4-day Trek to Find the Lost City
A trek through the Colombian jungle to the Lost City is certain to be full of highs and lows. The spectacular ruins of the former Wiwa city are 650 years older than Machu Picchu(!!!). The Tairona people abandoned the city over the fear of diseases brought by the Spanish and kept it secret for centuries. The lush green scenery makes for amazing viewpoints and seeing the indigenous people going about their daily life is fascinating. A special part of the hike is listening to a local community leader talk about their daily life and the importance of Mother Earth.
The trail itself is challenging but well worth the struggle. Some portions smell of mule poop, while others smell of the cilantro that’s grown in the area. The mornings are beautiful and sunny whereas the afternoons are often full of heavy rain. Rain in the jungle always looks pretty, but the trail becomes really muddy which makes afternoons tough. My biggest fear coming into the hike was the heat and humidity. Fortunately, large portions of the trail are in the shade, and the afternoon rain cools you down.
On the first day your tour company will pick you up around 8:30 AM. The drive from Santa Marta to the town at the start of the trail is 2.5 hours. You’ll have lunch, then start the hike around noon. For the next three days you wake up at 5 AM and start hiking at 6 AM. The second day is about 7 hours of hiking, and the campsite for the night is 1 hour from the Lost City.
On the third day, you arrive at the Lost City where you’ll spend a couple of hours taking pictures, eating snacks, and learning about the history of the city. The steps to reach the ruins are very slippery and narrow, so exercise caution.
The afternoon hike is tough on the mind because you return on the same trail and have already seen the grand prize. The last day is 5-6 hours of hiking with heavy legs and you’ll finish around 3 pm. You’ll have lunch in the town near the trailhead and get back to Santa Marta around 6-7 PM.
What to Pack
- Hiking boots
- Flip flops for the campsite
- Hiking pants
- 1 long sleeve shirt and 1 t-shirt
- Rain jacket
- Soap and shampoo (the camps have showers)
- Ibuprofen, Imodium
- Blister bandages
- Bug spray with DEET
10 Important Things to Know
1. The Lost City Trek is closed in September
I’ve heard two explanations for this. One is to protect the land and the other is to let the indigenous communities use it for ceremonies. Whatever the case is, it’s always closed in September.
2. The tour companies are more or less the same
All groups sleep at the same campsite, eat the same food, and have guides from the local community. Not all guides speak English, but the agencies provide a translator free of charge if need be. They all charge the same price of 1,400,000 Colombian pesos ($342 US) as of 2022.
3. Let your clothes and boots dry in the sun every chance you can
Between the sweat, humidity, and rain your clothes will be wringing wet by the end of the day. When you get to the campsite for lunch and at the end of the day, get everything in the sun ASAP. Putting on dry boots and clothes each morning is a huge difference-maker and also helps prevent foot blisters.
4. Motorbikes and mules are available on the last day
If you are too fatigued to finish the hike, there is extra help available. The elements are more challenging than the trail itself and by day four everyone is exhausted. About 1/3 of the hikers took this option, which isn’t free.
5. Use bug spray or you’ll regret it
The mosquitos are pretty nasty in this part of Colombia, and some carry diseases. At the start of the trail, we passed hikers finishing the trek covered with bites which was a strong reminder to use bug spray. The beds at each campsite do have mosquito nets.
6. Don’t go swimming alone
Each day at lunch or dinner, there will be a place to go for a swim. One of the streams has strong currents and pulled one of the hikers in my group a few hundred meters downstream. Luckily he only suffered a few bruises, but I wouldn’t recommend going for a swim alone.
7. Wear proper hiking footwear
The frequent afternoon rain turns the trails into a muddy mess. Without good footwear you’ll be slipping and sliding all over the place.
8. Colombians are not the most punctual
They are very social and friendly people but aren’t as time-oriented as most westerners. I was the only foreigner in my group and quickly learned that planning to leave the campsite at 6 AM actually meant we would eat breakfast at 6 AM.
9. Wifi is available at the campsites
Most people use the trek to disconnect from technology, which I highly recommend doing. But if you need WiFi, you can buy it at the campsites.
10. Choose your accommodation Wisely in Santa Marta
Santa Marta has a lot of party hostels which is the last thing you want before taking on the Lost City Trek. I thought it would be tame on a Monday night, but the music from my hostel’s rooftop barwas going strong at 3 AM.
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Where to Next
Cartagena (5 hours by bus) – A coastal city with an immaculately preserved old town and unique costeña culture.
San Gil (15 hours by bus) – Adventure sports capital and a day trip to the country’s most beautiful town.
Bogotá (90-minute flight) – Capital city with great museums, the country’s tallest waterfall, and one of the most iconic nightclubs in the Americas.
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