Do you have a dream about jungle adventure and trekking in the Amazon? Then I have an excellent suggestion for you: why not do the popular Lost City hike in Colombia?
The four-day jungle hike in the Sierra Nevadas in Colombia to La Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City outside Santa Marta, is very popular among adventure travelers and, in truth, a fantastic (and super hot and humid) experience!
I did this hike a few years ago as part of a 6-month solo journey in South America, and I really enjoyed it.
This jungle trek is an adventure you can easily master with a little preparation and guidance!
Update for the 2024 season: Since I did my four-day hike to the Lost City, G Adventures has changed and improved the itinerary for the hike! It is now a minimum of 7 days and up, and the experience is even better!
I want to let you know upfront that hiking to the Lost City hike in Colombia to the remnants of Ciudad Perdida, which it is called in Spanish in the Colombian Sierra Nevadas, is not something you can do by yourself.
You have to go with a certified tour agency that makes sure all the rules and regulations are followed to take care of the jungle and what is left of The Lost City.
I did my 4-day Lost City hike in Colombia with G Adventures, a worldwide renowned sustainable travel and adventure company that provided an amazing journey in nature, culture, and history.
G Adventures is a worldwide travel company arranging responsible adventure travels for small groups to the most spectacular corners of the planet!
This hike started and ended in the beautiful coastal city of Santa Marta, which is also a historic colonial city with a charming old city and so much history!
Santa Marta lies nestled along the Caribbean part of the Colombian coastline to the north, with lots of wonderful water activities and historic sites to explore.
If you have the time, I recommend you stay a couple of days here before or after your Lost City hike as well to explore the city and its surroundings.
The Lost City is one of the largest pre-Colombian cities that has been “discovered” in Las Americas along with the northern parts of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia.
When I quote-unquote “discovered”, it is of course because the natives here have known about this place since its creation.
The settlements in the Lost City were discovered by the rest of the (western) world in 1972.
The discovery happened in connection with a wave of grave robberies in the area, and in the aftermath of the discovery, The Lost City hike in Colombia has become a popular destination for hikers from all over the world!
The ancient dead in the area now called The Lost City were buried with a substantial quantity of gold for their onward journey.
Because of this, grave robbers, people searching for treasures and riches, decided to find the graves and empty them in secrecy!
As word spread, further attention came from archeologists and social anthropologists who wanted to see if the rumors were true – and voila – the city was discovered.
Trekking in Colombia along ancient paths and visiting ruins and relics, however, requires a certain level of organization and delicacy to take care of the ancient sites and cultural heritage.
This is why you can not do this trek by yourself; you need to join an organized trek by a tour company.
Hiking in the Colombian jungle does require a little bit of personal preparation; you need to know what you are “up against” in the Colombian jungle!
Preparing for the heat, humidity, and terrain is a clear success factor.
Therefore, the introductory meeting with my fellow trekkers and our G Adventure guide, “The Night Before,” was informative and motivating.
Although this trek does not cross noticeable altitudes, there will be heat, extreme humidity, and periodical rain.
“If we remember to drink enough water and don`t exhaust ourselves on the uphill paths, everything will be ok”, says our Guide, Juan Diego.
Juan Diego is super inspiring and engaging, full of useful advice, and promising a fantastic experience!
Super early the next day, we are all tired but ready, starting with a double coffee in the lobby as the sun rises.
I left my beloved 6-month travel backpack, Osprey Farpoint 80, back at the hotel and only brought my tiny day pack for this trek.
The reason for that is that on a jungle trek like this, we are super spoiled and have a crew bringing all the supplies we need to each camp every night!
The group I am hiking with is very international; there are trekkers of all ages from all over Europe, the USA, and Canada.
Two Land Rovers are taking us to the start point in the Sierra Nevadas, along with a new guide from the native Wiwa tribe of the mountains.
The first day of jungle trekking was, as expected LONG, warm and humid.
Everyone is soaking wet the whole day, and it is no doubt a heavy start. Not due to altitude or distance, but simply because of the heat and humidity!
But doing as the guide says, walking slowly and drinking water “all the time” is the success criteria, although it is a bit challenging.
There are frequent breaks, and now and then fresh fruit comes our way.
The jungle is amazing, and when we start to have some amazing views as well on day one, it is already all worth it.
The day one trek was around 600 altitude meters, but the track has a lot of ascents and descents, so in total, I would say you can count a bit more than that.
After arrival at Camp One, there is time for a little swim in a nearby river, then dinner, and straight to bed.
I did not have a lot of energy left in my body after this first long and humid day; I apparently needed to recuperate as I slept almost 12 hours straight!
Perfect for me, and on day two, I felt ready and fresh again for a new day of trekking.
Archeologists believe there have been several settlements like The Lost City in this area of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia.
The city is mainly built along a straight ridge covering an area of about 950-1300 altitude meters, and it is believed to have been built around 6-800 AC – a few centuries before Machu Picchu.
The city flourished here in the mountainside until the Spanish invasion in the middle of the 17th century.
After that, the city seemed to disappear into the fuzz. Exactly how and why still is a bit of a mystery.
The second day of trekking is a lot easier; the long night’s sleep has done wonders, and the distance flies away!
The trek starts very early every day, both to avoid the intense heat and also to avoid trekking during the afternoon rains that turn the paths into muddy rivers.
Therefore, the trek of day two is done already around 1 p.m.
A delicious lunch awaits before there is time to do a little exploring in the area and get lessons from the Wiwa guide on the native outlook on life, death, the mountains, and everything.
At the end of day two, we are only a few kilometers away from the actual Lost City.
The last bit consists of a stairway of 1200 stone steps and 400 meters of altitude, a little more than “a walk in the park”!
So there is again an early night, and I sleep like a baby in the little “cabins” or dormitories where we spend the night. All you need is a mattress and a mosquito net!
On day three of the Lost City hike, we are up at dawn, charging ourselves with eggs, fruit, toast, and today also – pancakes! All to prepare us for the thousands of steep steps ahead.
Well, One Thousand Two Hundred to be exact, but that is not my normal number of stairs in one day!
Starting the ascent, slowly up, up, up at a regular pace the walk is quite manageable.
I find a calm pace below the acid threshold, and from there, it is just putting one foot in front of the other and not thinking too much.
After a few hours like this, step by step by step, the terrain flattens out a bit and changes noticeably. Around us, rounded rock formations appear here and there, in different sizes, while we are heading toward the “city”.
Finally, we arrive at the Lost City, and what I notice is that the whole area transforms the energy and has a distinct tranquility and serenity to it!
I don`t think this area has been randomly picked to be the city center way back in the day.
When we emerge into the open space, the air is remarkably easier and fresher than lower in the jungle.
There is a calm and quiet under the trees. It feels like this whole area is a pristine oasis under the airy mountain vegetation!
On one side, we can see a ridge with a steep river, interchanging between a river and a waterfall, providing water for ancient settlements.
When we walk the last few steps before the city opens up before us, the scene is grand, and there are so many details around.
Everything from the serene, quiet, and shady location to incredibly smart engineering solutions in the houses and the water supply, someone figured out hundreds of years ago!
There are several hiking groups in the ciudad this early morning before the sun hits with fierce force, but still, there is silence.
Everyone seems affected by the suave energy of the whole place, speaking in low voices and walking around taking in everything.
We are all just taking in the atmosphere.
Our guide tells us the houses were built on these round formations with drainage around them.
When the master of the house died, the house was torn down and burnt, and the deceased was buried in the ground where the house used to be.
Then, the rest of the family would build a new house on top of the burned grave and live on it. Again and again.
The circle of life quite literally.
Some houses are still complete and functioning in this area. The ones that belong to spiritual leaders are also very elaborate and beautifully crafted.
In this place the guide also conducts a small ceremony with us, it is like some kind of guided meditation.
The intention is that all of us will leave all negative thoughts and experiences behind before we enter the city.
With a clear mind. I like the idea.
After a few hours in the now-found city- we are heading back down to last night’s camp for lunch and preparing for the return-to-civilization hike.
The body has adjusted nicely now to both the heat, the humidity, and the walking. The tempo is high, and so is the energy!
Even though the day was quite long with the “summit” push to The Lost City up and down and return to a camp close to the first night, the energy is excellent.
Everyone participating in the hike now has more energy and turns out to be fun and lively people when not super dehydrated in the jungle!
Suddenly, we all have the energy to enjoy the jungle, the scenery, and, of course, the possibility of swimming in waterfalls on our way back down.
The last night is spent in a lower-lying camp not so far from our start point.
Here, we are going to visit a settlement with a special story. A village was struck by a catastrophe in 2014.
The ancient native population living in the mountains consisted of many different tribes back in the day.
They all had a generally similar outlook on the world and life according to our guides, a traditional nature religion.
Their descendants are still living in the area, despite invasions, guerilla wars, drug cartels, and low-intensity warfare in modern times.
Many are still trying to live according to ancient traditions. (Although there are satellite dishes and wifi in almost every camp we see heading up the mountain).
The different tribes have different names but a lot of things in common.
Our guide from the Wiwa tribe teaches us about his people and their values.
Like many other native peoples throughout the world, the Wiwa live closely connected to the nature around them.
They are also closely connected to the spiritual world as they see it.
They talk about celestial bodies’ significance and predictions, the language, the wisdom of the animals, and the powers of nature.
About the communication between the ones living and the ones that have passed on.
The Wiwa believe the dead still can help the living with all kinds of things in their walk of life.
Often, they communicate through ceremonies or via special animals. All the tribes on this side of the Sierra Nevadas have several spiritual leaders. These have important roles in societies also today.
They are chosen from early childhood based on abilities and interests.
If they develop into what is considered a good direction to becoming wise and insightful individuals, they will be given the task and responsibility of being spiritual leaders at some point when they become adults.
One of the weird and interesting traditions of the Wiwa is that all men carry a “diary” with them.
This is a canister made out of a dried hollow pumpkin and is their spiritual diary.
Shaped like a pear, it is filled with a mixture of roasted coca leaves and shattered white shells. They make an opening on the top of it, where they can insert a stick.
With the stick, they retrieve some of the white powder inside, mix it with saliva, and rub it onto the outside of the dried pumpkin.
The Wiwa-men do this all – the – time, whatever they are doing.
The results over the years are that the white powder mixture builds out the pumpkin into a huge white lump.
Made of all the dried white powder and saliva, which is what encompasses their spiritual diary.
The Wiwa believe that in the dried mass are stored all thoughts, conversations, and memories they have ever had.
This is then available for “revision” by both gods and ancestors alike. Quite interesting – and a little scary?
The last experience on this hike to the Lost City was a talk with one of the spiritual leaders of the tribe.
We all gathered in a special cabin for such events. He explained how his responsibility unfolds in the tribe and taught us what is important to have a happy life.
The essence of his message was basically that happiness is an attitude, that is how they view the matter.
Being happy is simply a choice you make. I imagine that little Truth right there would put many a shrink out of business, should the secret come out!
We all get a white bracelet with a pearl on it around our right wrist. This bracelet is filled with everything we need to always see the positive in life and rejoice in what we have!
Finally, we meditate again, in case any of us accidentally have inflicted upon ourselves any negative thoughts or experiences on our way down from the mountain.
I like the way they think here.
Local Disaster When Lightning Strikes
In this tribe, almost all the men were killed in a terrible fire following a thunderstorm when lightning struck in 2014.
The men were gathered in a large ceremonial cabin in the mountains when lightning struck the cabin.
A raging fire broke out, and no one was able to get out of there. Hence, almost all the women of the tribe became widows overnight!
During the 5 years after this fire, these ladies have not given up.
Instead, they have started a business using all the domestic skills previously used to provide for their families.
They are crafting all kinds of arty and useful pieces, selling them on markets and to tourists trekking in the mountains.
Also, they run a bed and breakfast, a chef school, a restaurant, and a workshop. You have to be impressed.
We had the pleasure of having a three-course meal made by these ladies, with excellent taste and quality!
Colombia has for decades been a country with an unfortunate “reputation” connected to drug cartels and organized crime, causing it to be viewed as a dangerous or risky destination.
I never felt unsafe during my time in Colombia, although of course, my feelings are not a general guideline for safe travels.
In the last few years, however, the country has made a significant effort to change both its reputation and its reality.
So, the facts are that a lot of measures have been taken to improve security in Colombia, as well as take care of nature and culture, like The Lost City.
The best advice for safe travel is always to do your research, follow the advice of the locals, and make good choices for every destination based on all your research.
Colombia has so much to offer for travelers from around the world, and it would be a shame to miss out due to unfounded fears!
There are plenty of nice places to stay in Santa Marta in all price categories, as you can see on the map below!
FAQs The Lost City Colombia
Best Time To Do Lost City Trek Colombia
It is possible to do the Lost City Hike in Colombia all year around except in September, as tours are organized through both seasons.
The best period to do the hike, though, is between December and March if you can, as this is the dry period with less risk of really heavy rains that make the trail a bit muddy and wet!
The Lost City Colombia History
The Lost City in Colombia was alive and vibrant from its foundation in around the year 800 and is believed to have been thriving until sometime between the end of the 16th and the middle of the 17th Century.
In the modern day, it was rediscovered in the 1970s and became an attraction for adventurous travelers and hikers shortly after.
Lost City Trek Colombia Price
Currently, the shortest tour to the Lost City with G Adventures of 7 days is $799 (there are longer hikes available).
The hike includes all meals, accommodation, and a local historic guide (CEO) who will take care of you for the duration of the tour!
The details are subject to changes; please check the G Adventure tour homepage for current details of the hike!
Wrap-Up The Lost City Hike Colombia Sierra Nevadas
Wow, I don’t know exactly what I expected, as the Lost City trek in the Columbian Sierra Nevada was the first jungle trek I have ever done!
It definitely was a lot more heat and humidity to deal with than I had imagined.
But with the right preparations and a lot of water (and a good night’s sleep after the first day of walking), it was manageable.
If you like hiking, history, and adventures, this is a great combination for having a blast on the Lost City Trek outside of Santa Marta!
If you like hiking, history, and adventures, this is a great combination for having a blast on the Lost City Trek outside of Santa Marta!
The guides are great, the history super interesting, and the trek itself a bit of a challenge and a wonderful nature experience!
Heading Back To Santa Marta
The drive back to Santa Marta disappeared in a haze of slumber.
I have to admit it was nice to come back to the air conditioning and laundry service at the hotel. Some of us got together for a post-hike dinner that night. With the jungle miles still on our feet, the whole thing did not last that long, to be honest.
The next morning, I am up early to say goodbye to my hike companion and roomie Becks, who has been traveling solo for three months.
But before she heads for the airport, we need to take care of the little blind passenger that has come with us down from the mountain.
When we get out of bed, there is a rather confused little scorpion sitting in the middle of the floor at 0630, probably wondering what happened to La Naturaleza!
After a little commotion, the scorpion is secured with some gadgets from the kitchen, calm is reinstated, and Becks can leave.
I, on the other hand, will shortly be on my way to Cartagena, which is a small Colombian coastal city further to the West.
It is supposedly the most beautiful city in Columbia, a colonial-style town founded in the 16th Century, and apparently, you can almost see over to Cuba from the shores of Cartagena!
G Adventures conducts responsible travel small-group adventure tours all over the world, including, of course, tours in Cuba!
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