First time hiking in my life, here I am, alive and feeling relatively good. Now it is time to write a short report about the Ciudad Perdida trek, that could also be described as a survival camp, boot camp, physical and mental detox, fight against the mosquitos... and a wonderful experience!
The basics first. In the year 800AD the Tayrona people started building a city on the Sierra Nevada mountains and by the Buritaca river in Northeastern Colombia. They called the place Tayuna and it is estimated that 4000 - 10 000 people lived there. When the Spaniards conquered Colombia, the inhabitants of Tayuna flew, the city was abandoned, and with the time, lost in the jungle. An eternity later, in 1972, a bird-hunting group near the Buritaca River stumbled upon some mossy steps leading up a steep hill... and found the lost city. They explored further, found remains of houses and graves - and gold that had been buried with the ancient residents of Tayuna. The word spread fast and in a country already reign by conflicts and political instability, the glimpses of gold rose interest and caused a new flow of battles. Three years later the government claimed the lost city and the restoration work could begin.
3000m2 of the area is open for tourists to explore. The only way to get there is by climbing the 1200-step stone path that leads to the 169 terraces that structure the city, and where houses once used to be. Ciudad Perdida is in the middle of a jungle, and at 1300m at its highest point. Getting there and back is not a leisurely Sunday walk, but an opportunity to experience a hike in the Sierra Nevada mountains and rain forest. Several tour companies organize the same kind of trek of 4, 5 or even 6 days. The price for a 4/5 day hike is 700 000COP/215€, accommodation, food and insurance included. I went with an agency called Expotur, I was very satisfied with the service and promised to recommend here our tour guide Joel and translator Marinella. Both were competent and very friendly. For more information about the history of Ciudad Perdida, or if you are interested in going, check out this website.
We were a group of 9 adventurous tourists from 7 different countries, who assembled early in the morning at the Expotur office in Santa Marta, ready to leave for the trip. Since I had never done hiking before, I decided not to read too much about it beforehand, I was afraid I would get scared and don't go at all. Also, it is a part of my new latino-mentality, just go and do things without thinking too much (sometimes it's good, sometimes bad). The only thing I studied carefully was the the "what to pack" - list, and I'm very proud of how light my small pack bag finally was.
I had heard that the 4-day hike is difficult but not impossible, and that someone sportive and in normal physical condition (as I consider myself) should be able to do it just fine. However, our group was especially tough. We were all young adults, from 26-32 years old, all used to exercising, and everyone except for me had at least some experience of hiking in challenging conditions. I soon noticed that I was the slowest of our group and especially when walking uphill in the heat and humidity, I got left behind. But that was fine because our guide was always coming after us and there were other groups around so no risk of getting lost. To make my trek even more hardcore, in the morning of day 1 I woke up with a diarrhea/light food poisoning, thus the first day was a hell for me. Luckily, in our group there were two doctors + my friend K who had everything you could need and more in her bag, so it reassured me a bit.
We drove 3 hours in a mini-van on a bumpy rode (I barely survived) and had lunch in a place called El Mamey (I couldn't eat anything) before starting to walk. Great start, but still smiling, and at this point still looking fresh with K:
J and M explaining the program for the following 4 days:
On the first day we hiked for only about 4 hours and arrived to the first camp. It was hot and humid but the scenery was very pretty.
Reaching the highest spot of day 1 (me a couple of long minutes after the others):
Reaching the first camp, where we could go for a refreshing swim in the river, by a waterfall.
The accommodations were no 5-star hotels (if someone had expected) and by the second night I wasn't sure anymore which one was harder: hiking or going to sleep. During the afternoon-swim and dinner I felt perfectly relaxed and proud of the day's achievements, but as soon as the sun set around 7PM, I started to feel very uncomfortable. Our guide J gave us the same speech every night: "When you go to the showers and toilets take a flashlight and beware of snakes. Before climbing to your bed, check it carefully for spiders and scorpions, evict the mosquitos away and attach the mosquito net carefully from all sides. Good night." So I took a deep breath, did as we were told and prayed that nothing would kill me in my sleep. On the first day we tried to socialise and play games for a while after dinner but the other evenings we were all so tired that we went to bed around 8PM. After all the bed-checking ceremony and some music to calm myself down, I luckily slept like a baby and woke up before 5AM without any difficulties.
At 6AM, ready for day 2 and 7 hours of hiking. Thank God I was feeling a lot better already, even if I couldn't eat much. By the way, maybe it was not only the Finnish guys H and V who eat a lot, in Ciudad Perdida I noticed that I always ate 2 or 3 times less than the others in my group. Maybe I should have forced myself to eat more to have more energy but I just can't, especially when I'm not let to choose what I eat. The food was good though but very Colombian (rice, rice and rice...).
The views were still as beautiful as on the first day:
Smiling when it's time for a fruit break:
Discovering a village of indigenous Kogi people, descendants of the Tayrona, and learning about their history, culture and lifestyle.
At various points we had to cross the Buritaca river:
Swimming during the lunch break, always the highlight of the day:
Walking uphill for an hour on a path that looked like this, I thought I would die:
But I bit my tongue and did it, we all got up there and took the group picture of day 2. Sweating but content:
Morning of day 3, after a good night of sleep (still no snakes or scorpions to be seen), ready for a new 7-hour hike. K is modelling, trendy with socks in sandals:
That morning we climbed up the 1200 uneven and shaky steps, and arrived to our main destination, Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City built by Tayrona tribes. We stayed there for a while and our guide told us about the place and its history.
Here, ready for the climb:
Up there it was finally time to sunbath, relax and enjoy the breathtaking views over the mountains. I couldn't believe that I had really climbed that high up, what a feeling. What I liked about the Ciudad Perdida trek compared to what I've heard of Machu Picchu is that the place was relatively calm. It is not too touristic, and being quite hard to access (minimum 4 days trip in total) the visitor flow is not as massive as in Machu Picchu.
Group pictures day 3:
After a certain point we were not allowed to go further. It was quite clearly indicated. ;) For real, the gendarme were there because in 2003 a group of tourists got kidnapped at the mountains (they got released afterwards), so just in case.
What me and K have learnt from the kids in La Boquilla, there is no place or time that is not good for a jumping picture:
K this is for you only: Hips don't lie and our mission "getting a Colombian ass". After all this exercising I think mission accomplished! :)
"Healthy snack" break and some of us eat too much sugar so we all got to follow a Colombia vs Norway wrestling match. Thanks L and L!
Too soon the fun was over, back walking again. However, during the rest of the day 3 we went more down than up. I wouldn't say it was easier but at least it was not that hard to breath so I liked it better and could stay with my group the whole time. Though sometimes, when we were going up, I liked to go slower, at my own pace, and just walk and think about nothing.
Arriving to the camp of our final night, and hosted by indigenous people:
4th and final day, ready but looking a bit tired...
In our group we had been extremely lucky with the weather (almost no rain) and also, after my little nausea on the first day, nobody had gotten sick or injured. That was about to change, when on the last morning, Norwegian guy L woke up very sick. It is amazing how all of a sudden you can get a virus, or a food poisoning, and you loose all your strength and energy. L who was always first in line, went hills up jumping and played with local kids during the breaks, was out of the game and had to take a mule to get out from the forest. We all felt so sad seeing his misery, and doctors L and C did all they could to help. But the trek went on for the rest of us, uphill again:
I've heard that day 2 is the hardest one but I personally think it was day 4 (not counting the first day when I was sick). I really started to feel it in my legs and two long uphill walks were too much. It is also possible to do the trek in 5 days but despite everything I recommend to do it in 4. The only difference is the last day. We walked from 6AM to around 10AM and arrived to a campsite. We only took a short break there but those doing the 5-day hike would stay there the whole day and then the morning after walk the remaining 3 hours. Even if I was tired, I totally preferred to walk back right away and get it over with, instead of staying there for one more troublesome night. Moreover, besides swimming there was not much to do so it could have gotten boring.
Last views before arriving back to the start (me at the same time with most of my group!)
Feeling like winners and the joy when your teammates surprise you with cold ice cream:
So what did I think about the trek? I loved it! As some others from my group, I think Ciudad Perdida is not that much about the destination (it's interesting and beautiful but I'm sure that nothing compared to Machu Picchu) but more about the hike there and back. Physically it was harder than what I expected, I think also because of the extreme heat and humidity. It was challenging but I didn't get desperate at any point. It helps if you do sports and are in good condition, if not it will be hellish, I'm warning you. But it is not impossible. The challenge is as much mental than it is physical, and if you don't have any serious health issues you can totally do it when you just decide so. And even if the trek was tiring, it was also relaxing. Fresh air, physical activities and a total disconnection from the rest of the world, that was amazing.
My survival guide:
- Buy the strongest insect repellent and add it every hour (I didn't get almost any bites).
- Or be wise and do like L from our group did, buy anti-mosquito pills at a pharmacy.
- Buy strong sunscreen as well!
- Pack as light as possible, everything will get wet and never dry so all your things will smell horrible anyway.
- Take enough of extra batteries for your phone/camera because there is not electricity at every camp.
- Even if they say that you don't need money take some because at some point you will want to buy a Gatorade or Oreos on the way (all meals and fruit snacks are included).
- Make sure that the tour company has really taken into account the food allergies you have listed, so you don't have to remind the cook every morning that you still can't eat eggs.
- Have a playlist of energetic music ready for when you feel like you can't walk anymore.
To sum up our 4 days in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We made records in:
- Using insect repellent
- Going to bed early
- Joking about the Amazon
- Smelling bad
And had a lot of fun!
So for those who laughed when hearing that I was going hiking, you can stop laughing now. Even if I like to be clean and dress nice, and even if one of my nicknames is "Miss Champagne", I have changed a lot during my travels. I can survive anything, and you should be proud of me. ;)
Read the next story here.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!