Photo Essay: Trekking to Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s “Lost City”

Near the end of our round the world trip we participated in a 5 day trek through the Colombian jungle to visit the ruins of Ciudad Perdida, the “Lost City.” This ancient city was reportedly founded by the Tairona people in 800 AD, which would make it older than Machu Picchu. We were  unable to go on the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu and had been looking for a trekking adventure in South America. Fortunately, the Ciudad Perdida trek was a fraction of the price– just $225, all inclusive– and was much less crowded.

We set out from the town of Taganga with a small group that included the two of us, an Israeli backpacker and a guide with a mule. It was a relatively difficult trek uphill through the sweltering heat and humidity of the jungle, but we had an unforgettable time.

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The heat was in the 90’s with 100% humidity.  We had never sweated this much in our lives! While the Ciudad Perdida trek is growing in popularity, our guide explained that it was not safe for tourists until about five years ago.  Colombian paramilitary groups were based in the area and tourists were occasionally kidnapped on the trail. When we visited in 2009, a dozen Colombian soldiers armed to the teeth were based at the historic ruins.

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As we headed up into the mountains, we had amazing views of the rolling hills.

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A view of the trail, with the guides and horses in the distance. I loved the fact that we were among the only people in sight.

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Leslie had no trouble scaling a steep section of trail.

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Occasionally we came across remote villages deep in the jungle.

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We saw a demonstration of how coca leaves are processed into cocaine. The practice was common before the Colombian government began subsidizing the farmers not to grow coca, but now it is done for tourists.  Check out the sterile conditions!

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The area around Ciudad Perdida is still occupied by indigenous people who wear traditional white clothing. The other backpacker in our group asked to take a picture of one of the indigenous men, but he refused. The villagers largely ignored us as we passed on the trail, except for a few children who visited our campsite to get food and supplies from the guides.

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We had to make frequent river crossings to get to the Lost City, some of which were near scenic waterfalls.

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Leslie braved a raging river crossing with her walking stick.

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I paused at the bottom of the 1,000+ slippery stone steps that led to the Lost City.

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When we first reached the Lost City the fog was so dense that it was tough to see the rock formations.

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Leslie posed at the summit in front of stone terraces.

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Steps made out of stone led to another section of ruins.

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We stayed with other trekking groups in a small campsite near the ruins.  They even had a lovely bathroom for two!

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In the morning the fog lifted and we got our nice postcard shot of the ruins.

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The ruins weren’t as spectacular as Machu Picchu, but we had the entire place to ourselves.

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We faced another tough river crossing on the way back down.  We were always a slip away from soaking our packs and all of our belongings!

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The trail had spectacular views of the canyons. Note the lone horse in the distance.

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Our sleeping conditions for most nights consisted of a hammock under a lean-to.  Fortunately they came with mosquito nets because the bugs their were ruthless.

The Ciudad Perdida hike is a great value. The organized trek is a bit rough around the edges; your guide might disappear for hours to chat up a neighbor and the sleeping bags are little more than wool Army blankets.  But if you want to explore the Colombian jungle and live like the locals, then this is the trek for you!

For more info

Check out the Ciudad Perdida Wikipedia page for a brief history of the site, and the Ciudad Perdida WikiTravel page for details on what companies operate there, itineraries, etc.

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About Jake Semmel

I'm a blogger and round the world traveler. I'm always on the lookout for new places to scuba dive, hike and ski.