Finding the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida), Colombia

What an amazing experience this was!

For those of you who don’t know, the Lost City is in northern Colombia in the Sierra Nevada area, near the coast but high in the jungle. It was “discovered” by looters hunting for gold in the 1970s although of course it was never really forgotten by the indigenous tribes, the Arhuaco, the Koguis and the Wiwas, who apparently still visited the site all along, and still do for certain ceremonies and celebrations. Along the walk, we saw a few indigenous villages and people. The campsites we stayed at were mostly run by them too, and we even had a boy join us for our whole walk! His name was Masolino, and he had come, I assume, to see the city for himself. His parents had both died, as had many other leaders of his tribe, in a building collapse, and he didn’t even know how old he was. His brother had told him he was 17 but we reckoned he was probably about 12. It was interesting to see how he handled the jungle and moved through it just in his white tunic and wellies, compared to us puffing and sweating westerners!!

Our group companion, Masolino

We hadn’t originally thought we would have enough time to do this trek, but when we arrived in Santa Marta, North Colombia, we found that this was the place to do the tour from, and we had exactly the right amount of time to do it before our flight to Bogota in six days’ time (sounds extravagant but it was actually cheaper than the bus!). We booked with Virgil tours, a family business who I can highly recommend, and actually joined with another group from another company which added to the flexibility of our group (as well as enabling us to meet some awesome people!) All companies offer basically the same thing for the same money (currently COP$700,000, roughly £182) for the 4, 5 or 6 day option all (amazing) food and accommodation included, with guide.


The Lost City Trek – schedule

The way you do the trek is fairly flexible. There are 3 camps in total and, depending on your group and how many days you have chosen to do the trek in, the order that you stay in them may vary but you will probably stay at all of them at some point. We chose the 5 day option, which means you have one long day walking at some point. Those who chose 4 days had two longer days, but it can vary which of the days is your longest. You can also hire a donkey if you want for an extra cost, but none of us did. 

Our basic itinery was this:

Day 1 – pick up Santa Marta about 9am (Colombian time…). Have lunch in restaurant along the way (soup and main, ours was chicken, rice and salad). Drive to drop off point and start walking (this was about 3pm). Walk to Camp 1 (mostly uphill and very humid!). We had a stop off for watermelon along the way, as well as swimming in the river (I didn’t like the little bitey fish!!). Arrived in Camp 1 about 6pm. Time for (cold) showers, swimming in the natural pool, food, and chilling. Early night for an early start!

Watermelon stop! What a view!

Day 2 – this was our long day. We got up at about 5am and aimed to leave at 6am (reality about 7), walked from Camp 1 to Camp 3, which was about 14km (so they said, although no one could really tell us whether that was as the crow flies, nor if it considered the ups and downs). We stopped along the way a few times, for seeing and learning about an indigenous village (we didn’t go in, which I was glad about as it makes it less of an awkward tourist show!). We had lunch at Camp 2 and stopped for a while for gorgeous river swimming and chilling, and walked on to Camp 3. This was when the injuries started to surface. My knee was killing me so I found a handy stick to help me along the way, and used my Buff as a knee support. Another ingenious knee support idea was a sock tied round the knee! We also had some crazy strong anti inflammatories left from Alex’s leg episode, but I would recommend bringing some ibuprofen if not!

Indigenous village – men and women sleep in separate huts. The Shaman is the most important spiritual leader, and they have another leader for community matters. These guys are allowed a few wives!

Indigenous man chewing coca leaves. In his pot (made of a hollowed out gourd) he has an alkaline paste containing sea shells to help bring out the effect of the coca – a slight buzz like having a coffee


A coca leaf – this area used to be one of the main growing places for cocaine production. Now, it is allowed to grow enough for chewing the dry leaves but not mass production that Colombia is famous for (although of course it still happens!). It takes 40kg of dry leaves to make 1kg of pure cocaine paste.

Indigenous children. Boys and girls dress the same until 15 when boys carry bags and wear trousers. At 17 the boys get the gourd for chewing coca. Girls don’t chew it but they pick and dry it for the men.

Day 3 – finding the Lost City! After breakfast we left for the city at about 7am. We had over 800 steps to climb to get there, not to mention the hundreds while we were actually there! Our guides told us plenty of information in English and Spanish about the city, and we had a good amount of time to explore for ourselves (so much so that one couple even complained that we had too much time there! It’s only what we have walked for 2 days for!!! We also visited the “fountain of youth”, a freezing cold plunge pool at the bottom of a waterfall. Needless to say we were all feeling spritely after that, and ready to continue back to Camp 2 after stopping for lunch at Camp 3. We had our usual fruit stop offs and you could also buy drinks and snacks along the way if you wanted. 

Admiring the view

The Lost City…amazing!


Too many steps!!


Our two groups with two guides, Miller and Wilmer


The fountain of youth


Day 4 – This was the day when our group split in 2.Those who wanted to finish in 4 days left early and walked from Camp 2 to the end. We chose to do the 5 days so we had a leisurely walk (mostly uphill!) to Camp 1 and arrived at about lunchtime so we had lots of time to play in the natural pool and play games. We thought this was  the better option if you have time as the pool is beautiful, it’s more chilled out, and the same price!


Little friend at the camp!


Taking the plunge in the gorgeous natural pool (this is the only way in!)


General advice if you are thinking of doing this trek

  • Pack light! You don’t need much: walking clothes (shorts and top, you will be hot and sweaty…learn to embrace it!), long light clothes for the evenings/sleeping (Mosquitos do surface), toiletries (shampoo/soap, deodorant, tooth brushing stuff), flip flops and hiking shoes (boots not strictly needed but I was pleased to have mine), socks, swimming stuff, mosquito repellant (I usually hate deet but it did work well), sun cream, torch, loo roll, ibuprofen and any other medical requirements!
  • Things don’t really dry overnight. If you want to wash your sweaty clothes in the evenings you will be putting on wet clothes in the morning, which isn’t pleasant! Just deal with it, it will dry on you and then be disgusting again!
  • Think about evening entertainment. You won’t be able to charge anything. Some people brought books but as we got on so well as a group we spent our evenings chatting, playing cards, charades, etc.
  • You can buy expensive beer at most campsites if you want, but we brought ready mixed rum with Tang (kinda powdered squash but better than it sounds!) if you do want a lil drinkie, but you don’t really need it!
  • Bear in mind the time of year you do this. We went in February which was hot and humid but not raining. Other times of year it can bucket down and paths are muddy and slippery!

All in all, we really enjoyed finding the Lost City and our group and guides really helped to make the experience something special. Especially Amir’s rapping 😝