Ciudad Perdida - Colombia's Macchu Pichu?
A heavy night out before a jungle trek in the Sierra Nevada probably wasn’t my best idea but here I was, backpack on, inhaling a coffee running down the street to be at the Expotour office for 7am. They let us store our backpacks at the office in a secure room while we were on the trek so we only had to carry a small pack with what we needed for the 4 day hike.
From the tour office we were taken down the road to a car park where some pretty serious looking 4x4’s were parked. We were loaded into the trucks for the 2 ½ hour drive to El Mamey and to a family run restaurant surrounded by dogs and chickens where we would start and end our trek. Here, we were all sat down for meal and had a bit of time to do our last bit of organising before we set off.
The first couple of hours hiking were hard going. By this time it was 2pm, the temperature was soaring and the dust kicked up from the locals on motorbikes carrying supplies to the camps was choking! We crossed rivers, passed Tayrona Indian locals and villages and completed two huge climbs. The views were incredible! Even on a cloudy day..
It was 6pm by the time we made it to the first camp. It was a few wooden and corrugated sheet structures with a rope bridge over the river surrounded by big flowery trees, hummingbirds and bright pink dragonflies. Inside there were rows of bunk beds covered by mosquito nets. It was basic but the bunks were in good condition, clean and most importantly, insect free!
After a swim in the river and some dinner we were talked through the local wildlife by our awesome guide. He was really good and with Maria our translator, he told us what to stay away from and stories about what was lurking outside. To be honest, I was more bothered about what was lurking inside especially when a huge praying mantis took off as I was trying to photograph it and screaming, I ran straight into my friend Jade and flattened the pair of us which the locals we were staying with found hilarious! Also, top tip *watch out for spiders in the toilets* Just saying…
Day two was supposed to be the hardest days trekking so we were up early and after a quick breakfast we set off for camp two before 7am. It was stunning walking up the valley, crossing rope bridges and trying to spot toucans hiding in the trees. There were a couple of pretty serious climbs on day two but there was no pressure to keep up and everyone could go at their own pace. This is when we learned that the guides “20 minutes” actually meant anything up to two hours!
Our first stop at the top of a steep, dusty ascent was around 10am, there’s always fresh fruit on offer between camps and for 4,500COP, a cold Gatorade which, at that time is literally the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Our guide pulled the group to one side and explained that this stop was a Tayrona Indian Burial site and showed us around some of the graves. He said when the lost city was discovered the graves had been robbed and broken by people looking for gold.
The second part of day two was by far the hardest with more huge climbs and descents. I couldn’t decide which was harder, going up or coming down! We stopped for lunch around 1pm at another homestay with a place to swim in the river and cool down. From here the trail leveled out and we climbed up and over rocks, waded through the river and balanced along thin mountain tracks being careful not to be shoved out of the way by donkeys.
A few of us made good time to our second camp, enough time to grab a beer in the sun and a well-deserved swim in the river. This camp was about 2 hours trek away from the lost city and much bigger than the first camp. There was somewhere to buy snacks and drinks and there must have been 100 bunk beds and hammocks. There were actual running showers and the place was full! So full in fact that Jade and myself ended up sharing a single bunk.
The next morning we left our day packs at the camp and just carried our water and cameras for our hike up to The Lost City. About half an hour up the valley we reached a gap in the trees across some stepping stones in the river. This was the beginning of the stairway to the Lost City. Over 1200 steep, moss covered, broken stone steps. It was amazing looking up, it was like something out of Indiana Jones.
The climb was hard but it was fun and more than worth it. We walked out from behind a centuries old stone wall into an opening in the trees filled with stone circles. We had a moment to wander around and catch our breath before our guide called us over and started to explain the history of where we were and how it came to be found.
The site is huge, I know it’s the lost City but I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was. If I had free reign I could have spent hours exploring the ruins and stairs through the jungle. It seemed endless. Once we reached the main clearing it was photo op time trying to get that Instagram worthy shot without other groups in the back ground.
After around 2 hours exploring it was time to head back down but not before another quick swim under a waterfall. It was definitely harder coming down the stairs than it was going up!
Back at camp we collected our bags and carried on the trail to where we had stopped at the day before for lunch. This was going to be our base for the third and final night in the jungle.
The last days trekking was by far the hardest. By this point everyone was tired, my legs were sore from the previous days trekking up the stairs and everyone was feeling a little low to be heading back to civilisation. There’s something about being completely off the grid which was really relaxing. It’s like being in another world out there.
After a 6 hour hike with a few stops on the way I was back in El Mamey sat in the restaurant where we started our trek having a well-deserved cold beer.
Ciudad Perdida is relatively unknown compared to the monster that is Macchu Pichu with its estimated one million visitors a year where as the lost city has only be open to foreigners for the last decade after the Colombian government secured the site from drug traffickers’ and rebel militants. (It is perfectly safe to visit nowadays if you were wondering) You won’t get the crowds or the comforts that are available on the Inca Trail so if roughing it isn’t your thing this isn’t the trek for you. The accommodation is basic and the trail is hard but the rewards of the unspoiled city and the authentic experience of a jungle trek are well worth the visit. Personally I’d do it all again tomorrow and it was probably my favorite experience on my short time in Colombia.