (Spoiler Alert: It is), but being with this group of people made it easy to enjoy the whole experience.

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Colombia Travel - My Arrival to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)

Best Hike in Colombia

In the end, I have no better advice than just go for it.  I had never been hiking for longer than 6 consecutive hours prior to my trek to Ciudad Perdida, and I came out happily alive and in shock of what I was able to accomplish.  Schedule a trip, take your backpack out of the closet, and get going. The Lost City awaits.

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carlos says:

I met a couple of french friends while I was in Tayrona Parque, they said Ciudad Perdida was beautiful but too exhausting. I would like to try it but I’m not seriously thinking to spend my vacation in a 4 days hiking and then needing to have an extra time to relax. Do you guys think July is a good time to do it.

You can hike any time of year, but it’s preferred during the dry season which is December through March.

Chris says:

Hi Kristin,

I work for a humanitarian group and we will be doing some work in dec-Jan in a town near Cartagena. I’ve been there before but never to Santa Marta or Cuidad Perdida. My Dad is coming with me and after our trip (it ends on the 5th of Jan) we were planning on doing the CP trek. I was thinking of going with TURCOL, but I wanted to know how easy it is just to hook up with a group down there? We are only 2 and i dont really want to make rerservations. Any ideas?? The only catch is we only have Monday the 9th to the 14th. We can be in Santa Marta the night before. Any ideas would be extremely helpful!

Chris, when I was in Santa Marta we had friends book the trip on one day and leave the next morning. They were able to do it that fast, but I am not sure if that’s always the case. You best option is to contact TURCOL and ask them how much notice do they normally need to book a hike.

tom blair says:

Just before I started looking to book my fllight to Colombia, the US state dept. comes out with their travel warning Nov. 10th. Have things suddenly changed with increased violence and kidnapping as they say?

Lynda says:

Hi Tom, a friend and I are considering this trip, and I too have read the US State Dpt travel warning. Did you ever get an answer to your question?

Wow this looks like a fantastic adventure through the undergrowth. Hopefully after I’ve wowed my wife with se Asia she’ll be up for an extended jaunt around South America!

Karin says:

Sounds amazing! My husband and I booked a last minute flight to Bogota for Dec 1st-15th THIS year!! We are thinking about doing the trek – but can’t find dates for when they go on the website and how to sign up?
Any pointers?? We would love any help for planing our trip to Colombia!

Abby says:

Just the idea of it sounds so romantic. Love the practical advice and “go for it” attitude. You make travel very accessible!!

Ayngelina says:

In the end I chose not to do this but it stil looks like an amazing time. Great photos!

Jeff says:

I went during the rainy season and even quick dry clothes didn’t dry (though some resourceful souls used the kitchen fire to dry some items). In the end, I decided it better to wear the wet clothes again as at least that helped avoid them mold that would result from putting them in my pack wet (and, between new rain and seat staying dry wasn’t really an option anyway). So, in the rainy season you can probably get by bringing less clothes, but you will want something dry to sleep in each night and plenty of dry socks. Speaking of footwear, it might be a good idea to bring a pair of water socks/sandals. I even saw them sold around Santa Marta quite cheap. I would also say don’t forget to bring some anti-bacterial lotion and some anti-bacterial ointment as well (I got a small infection on a cut to my finger). Again, advice more useful for rainy season, but bring a rain cover for your backpack. They will give those without a plastic garbage bag to use, but a proper rain cover would be so much better.

Kelly says:

Wow! You girls are hardcore! Sounds like an amazing experience!

OK, was there like a revolt on the Internet in which everyone moved to Cali? Because I’d never even heard of it a few months ago, and now all of a sudden, I know four or five bloggers living there! Crazy. I guess it’s the new “it” spot?

Kristin says:

Ha! Not sure… I feel like I hardly ever see other gringos here…but I guess there have been more visitors in the last few months. It is a great city to base yourself in!

Jenny says:

Ciudad Perdida was one of the best adventures I’ve ever been on. However, the time period in which I went they had the WORST downfall in the entire HISTORY of the trek. Yes that’s like 25-some odd years. Imagine those ankle high river crossings being chest high rapid waters and almost losing people to the river and having to take alternate routes by rock climbing in the pouring rain 100 meters up on the side of a cliff…. or how the 2nd half of the first day (downhill) was in knee deep mud and took us 4 extra hours well beyond sundown….

It’s a miracle I’m still alive! I have to say though… it was probley the toughest most mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. That rain was rentless for 6-days straight… although the day we were on the ruins, it was clear for a few hours.

Kristin says:

WOW Jenny! It sounds like your experience was insane! I don’t even know if I can imagine the trek in those conditions!! That is impressive 🙂

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