Ciudad Perdida (the “Lost City”) is the pre-Colombian city that was discovered by grave robbers in 1972 and believed to have been founded in 800 AD (650 years earlier than Machu Picchu).
We did the 4-day trek (~44 km total) here with Expotur. Me, Marc and 8 of our friends visiting from California made up our own tour group. Expotur recommends the 4-day trek for “those who have little time, are in good physical condition and enjoy the intense walks surrounded by lush nature.” This is pretty subjective. Based on our experience, I definitely would only recommend the 4-day hike to those who enjoy hiking, appreciate nature, and are fairly fit (able to run a few miles or walk at least 4-5 hours without any soreness or pain) But, most importantly: BE PREPARED.
Our hiking experiences in the group varied – some had never hiked, most were occasional day hikers, and a few were experienced multi-day hikers. For those of us who had camped before, we thought this trip was pretty luxurious, especially for under $300 USD. It was pretty much glamping.
Delicious, hot meals were prepared for us everyday – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The food was better than any of the expensive meals we had in Cartagena. Fresh fruits were cut up for us at every half-way point all four days. Water was purified for us with every meal. The campsites had beds and/or optional hammocks with mosquito covers over them. There was cold, running water in the bathrooms and showers in every campsite. The tour group mules carried mostly everything from camp to camp for us, even toilet paper. All we needed to carry was our day pack.
Day 1: On the first day, ExpoTur picked us up at 8am and drove us 5 minutes to their office. We waited around for an hour (not sure why) and finally left at 9am. If we had known we were just going to wait around, we would have just walked to the office at 9am. It’s a 2.5 hour drive to the start of the trek and the last hour is very bumpy. We were all car sick by the time we reached our destination.
Once at El Mamey, a small town right outside of the park, we had lunch and maybe an hour later we started our hike. Before leaving, they give you one more chance to leave things behind. There is a small shop for any last minute necessities (like pads -one of the girls in our group realized there was a possibility she would need one during the trip and luckily they were available here!).
The first day we hiked for 3.5 hours. We started in the afternoon with the sun still high. The first leg of the trip does not have a lot of shade and it got pretty hot. People in our group with heavy or large packs were already struggling. It was a huge relief for everyone once we got to the first camp. As our dinner was being prepared, we went cliff jumping in a nearby waterhole. This is probably the shortest and easiest hiking day.
Day 2: The day starts early at 6am (which isn’t that early considering most people passed out early the night before from a rough first day). We hiked until ~10am and stopped at another campsite for lunch and more swimming. When we arrived at this campsite, the sun was up and it was the perfect time to go swimming. Some of the guys swam so much here they were too sore for the rest of the hike that day. So conserve your energy because after lunch, there’s at least another 2-3 hours of hiking.
Today is when you see the indigenous communities and learn about their history and life. They ask that you get permission before you take pictures of them- which seems like pretty common courtesy.
Speaking of taking pictures of people…our group of 10 mostly Asian-Americans seemed to be very fascinating to the locals. Our translator said people asked her if we were one big family. We were, of course all called chinos. When they greeted us, a few people pulled their eyes back to make them look squinting. I think they were being funny or trying to show us they recognized us (at least that’s the best interpretation I can think of). We later explained to our translator that the gesture is considered offensive and she was shocked. Our group was actually made up of American born Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and part Mexican/Caucasian/Asian (I think). Chinese and Japanese they all know. Filipino they associated to the Miss Universe Pageant from just a couple days before our trek where Steve Harvey made the mistake of crowning Miss Colombia as the winner instead of Miss Philippines. (The Colombians were really pissed about this.) And then Vietnamese they didn’t seem familiar with at all. Again – interesting experiences traveling as an Asian person.
This was also the day the stomach bug hit me. I had to stop a few times during the hike. Luckily in a jungle, it’s not hard to find a bush. Also lucky for me, one of the girls had antibiotics! I took two of these and I was fine the next day.
Day 3: We wanted to get to the Lost City before all the other groups. As the sun rose at 4:45am, we left camp and made our way up the 1,200 steps to the Lost City. It’s hard enough having to climb 1,200 steps, but climbing slippery, small rocks worn down over the years and stacked by what they believe to be short, indigenous people is even harder. Our friend with the sprained ankle did make it to the top but was barely able to make it back down to camp.
We spent about an hour taking pictures and wandering around the Lost City and another hour learning about its history (or what we know so far). They believe they’ve only uncovered something like 10-20% of the terraces in the area. There used to be a hut on each one of the terraces and women and men had to stay in separate huts. In the women’s hut, they kept the fire going inside all day, which caused a lot of respiratory problems. They used to bury their dead in the homes too. We also saw a stone with a map of the area. Whoever these people were, they didn’t have a written language. The indigenous people who still live in this area are descendants of the people who lived here.
We then went back down to the camp for lunch, grabbed our things and headed to camp 2 where we had lunch the day before. It was mostly downhill and some of us basically ran down. On the hand…our friend who sprained his ankle had to get a mule to carry him down and another one of our friends sprained her ankle too when she fell over the edge while climbing down the stone steps. We still had a great Christmas Eve together though!
Day 4: This was a long day. We had to get back to Camp 1 and then to El Mamey to catch a 2.5 hour ride back to Santa Marta. So, another early start. We made it back to Camp 1 by 9:30 am and 7 of the 10 people in our group decided to hire a motorcycle (15,000 COP = ~$5) for a ride back to El Mamey. Marc, Janice, and I were the 3 that hiked to the end and it was worth it! The last 1.5 hour wasn’t too bad.
The hardest part about this trek was the heat and humidity. It takes a little more energy than normal to hike in this kind of weather.
Also it’s so humid, everything in your pack will get wet. Even things you don’t wear will turn moist and after a few days all the wet items in your pack will smell. I didn’t properly account for this at the beginning of my trip and I only brought two sports bras – one of which I used as a swim top during this hike. I had to wash them a few times to get the smell out and put it on wet. Ideally i would have had one for each day.
With the humidity comes mosquitoes and/or fleas so make sure to have DEET or a strong bug spray. I even had one of my friends but me a bug repellent long sleeve shirt which I slept in. This is what all the blogs we read warned us about so we were well protected in this aspect and it wasn’t too bad.
The average temperature at night is 65 degrees so you only have to pack for moderate temperature. It doesn’t get very cold.
The fitness level of our group ranged from unfit to extremely fit. At the end of the 4 days, two people in our group had sprained their ankles. One had to take a mule down to the bottom. Neither of them wore hiking boots. I highly recommend hiking boots for ankle support. The trail can get rocky and muddy.
Hiking is probably the best way to prepare for this hike. If you don’t have access to hikes, running and walking long distances might be good training. You’d probably also make sure your legs and ankles are strong enough to avoid injury. Lifting, squats, etc would be good to do.
Most of our group had food poisoning at some point before, during, or after the trek. We met people in other groups who were also sick. We have no idea where we got it from but it’s likely from the water in Santa Marta since the water on the trek was purified. Luckily, two people in our group had antibiotics. Apparently their doctors or the travel clinic provided this! I wish I had known doctors could prescribe antibiotics for food poisoning in advance. This would have saved us twice on this trip! So, if possible, pick some up before your trip.
Also, there are lots of mosquitos, so they suggest getting anti-malaria medicine, yellow fever vaccine, and typhoid vaccine.
What to pack
This is what I think would have been the perfect pack for our 4 day trip:
- Day pack
- All-purpose soap – Marc and I shared a bottle of Campsuds which can be used for shampoo, body wash, and detergent
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Bug repellent (100% DEET or Nopikex at the pharmacy in Santa Marta)
- Camp towel
- Antibiotics (for food poisoning)
- First aid kit with anti-diarrhea medicine, Advil/Painkillers, bandaids, antiseptic, blister moleskin, bobby pins – all of these items were used at least once by myself or someone in our group
- Emergency toilet paper – thank god Marc thought of this
- Camera – people try not to bring their DSLRs because it’s so humid. My Sony DSC RX100 III survived though!
- 1 water bottle (filled on day one) – there is usually a vendor at the half way point that sells water too if you prefer to keep your bag light
- 4 pairs of underwear (bottom)
- 4 sports bras
- Insect blocker shirt (Debbie brought me the Columbia Sportswear Women’s Insect Blocker Hybrid Mesh Jacket since I didn’t bring anything like this.)
- One long sleeve shirt to sleep in and to keep dry: (Debbie brought me this super comfortable Columbia Women’s Insect Blocker Knit Long Sleeve)
- One pair of long pants to sleep in
- Two pairs of shorts
- One swimsuit set
- Sunglasses, of course
- Flip flops / Tevas – I loved my Teva Tirra Athletic Sandals
- Hiking boots (with ankle support) – my Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking boot were extremely comfortable and survived my entire 10 week trip. The Gore Tex was great for the river crossings.
- 2 pairs of wool socks – dries fast!
- 2 pairs of sock liners- I got a bunch of blisters from the W Trek so I picked up these liners which totally did the job on this trek
I personally really enjoyed the hike and would recommend it to those who love to hike. I definitely understand it’s not for everyone though!