As far back as Mexico, people were telling me about the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) trek in Colombia. All I heard were good things and it was not to be missed. This past week I finally got around to doing the trek through the local tour operator Expotur. We each paid a deposit of 20000 COP (~ US$12) at their Taganga office then paid the balance the following day via credit card. Every tour operator charges the same price for the trek, currently 600000 COP (~ US$340). The price includes transport, guide(s), food, accommodation, and all park fees.
We were picked up from our hostel in Taganga then went over to the office. There was a mixup in communication with one of the other people going on the trek and we had to wait for her while she went to go have breakfast. When she finally turned up we set off for Santa Marta to pick up our guide and food supplies. Then we drove for about 45 minutes to the start of the 4×4 track leading to the trek’s starting point. We were loaded up into a old but beefy 4×4 SUV.
In place of seats, there were two uncomfortable benches bolted onto the sides of the vehicle. And no seat belts. Definitely not legal in many nations. I’ve been on some bumpy roads before but this one was by far the worst. Without any seat belts, we (there were 10 of us in the back) just had to hold onto whatever we could while we were getting thrown around on each gigantic bump in the road. Imagine being on an old wooden rollercoaster with no seat belt or harness… On top of that, a strong smell of petrol was present in the car for the duration of the 50 minute ride, which gave me a bad headache by the time we reached our destination.
Lunch consisted of freshly baked bread, cold cuts, cheese, salad, and cola. There was more than enough food for everyone which was great. Not long after, we starting our walk to our first hut, a 3 hour uphill battle through light rain and mud. About halfway through, we stopped for a snack (watermelon) then carried on. At the hut, there were basic showers and toilets available, but no toilet paper. Thankfully we all brought our own. We had a very big dinner (this would be a recurring theme) then retired to our hammocks for the night.
Breakfast (eggs, fruit, toast, coffee) at 05:30, then we got ready to walk. Defying logic, all of our clothes were more wet this morning than they were last night when we put them out to dry. After taking in the sunrise, I grumpily changed out of my dry clothes into my wet ones. As a light chill came upon my formerly dry and warm self, we rounded up the group and starting walking.
The entire trek is a series of uphills and downhills, most of them being very steep. After 3 hours, we reached our next hut where we would take lunch. A 10 minute walk away, we went for a refreshing dip in a natural pool in the river. Lunch was delicious and plentiful. And more importantly, it gave us the energy we needed for another steep uphill climb to the next hut where we would spend the next 2 nights. The next hut was very small and we were the only group there. There was a shower and toilet with no seat which didn’t flush well cause someone had flushed toilet paper down it not long ago (toilet paper always should go into the bin in this part of the world). No electricity either so everything was done by candlelight and flashlight. Once again, dinner was massive and plentiful.
Last night was not very restful. There were a couple of people snoring but one guy in particular (an older Canadian guy) sounded like a pack of sick bears hibernating. Even with my earbuds (which effectively block out over 80% of ambient noise) on I could hear his guttural machinations. Our guide Archie, who had the unfortunate luck of sleeping in the hammock right next to him, started calling him the Canadian Tiger. I think Canadian Snore Bear would’ve been more appropriate.
After yet another plentiful breakfast we set off for the Lost City, about 2 hours away. In additional to the usual uphills and downhills, we also had to cross 2 rivers. But this being the dry season the water only reached up to my knees. I’ve heard stories of the water being up to people’s necks in the wet season. I’m quite happy with the water level being where it is right now.
Just when I thought things would get easier upon reaching the wooden sign marking the ruins, I was confronted with a very steep stone staircase rising up about 300m. Many of the steps weren’t even big enough for my feet so I had to double step it up some sections. And while staircases were a known technology back in those days, landings were not. The only places to stop for a breather were carved into the hillside by trekkers.
Upon reaching the top we stopped for a snack then our guide Archie (who was visibly exhausted after having a very poor night of sleep thanks to the Snore Bear) gave us a tour of the ruins. He was one of the original crew who worked with archaeologists to clear the site back in the 1980s and has been a guide for over 20 years. The site was discovered by some locals and looted of all the gold and valuables before the government found out that the site existed. After a big restoration effort, all that remains are the terraces, stone circles where there were once buildings, and various stone tools.
We toured the ruins for a couple of hours, snapping photos, and learning more about them from Archie. After having sandwiches for lunch in the ranger hut Archie led us through the quieter part of the ruins and continued the tour. I was hoping to avoid the stone staircase on the way down but we ended up meandering back to it. One wrong step or slip and you’d be falling a long way down. All of us went down very slowly and carefully; thankfully no one had a misstep. We stopped for a snack and a swim at the second river crossing then went back to camp.
That night the conversation briefly turned to Archie and how he didn’t sleep well due to snoring. The Snore Bear quickly claimed that he doesn’t snore to which everyone started laughing hysterically. And even after everyone told him (including his daughter) he does in fact snore like a mythological beast he still stubbornly refused to admit the truth. I guess denial is the first step in the road to recovery.
Dinner, as usual, was delicious and bountiful. If there’s one thing that most tour operators skimp on, it’s food. They’ve been feeding us so well that I think I’ve actually been putting on weight despite all the hiking.
Last night was not much better. Snore Bear was up to his usual self uttering grunts, groans, and snores from deep within. At the very least, he woke up very early while the rest of us had a lie in so we had a couple of restful snore free hours. We started walking around 09h back towards civilisation. We hiked back to where we had lunch on day 2 to stay the night and had the whole afternoon free to chill out. I was feeling especially gross and opted not to hike down to the natural pool, which most of the others went to for a dip.
There was apparently a problem with the meat that was delivered to us and as a result we had canned sardines as our meat component for lunch. Considering the last minute discovery of the meat issue and the fact that I’m not keen on sardines, lunch was still pretty good. For our candlelit dinner, we had a huge vegetable pasta which was quite tasty and biscuits for dessert.
The final day! I’m very much looking forward to sleeping in a bed after 4 nights in hammocks with Snore Bear within ear’s reach. Last night he fired up the snore machine to high power but surprisingly turned it down as the night went on. But just when I thought I wouldn’t be woken up again he went into a coughing fit that sounded a lot like a very bad case of bronchitis. Interestingly, he bared coughed all day yesterday and instead let it all out at the the most inconvenient time possible.
Our predawn breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, 3 cheese toasties, fresh fruit, and either coffee or hot chocolate. It was massive! I barely got through my last toastie. We started walking not long after breakfast. 5 hours till the finish! We all thought it’d be an easy day but we had forgotten about the 2 big uphills that lay before us. After a quick snack at the halfway point, we scurried down the final big hill till we reached a swimming hole in the river to cool off. It was so hot that day that I looked like I had already been swimming in a river of sweat before reaching the swimming hole. 30 minutes, 2 more river crossings, and finally we reached the end! Our lunch was ready in no time and we feasted on our pre-ordered meals of fish, chicken, or steak.
Our ride back arrived early and we piled in for another bruising ride in the back of the same 4×4 SUV. This time, we were going mostly downhill so the smell of petrol wasn’t as strong. But the ruts, rocks, and holes in the road were still there and I went from having the best seat riding shotgun to having the worst seat right next to the back door. It was a painful and very unpleasant 50 minutes. I honestly think the company should do something about the 4×4 situation. It’s a terrible way to start and end the tour having everyone stuffed into the back getting bounced around with nothing much to hold onto for stability. Somehow, I ended up with 2 sore fingers, a mildly sprained ankle, and a sore back from the 4×4 ride down.
If you like eating and hiking, I would highly recommend doing the Ciudad Perdida trek. Other than the 4×4 ride, it’s got everything you’d want from a multi-day trek through the jungle.