Trekking to Colombia’s 'Lost City'

Published August 12th, 2015

The Ciudad Perdida (Spanish for 'Lost City') was only re-discovered in 1972, when a bunch of treasure looters happened upon a set of stone stairs beside a river. They followed the twelve hundred or so steps up to what they called 'Green Hell' for its abundance of bloodsucking mosquitoes and stifling humidity. Founded around 800 A.D., roughly 650 years before the famous Incan city of Machu Picchu, Colombia's 'Lost City' had been virtually hidden until that point.

Matt (Right) and trekking companion

A group of archeologists spent about ten years cleaning a small percentage of the area so it could be opened up to tourists.

Visitor numbers have been patchy since then, particularly because Paramilitaries such as the FARC have controlled the jungle for long periods of time.

That's one of its appeals.

It’s not crawling with tripod-toting tourists. The three-day walks deters most people, but trust me, it’s totally worth the blisters.

Our trip had a bumpy start.

We’d pulled a pretty big night at the hostel in Santa Marta the evening before and were on the verge of postponing until I grew a pair. I downed a few painkillers and six liters of water. A two-hour car ride later we pulled our jeep into the Tairona foothills. Time to walk.

We set off through a small village and joined the trailhead alongside a crystal-clear stream. After a crisscrossing the river a few times, we arrived at our first challenge. A hill, nay, a mountain arose in front of us like a muscle-bound security guard blocking entry to a nightclub.

A quick splash of water over our heads and off we tore like ants to spilled honey. Our group split up quite a bit during this section and four of us managed to make camp more than an hour ahead of the pack.

Why rush?

At every campsite on the trek there was an amazing swimming spot. The first camp was probably my favorite, because there was a cool little cliff to jump off and tiny fish that nibbled on my strained legs (not piranhas, I swear).

Day two was much of the same, apart from starting off before dawn. This was to be the longest section we would cover in a single day, but it was broken up with two swims, snacks and a hearty lunch of pasta atop a hill. I even found the energy to play soccer with some local kids before arriving into camp just before sunset.

The last camp was a fifteen-minute walk from the base of the infamous twelve hundred steps. We started walking in darkness and reached the moss-covered stairs just before daybreak. We had just climbed a height equivalent to the Empire State Building in New York. We had made it, and exhaustion steadily gave way to excitement and relief.

As we wound our way through thick jungle that had overgrown the houses and temples more than a thousand years old, a brief history of the area, people and culture of Ciudad Peridida was explained. I found myself wishing I'd brought a translator, as all the local guides had limited English and the language barrier got in the way at some points.

We spent roughly four hours exploring the ruins, uninterrupted by any other tourists. Ducking down stone staircases dotted with speckled sunlight filtering through the canopy, our guide spotted a tree that had fallen the night before.

We went to investigate.

He clawed through the rich soil underneath the centuries-old tree and found pieces of clay pottery that had sat undisturbed for how long, nobody knew. I truly felt like a real explorer at that moment. All I needed was a cool leather jacket, a hat and a whip.

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Matt Castell

If you could make travel a full-time job would you? I am. I've been called a "jack of all trades" many times over the ten or so years spent wandering the globe. Always looking for new skills to learn, whether it be lion taming or flying helicopters... I'll give it a go! Being a Travel Agent for Student Flights has been the top pick so far though!