Do you have a dream about jungle adventure and trekking in the Amazon? It absolutely does not have to remain a dream, the Lost City Trek in the Colombian Sierra Nevadas is easier available than you might think!
The four-day jungle trek from Colombia to La Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City outside Santa Marta is very popular among travelers, and in truth a fantastic (and super hot and humid) experience!
This jungle trek is an adventure you can master with a little preparation and guidance!
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You Need A Guide For The Lost City Trek
Trekking to the remnants of The Lost City 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 trek with G Adventures, starting and ending the whole tour in the beautiful coastal city of Santa Marta.
G Adventures is a worldwide travel company arranging responsible adventure travels for small groups to the most spectacular corners of the planet!
Tourist In Colombia
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.
In the last few years, however, the country has made a significant effort to change both its reputation and its reality.
I never felt unsafe during my time in Colombia, although of course, my feelings are not a general guideline for safe travels.
A lot of measures have also been taken to take care of nature and culture, like The Lost City. The best advice for safe travels is always to follow the advice of the locals and make good choices based on all your research.
Colombia has so much to offer for travelers of the world, and it would be a shame to miss out due to unfounded fears!
The Lost City Trek In Colombia
When we say “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.
Trekking in Colombia along ancient paths and visiting ruins and relics requires a certain level of organization to take care of the ancient sites and cultural heritage. Therefore you can not do this trek by yourself, you need to join an organized trek by a tour company.
I did this trek with the worldwide sustainable travel and adventure company G Adventures, which provided an amazing journey in nature, culture, and history.
The ancient dead here was buried with a substantial quantity of gold for their onward journey. Because of this, people searching for treasures and riches decided to find the graves and empty them.
Along came attention from archeologists and social anthropologists checking out the situation – and voila – the city was discovered
Trekking In Colombia
Trekking in the Colombian jungle does require a little bit of preparation, it is better than you being prepared for the heat, humidity, and terrain before than while on your way!
Therefore the introduction meeting with my fellow trekkers and our guide “the night before” was informative and motivating happening.
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 in 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 bring 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 from all over Europe, the USA, and Canada, and of all ages.
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 Lost City Trek Day One – Long And Hot And Humid
The first day of jungle trekking was as expected LONG, warm and humid.
Everyone is soaking wet the whole day, and it does 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 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.
Day one trek was around 600 altitude meters, but the track has a lot of ascents and descents, so in total, I would say 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.
Not a lot of energy left in the 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.
The Lost City Is One Of Many In The Sierra Nevadas
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 be built around 6-800 AC – a few centuries before the 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 Lost City Trek Day Two – More Energy To Enjoy The Jungle
The second day of trekking is a lot easier, the long night’s sleep has done wonders and the distance flies away!
The trek is starting 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 pm.
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!
The Native Wiwa Outlook On Life
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. 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.
Counting On The Help From Passed Ancestors
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.
The Spiritual Diary
One of the weird and interesting traditions of the Wiwa is that all men are carrying 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 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 is stored all thoughts and 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 Lost City Trek Day Three – The Stairway To The Lost City
Returning to the hike of day three, we are up at dawn, charging 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, 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 towards the “city”.
Generation Living In The Sierra Nevadas
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.
The Lost City – A Serene Calm Oasis
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 serene calm and quiet under the trees. I feel like this whole area is a quiet oasis under the airy mountain vegetation.
On one side we can see a ridge with a steep river interchanging a river and a waterfall providing water for the settlement.
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 smart engineering solutions.
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.
Leaving The Lost City To Itself
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 to swim 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.
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!
Happiness Is A Choice Says The Wiwa Tribe
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.
Wrap-Up The Lost City Trek In The Sierra Nevadas
Wow, I don’t know exactly what I expected as the Lost City trek in the Columbian Sierra Nevada’s 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!
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 into 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!
Do you have any questions about the Lost City trek in Columbia? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail! Happy to help!