The Lost City and The Lost Underwear

Trip Start Sep 09, 2006
Trip End Aug 18, 2010

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Friday, March 2, 2007

"...3 days later and the arduous trek to the Lost City has forced us to climb to the tops of one mountain after another, with heat so overpowering that our sweat continuously burns our eyes and drenches our clothes, and seldom does a breeze or wisp of air bring relief through the dense primary Colombian jungle we have chosen to traverse.  We hop-skip an icy-cold river haven for the 9th time on this journey and round a bend, until finally, we are greeted by the 2000 stone steps that will lift us back in time to the 7th century.  The pain in our legs takes each of us into a trance of solitude as we negotiate the narrow moss-covered staircase one step at a time, until it ultimately carries us high above the valley and into the lower reaches of the ancient city.  We´ve arrived..."


Ciudad Perdida (lit. "Lost City") is one of the largest pre-Columbian towns discovered in the Americas. And rightfully so, it is now being mentioned in the same breath as Machu Picchu of Peru.  Built on top of a mountainous jungle, high on the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, just 50kms south of Colombia's Caribbean coast, it is considered to have been home to the Tayrona Indians and appears to be their major political and economic center. 

The city's origins date back to the 7th century and it is believed that some 2000 to 4000 people were thought to have lived there.  Roughly 150 stone terraces, which once served as foundations for the wooden huts used as meeting areas and habitations for the Tayronans, are all that is left of the great city.  The central part of the city, which is by far the most awe inspiring, is perched on a ridge from which various stone paths lead down to other terraced areas on lower slopes.  In its entirety, the city spans an altitude between 950m to 1300m and a radius of about 4sq km.


During the Spanish conquest, the Tayronan civilization was wiped out and the settlement was left to disappear beneath the thick jungle.  For years, it was hidden from the world except for the descendants of the Tayronans, the Kogi Indians who knew of its existence and kept its secret.  For 4 centuries, the city was "lost" until its "rediscovery" in 1975 by guaqueros (treasure hunters) who stumbled upon it and began to rob it of the gold, pottery, and semiprecious stones that existed in nearby tombs.  Now, the Colombian government is in control of its national treasure and the once great city of the Tayronans is now "accessible" to those who wish to undertake an intense and magnificent 6 day round trip trek uphill into the humid and mountainous jungle, crossing rivers, sleeping under wooden shelters in hammocks, swimming and bathing in streams, and forging new friendships.


"...We pause to gather ourselves and regroup for a final ascent up the dozen or so stone terraces that lead up to the central terrace plateau.  It's easy to picture how the jungle must have completely covered the ground we were walking on up until the site was discovered by tomb raiders 30 years ago.  Then, almost as if we had stumbled across a lost world rather than a city, we reach the final plateau, immediately humbled and awakened by what our senses can barely absorb. Sitting here in the mystical surroundings, is a rare and special experience; massive stone terraces perched elegantly within the jungle landscape so far removed from civilization, high up on an extremely remote mountain top, amidst a breathtaking canopy of primeval forest covering every slope around us down into the canyon carved by the Buritaca river.  And way up here in this remote space, no one interferes with its solemnity, its presence, its mystic air.  The animals and native descendants guard it, and we respect it." 


"The terraces are all that is left of the great city, and we can only imagine life as it must once have been.  We finally drop our bags to lay in the soft grass of the largest terrace, which a long time before may have been the ceremonial and political center of the city.  All we can do is lay down to take a moment of rest and absorb our immaculate surroundings while imagining what took place here over a 1000 years ago.  And together we decide that life could be better here and perhaps the 3 day return trip should be postponed for a lifetime."                                              

Daily Log: Ciudad Perdida
*Read on for a daily account from our written log, of our 6 day/5 night trek to and from the Lost City.

Day 1 - March 02, 2007
- Join 11 others (2 Germans, 3 Israelis, 2 Irish, 1 Danish, 1 Dutch, 1 American, 1 Australian) on a chiva to El Mamey for the start of a 6 day trek into the jungle to find the Lost City.  Chiva breaks down, here we go...join other jeep to village.  Jeep goes back for the others, and we find a juice stand for some fresh energy. Meet our guide (Emanuel), our cook (William), and our porter.  Start hiking 3 hours up and down to the first encampment.  100% humidity, up steep climbs, white sand, red sand, mosquitoes, mountains, jungle. Emanuel, in his early 50s, walks with a troubled gait ever since he slipped and fell on a previous expedition.  Very experienced and still keeps up regardless of the difficulty.  Arrive at dusk and go for a swim in river pools in the dark.  Refreshing!  Delicious chicken for dinner.  Deep conversation with Israelis about politics and war.  Get to know one another by candlelight.  Hop into our moist hammocks protected under mosquito nets.  Not so comfortable, kind of chilly.  Strange noises throughout the night.

Day 2 - Mar 03
- 6:15 AM rise!  Grilled cheese sandwiches and putrid coffee for breakfast.  Trek for 4 1/2 hours to "Gabriel's encampment".  Nice clearings appear now and then during the hike for splendid views of surrounding slopes.  Denser jungle, flatter terrain, easier than yesterday.  Encounter a couple of venomous snakes along the way.  Stop for a pineapple snack by the river.  Arrive at camp at 1:30 pm. Strip down to our swim shorts, and headed down to the river for some serious bathing!  Bathed, swam, dived off rocks, cooled off and numbed down our sore muscles.  Smoked a fat one with the Germans, Israelis, and Danish.  Conversation, comedy, and stench in sweaty proximity.  Our cook whips up a hearty soup for lunch.  Nice to arrive in the afternoon and relax in the sun amongst peaceful sights and sounds.  Anders (Danish) rolls a few more while we all play a game of In My Picnic Basket (who would pack their "favorite costume from Uzbekistan" in their basket by the way?) and Who Am I?  Greg (Australian) finally figures out he is "God".  Nourishing dinner.  A better sleep in hammocks with the peaceful white noise of the Buritaca river below us. Blankets are rather stinky.  Find Greg sleeping on the picnic table in the morning because he's had enough of hammocks!

Day 3 - Mar 04 / Onward to the Lost City
- Early rise again, 6AM.  Leave camp at 7:30 with lots of energy and excitement as we set off to the Ciudad Perdida.  Steep climbs for 3 hours, up, up, up!  Amazed by the habits of some of our friends:  Timm and Jan (our friendly, Left Wing Germans) still trekking in their flip flops!  Anders, the always smiling Dane, carrying only a side satchel containing just a spare shirt, an Andean flute that he so badly wants to master, and tools to roll joints.  Andrew and Evelyn (Irish) seem to have a spare set of legs packed somewhere, and seem to be walking on clouds.  Maya, Adde, and Tsur (Israelis) entertain us with their stories about the tribulations of Israeli military service.  Dick (Dutch) telling us that because he overheard someone say the American President is a real "dick", that we should now call him Richard for the rest of the trek.  Greg (Australian) constantly sweating like no man has ever sweat before and busting his ass to prove he's better than Andrew from Ireland. And Francis the American...well, we don't have many nice things to say about Francis, just that he sort-of fits the stereotype.  What a friendly and interesting group of people.  We feel fortunate to be sharing such a great experience with such amazing and unique individuals. We are amazed by how such close bonds can be made in such short a time with complete strangers from different cultures, different backgrounds. 


Encounter 1st river crossing and change from hikers to sandals.  Wade in up to our knees using sticks for balance.  Feels very refreshing.  Cross 9 more times back and forth.  Thank god for our Tivas!  Rest in a clearing.  More pineapples and oranges for snacks.  Fill up our water bottles by the fast flowing river.  Arrive at the famous stone staircase that leads to the Lost City at the 4 hour mark.  Reesh counts all 1991 stairs as we battle our way up.  Narrow, moss covered stairs, difficult to negotiate.  Eerie to imagine the seemingly tiny feet that had walked the same path centuries ago.  Our guide points out a hole that was once a tomb that was robbed.  Ashif tells everyone that Reesh is really crazy to be counting all 1991 stairs.  Everyone agrees that Reesh is crazy.  Calves burning. 


Arrive at first set of terraces in utter exhaustion.  Fascinating structures.  Not done yet.  More steps, more terraces.  Arrive at the central plateau in a large jungle clearing.  Can't believe the view.  Giant circular stone terraces topped with green grass almost like tee boxes on a golf course.  Plenty of slopes covered with dense vegetation on opposing mountains in all directions.  No other tourists.  Surreal and unimaginable.  Drop our packs and drop down on the main terrace to soak in the feeling. 


Explore upper terraces.  Head over to our encampment.  No hammocks tonight, large wooden shelter with 4 walls and mattresses.  Devour lunch.  Spend the early evening listening to stories from Emanuel, our guide.  He delivers a profound recount of the kidnapping of a group of 8 tourists in 2003 by guerrillas.  Can't believe Emanuel was the guide on that trek...are shocked to hear the entire story sitting right here, in the exact same location it happened!  Explains how the guerrilla group came to the camp at 4:50am, tied up the guides, and chose the fittest tourists with the best shoes to kidnap.  They tied up the rest of the tourists, and the indigenous families living in the nearby village as well.  He explains how he freed himself from his ropes, and managed to escort the remaining tourists back down to safety.  Jan acts as translator and as night falls, we are all keen on knowing more about the motives and tactics of the guerrillas.  Learn that the hostages were released 101 days later, unharmed.  No reason except for publicity.  Emanuel shows us newspaper clippings containing pictures of him and stories of the event.  Quite tense afterwords since we would all be sleeping up in the same area where the kidnappings took place.    Guides go to bed.  Timm and Jan teach us all a German game called Werewolves.  Hilarious, cut throat, and a lot of fun.  Lay under our mozzie nets on our mattresses and play a couple of more games in the dark.  Sleep and wait for 4:50am to pass without any incident!

Day 4 - Mar 05 / Tour of Ciudad Perdida, Trek back to camp 2.
- Ashif wakes up to realize he left his spare pants and a pair of boxers in the outhouse at the previous camp.  What now?  Beautiful morning view of hills and jungle around Ciudad Perdida.  Lovely tour of the main terraces of the ancient city.  Learn how most terraces were foundations for the wooden homes.  Understand the political and economic systems of the Tayronans.  Learn how the central plateau was the sector used for ceremonies and celebrations.  Men and women used to sleep in separate houses.  We learn that to the Tayronans, sex was not to be performed as a nocturnal activity and must be done in the fields during the day so that children wouldn't be born blind!  Descend along lateral slopes to discover more terraces and various sectors of the city cleared from the jungle.  A massive settlement indeed.  Learn how the Spanish destroyed the habitants by simply cutting off trade routes to the coast, and introducing foreign germs that the natives did not have antibodies to fight.  Climb to the highest terrace on the central plateau and capture gorgeous views of the lower terraces (one of which is used as a helicopter landing pad for those willing to fork out the cash and unwilling to conquer the trek) with their circular stone layers, topped with green grass and surrounded by a spectacular mountain/jungle landscape. 


Lunch.  Begin our hike back down, down, down.  Millions of steps to descend.  Seems like forever.  Hiking stick helps as knees feel sore.  Long day.  Hard to keep going.  Forget to turn off at final river crossing, climb over large boulders.  Lost.  Emanuel spots us from a height and gets us back on the right trail.  Finally arrive at Gabriel's encampment at 6pm, 5 hours from the Lost City.  No sign of Ashif's pants or underwear.  Stolen by a porter from another group.  Shower in the dark and chow down.  Smoke up.  Reesh gets sleepy and Ashif gets "stupid" with Anders as they discuss the merits of Michael Jackson's efforts to cover his children in masks when facing the public.  Comfy sleep in cozy hammocks!

Day 5 - Mar 06
- Lazy morning.  Sit by the river pool and enjoy the waterfall.  Relax, swim, bathe.  Knees feel shot.  Enjoy a coke at a plantation owner's house.  Arrive at camp around 1:30pm.  Run down to river for a swim.  Dive in from 5 meter height!  Thrilling and refreshing.  Use rope to get ourselves back up and out.  Difficult.  Decide with a handful of the others to hire an 18 year old farmer to guide us into a narrow, overgrown, off track ravine near his plantation about 20 minutes from the camp. The destination, a small laboratory for processing one of Colombia's largest exports.  We received quite an education indeed.  (Sorry, no details all stays in our written log).

Played more Werewolf at night.  Ashif can't seem to get a chance to be a werewolf.  Anders keeps killing Ashif.  Everyone knows Reesh is a werewolf.  Greg goes nuts and begins to take game a little too seriously.  Strange night. 

Day 6 - Mar 07 / Final steps
- Final day.  Only 2 1/2 hours until the end.  Long uphill climb right at the start.  Painful, but a good challenge.  Exhausted from the heat.  Steep downhill sections.  Return to the village of El Mamey at 11:30am.  Celebrate our accomplishment with massive "jugos" (fruit juice).  Play Shithead while sipping our exotic nourishment.  Dirty.  Tired.  2 hour Chiva bus ride back through long dusty jungle road to Santa Marta.  Lunch with all.  Bid farewell to our new close friends.  Probably will never see them again.  Receive invitations to visit Germany, Ireland, Israel and stay with new friends.  Back to beautiful and relaxing Taganga village on the sea.  Waste not a single moment to jump into the ocean and float weightless.  Get Tata to sanitize our clothes for a couple of pesos.  Pizzas and cervezas for dinner.  Feeling accomplished and happy to have scuba dived in the Caribbean of Colombia and trekked into the jungle to its remote and ancient gem...Ciudad Perdida.

- Trek to Cuidad Perdida can be arranged from Santa Marta or Taganga.  Magic Tur in Taganga charges the same price as the Turcol office in Santa Marta, but the bonus is that you get a free T-shirt with the inscription..."estuve en Cuidad Perdida, Colombia" which is pretty cool.  Taganga is also a much nicer place to spend your time than the big city of Santa Marta.
- Cost:  460,000 pesos, or about $210 USD.  This includes 6 days trekking, guides, cook, porter, and hammocks (you need to carry your own personal items).  Three meals and some snacks are included.  Each site has blankets available, as it can get kind of chilly.  Reserve yours as soon as you arrive at camp.  You also need sandals, as there are many river crossings.
- Although the food is more than enough for the entire group, it's a great idea to bring your own set of snacks for each day of the trek, to give you a little more energy as there are not many snack breaks along the way.  Juice crystals are also nice to have to give you a flavourful change to the water.  You need your own water container, 1.5L bottle per person is plenty.
- Drinking water is all routed up through pipes from the Rivers near the campsites.  It is safe to drink and you can also refill from the fast flowing river sources along the way.  Out of 14 people in our group, no one got a case of the runs...except the American.
- There is a small school along the way (1st day?) which would probably be happy to receive some supplies like pens, pencils and scribblers.  You can pop in and say hello to the children.

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