The Lost City Trek - Ciudad Perdida

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South America » Colombia » Magdalena
June 6th 2018
Published: June 6th 2018
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I’d read about The Lost City Trek (Ciudad Perdida in Spanish) in the travel section of the paper a couple of years ago and put it on the to do list after that. Since then a couple of friends have done it and highly recommended it. We’ve done lots of day hikes since we’ve been away and have a lot of miles in our legs but we’ve not yet done any hikes that involve camping or walking consecutive days. The last two weeks probably haven’t been the best preparation we could have had but the walk will hopefully serve as the perfect detox!

The Lost City is an archaeological site of an ancient city that was discovered in 1972 by a group of looters looking for treasure. It is in Colombia’s Sierra Navada and is believed to have been founded in 800 CE some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. To get to the city you have to walk 42km and you arrive there on the third morning and start the journey back in the afternoon of that day back along the same route.

We signed up to do it with a company called Turcol who were the first tour company to take people on the trail and it meant we could arrange it from Palomino and not have to travel back to Santa Marta first. So after breakfast we jumped on the bus and headed to La Aguacatera where we would be picked up. The conductor on the bus forgot about where we were getting off so our first day of walking started off with us trudging back along the road 300 metres with our big bags!

Day 1

We were two of four in our group, the other two a couple from Belgium - Arthur and Sari. They were really nice and we drove up the first bit to the town where we would have lunch. The drive was longer than I’d expected but I was happy with the views and we’d barely begun so figured that was a good sign. We had a big lunch of fish, rice, plantain and salad which was really tasty and set us up for the day ahead. Our guide Janeth along with our translator Chris gave us the lowdown on what was in store for us over the next few days and we set off.

Having read other peoples accounts of the trip I was prepared for the first assent and we completed it quite comfortably with all the stops along the way. I could sense Julia’s competitive spirit already coming to the surface as she started complaining to me that we were stopping too much and she wanted to get on with it! At the summit there was a photo opportunity with the Colombian flag and a viewpoint looking out at the stunning scenery and it wasn’t long until we were stopping again and enjoying a refreshing bit of watermelon. A bit of rain threatened but stayed away and we reached camp after the shortest day of walking (7.6km) around 4ish in high spirits before heading to the natural pool for a swim to cool down. We were then able to take a shower (although I’m not sure how clean Julia got as she came screaming out of the cubicle as fast as she got in after coming eye to eye with a big spider!) before changing into dry clothes for the evening! The trek goes back and forth a river and all of the lunch spots and camps are close enough to take a swim to refresh your legs. Whilst there is only the four of us with our group there are plenty others doing the walk with other companies and there is the opportunity to mix groups and chat to others. Dinner was served around 6:30ish and we had another big meaty bit of fish. If the food continues like this over the next three days we will be happy and maybe even have to do some more exercise to work it all off. The beds weren’t the most luxurious but it was a place to lie under a mosquito net and I was out for the count around 9ish after watching the glowing fireflies flying around.

Day 2

We both slept straight through and were up at 5am for breakfast at 5:30. Our sweaty clothes from yesterday hadn’t dried at all overnight which required some repacking of my bag to keep the wet clothes separate before we were on our way. Today’s stretch was 14.7km and it was pretty much uphill straight from the off but there was again some decent views to take your mind off of it. The hills all look very lush and green with the morning clouds floating between the hills giving it a bit of an eerie feeling but no less beautiful. We walked past avocado and banana trees and it wasn’t long before we were having our first bit of watermelon of the day which seemed a bit ridiculous considering the size of the breakfast we’d had about an hour ago!

We walked through an indigenous village where there were maybe 15 to 20 circular huts belonging to the Kogui tribe, one of two indigenous tribes to live in the area the other being the Wiwas. Janeth told us that only one family live in the village to look after it and everyone heads back there for ceremonies. There was a little girl in the village who despite being shy was taking the opportunity to ask everyone that went past for sweets and chocolate but we’d been told not to pass on sweets as they struggle to digest it. By the time we reached the camp for lunch it was baking hot which meant we could dry our sweaty clothes from yesterday and spend some time cooling off in the river nearby. It was also nice to be wet from something other than sweat! Julia was in and out very quickly due to the temperature of the river but I stayed in and enjoyed some time lazing on the rocks in the sun chatting to a couple from England, Jess and Daniel, about their travels.

After a hearty lunch of chicken we were told that the next part of the walk would be an hour uphill. We got up there in 50 minutes overtaking a pair of pigs that were heading up the same trail as us! I think we may have gone up there a bit too quick as I started to struggle over the second half of the afternoon with the heat. As Julia went on ahead I was starting to have a little wobble only to come back around again when I heard Sari asking me to stay with her because of a group of dogs on the path that she didn’t want to pass on her own. After drinking some more water I started feeling better again in time for the river crossing that would take us within touching distance of tonight’s camp. We had to take our boots off and walk across which was a lot harder than you think when you are shattered. The water was only knee deep but apparently when it rains it can get higher than your waist and they have a metal cage that they use to get you across.

The camp was a welcome sight and after a shower there was popcorn and coffee to keep you going till dinner which was curried chicken, rice, potato and salad. After a few games of cards and lots of debate about whether today was going to be the hardest of the four or the next two days would be tougher we decided to retire to the safety of our bed under the mosquito net to avoid being eaten alive!

Day 3

I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day only to find it was only 11:30pm, so forced myself back to sleep and when I was woken up again at 4:55 I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as happy as I had been a few hours ago!

Today was the day we were heading up to the Lost City. After breakfast we walked along the river for 20 minutes before we started up the 1,200 steps up to the city. The steps were small and slippery in places so we went up slowly and it was impressive to see a group of indigenous men running up them with heavy bags full of wood and bricks! It turned out that these guys were one of the other tour groups and they were being punished for not showing up to a meeting with the shaman about how to make their tours better much to the delight of all the other guides who were taking pictures and laughing at them as they rested at the top! Janeth gave us some information about the city whilst we spent the time slapping and squashing all the mosquitos that were buzzing around our heads and I think if we were honest we weren’t terribly impressed with what we had initially seen! It wasn’t until we walked up the next set of stairs did we realise just how magnificent it was and we were greeted by two green parakeets flying by almost as if it had been rehearsed.

The city itself is built over many different levels carved into the side of the mountain. And on each level there are maybe 3 or 4 circular areas that are now covered in grass but used to have structures built in them. When you look down on the circles it almost looks as though you are standing above a green on a golf course that you have to chip onto. They only let 120 people up a day so it was really peaceful sitting there taking in the different shapes and levels of the place and surrounding mountains. We had around 3 hours to walk around and explore and tt times it did feel like we were the only group up there which was really nice. On our way back down it felt like the number of steps had doubled and we were careful to make sure we got down in one piece.

There is only the one trail to and from the city so we would be walking back along the same path that we took to get here which was good because we knew there wouldn’t be any surprises but at the same time we knew that the steep downhills that were our friends on the way were now going to be our challenges going back. On the way back there was definitely more than one occasion when we were walking downhill and we looked at each other as if to say I can’t believe we actually got to the top of this! Today’s 13.6km walk had been relatively straightforward though and everyone was in good spirits back at camp that night having been up to and looking around the city in the morning. We got chatting with an Irish couple Conor and Caiomhe who showed us a South American card game called Cambio that we really enjoyed and ended up playing most of the evening. Conor had actually gone ahead of his group on the way back to this camp walked straight past the entrance and had to be retrieved a couple a kilometre or so further on by his guide!

The camps that we’ve stayed at along the way have been much better than either of us had been expecting but I think Julia in particular will be relieved to not to be sharing her sleeping space with a piglet who camped out for the night under her bed - and yes I know you will all be saying that she should be used to it by now! The same piglet had also chewed through one of our water bottles just to endear himself to us even more! Bacon sandwiches weren’t too far away from our thoughts once we had discovered the damage!

Day 4

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d slept well and was ready for the last day. We had 12.7km to get back to the start and we were aiming to complete the walk by lunchtime before the heat of the afternoon had a chance to cause us too much suffering. The first uphill out of camp was tough but we got to the top and the rest of the walk until the camp where we had stayed the first night was ok. It seemed much hotter though today than the previous days and the amount of sweat was ridiculous, it was like I’d walked the whole way back to camp through the river!

Once my clothes had a chance to dry out in the sun we set off again and once again the first part out of camp was uphill. And by this point I was really starting to feel the last few days in my legs but the thought of an ice cold beer at the restaurant kept us going till the end, although at certain times it felt like the end would never come.

We got back to the restaurant a little bit before Arthur and Sari who hadn’t been feeling too well along the way back but we welcomed them on their arrival with a cold beer each to help wash down the lunch that had been waiting for us as we swapped pictures and memories from the last few days. There really was a great sense of achievement at having completed the trek especially because it was the first multi day trek we have done since we had been away. I wouldn’t say it was really tough but it was definitely challenging at some points and if you’d said to me that hungover Sunday when we were in Blacks in Brighton buying walking boots that we would have been doing this a year on then I’d have probably laughed in your face!

After lunch we were driven back the hour or so to Santa Marta where we were staying and handed over a big black bag of our dirty, sweaty, extremely sweaty laundry to the guy at reception - I feel for whoever it was who had to stick their head into that bag and get everything out! We didn’t move very far and just had a pizza and a beer at the hostel to celebrate before laying in a freshly made bed for the first time in three nights and rested our weary legs wondering how achey we would be in the morning!


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