The lost city (Colombia)
Ciudad Perdida – (literally, ‘Lost City’) is one of the largest pre-Colombian towns discovered in the Americas. It was built between the 11th and 14th centuries on the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and was most probably the Tayronas’ largest urban centre. During their conquest, the Spaniards wiped out the Tayronas, and their settlements disappeared under the lush tropical vegetation, along with Ciudad Perdida.
The location of the city was discovered in 1972, when a group of local treasure looters found a series of stone steps rising up the mountainside and followed them to the abandoned city. When gold figurines and ceramic urns began to appear on the local black market, archaeologists quickly sought to locate and protect the site.
Ciudad Perdida sits at an altitude of between 950m and 1300m, in the middle of a dense Columbian jungle. The central part of the city is set on a ridge, from which various stone paths descend. There are about 150 stone terraces that once served as foundations for the houses. At its peak, it may have been the home of up to 8,000 people.
The only means of access is a climb of 1,200, muscle tearing, stone steps, through dense steaming jungle. While the ruins are a fascinating place, the trip is really about the journey and the breathtaking scenery along the way. The 50km return trip is a stiff five-day hike, challenging but possible for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.
The accommodation is basic but adequate. The majority of the purpose built camps have beds, with mosquito nets, and are equipped with basic toilets and cold showers. The food is fantastic, with three freshly prepared meals per day and plenty of fruit along the way.
Each day starts around 5.30am with a hearty breakfast and plenty of fresh coffee. You hike for about 5 hours, with free time in an afternoon. By 6pm it is pitch black. Candles are the only means of light by which to enjoy your supper. By 8pm most people are ready for their beds.
We waded through rivers, swam in rivers, ate under the stars, and generally experienced an existence way out of my normal comfort zone.
The first night was so bizarre. It was such a thrill to be sleeping in a hammock listening to bull frogs, and a whole raft of other wild creatures, screeching and screaming under the thick blanket of darkness.
Dealing with spiders, mosquitos, and a bounty of ticks, was quite a challenge. The humidity was intense and as the hikes began each morning it didn’t take long before your clothes were dripping wet.
I met and bonded with some fantastic people on this trek and it now features in my top-ten highlights of South America.
Next stage: Cartagena
Check out this excellent video about the lost city trek.