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Published: December 8th 2014
A 4:45am bus arrived at our hostel to drive us northeast to Santa Marta where we would meet our group for the Cuidad Perdida (Lost City) trek in the jungle to a pre-Colombian site kept hidden by the local indigenous for centuries. Unfortunately, there’d been some miscommunication between the tour operator, our hostel and us resulting in us arriving at 10am when the other tour members had been ready to depart at 8am. Despite the delayed start, they were happy to see us and off we went for a drive into Tayrona National Park where we would be trekking. During our drive we were introduced to the group, all Colombians from Cali (some currently living in Bogota) who were travelling together and told a little about their lives, travels and interest in Cuidad Perdida.
Our guide Alejandrino (and his 8 year old little brother Francisco) would be taking us into the jungle to stay with local indigenous communities each night, the second of which was their village, Wiwa. The first day was uphill, meandering our way up mountains then opening into beautiful vistas over valleys, a total of 7.6km. With some afternoon rain that we came to expect daily, the
trail became slightly treacherous and Courtney proved the importance of ankle and core exercises for balance ! The bright clay mud was all over our boots so it was with great pleasure we saw the glimpses of our first night’s village through the valley. Situated at a bend in the river, this village was a pretty haven with many flowering trees, animals and huts to welcome us. A dip in the river to clean up was refreshing before dinner by firelight.
Our second day of the trek was a shorter and slightly flatter day that ended after 5.1km just after lunchtime in the home village of our guide, Alejandrino. From his village we were able to swim in the piscina (swimming pool – formed by a sight cove in the river) and relax with a few games of barefoot football with the local band of brothers (aged 3-12). We also learned a little about the everyday lives of the Wiwa people including how they use all natural materials to make durable bags by hand.
Our third day was a longer day of 6 hours (9.6km) walking with variation between uphill and plateaus that
would finally lead us into paradise – the base camp and sleeping huts before the lost city was El Paraiso. It was nice to have the afternoon to relax before what would be an early start and we celebrated with a beer in the cold river 😊
A 5am wakeup call ensured we were the first group to reach the lost city and a chance to enjoy its beauty in silence and observe how it would have looked for centuries while hidden. Scrambled eggs by candlelight for breakfast, a quick river crossing (up to our thighs and with rapid currents) and then the entrance to the city: 1200 stone steps, covered in moss! Upon reaching the top, Alejandrino explained a custom where we all stood on stones in a circle and meditated for a minute to leave all our negative energy and thoughts, here so as not to disturb the ancient spirits and energy of the city. We then walked around the circle to seal in the negativity before walking through the multiple levels of the former community and learned about its history.
From our translated version of the story (care of our new friend Axel from Cali)
communities of indigenous people had lived here from approximately 800-1600AD. When Spanish explorers and conquistadors arrived in northern Colombia they saw locals wearing beautiful gold and shell jewellery and of course tried to take all they could. The chiefs began to realise that the Spanish were killing their people who ventured to the lowlands, and so it was decided to disband into the mountains and keep the city a secret. The houses and graves of the city were left with the pottery, jewellery and offerings that the locals wanted to protect from the Spanish. The tribes appointed a few guardians who would periodically return to the lost city to check on it. And so it continued until the 1970s when the guardian at the time was concerned that grave robbers were plundering the hidden artefacts of the city. The guardian approached a group of hikers in the jungles near the city and showed the explorers the lost city where they photographed it in its current state including some exposed treasures previously buried. Finally, the government declared the site a protected area and placed the army on site in the lost city to ensure its ongoing protection.
After seeing such
an amazing sight, we then began the journey back to modern civilisation with 2 days of 7 hours walking each (11.6km and 12.7km), back along the same route we’d taken on the way in. It was nice to revisit the villages with an appreciation of what their ancestors had done to preserve their heritage.
The city is in a national park and entry is only permitted with a licensed guide. All tour companies work in conjunction with the local indigenous communities to ensure their story is shared honestly and their culture preserved. We’d heard about the lost city trek from a few people and seen only a couple of photos all of the central terraces. We were blown away by how large the area was and that 1500 people had lived there at one time. While trekking through the jungle we often exclaimed how easy it would be to get lost and its no wonder they indigenous were able to keep the city hidden from centuries. We really do think it should be called the hidden city not the lost city, and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting northern Colombia.
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