The Lost City Trek – A Tale Of Near Death Adventure
Lying there in the heart of The Lost City, looking up at the darkening skies; I searched my mind for ways of injuring myself just enough to justify an airlift. Maybe if I “accidentally” fall down that staircase over there, it would mean an end to this nightmare in the jungle.
I had been looking forward to this hike to The Lost City for over two years now. A few people I know had done the trek to Ciudad Perdida and loved it, so I was super excited to finally be in Colombia for a chance at an unforgettable hike.
The Lost City trek is a four or five-day adventure into the jungles of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. There was one company in town that I knew was going to be just the right fit. The only one offering an indigenous guide.
Unless you are completely fluent in Spanish or know a local, all of the tours hiking to The Lost City cost the same. They all provide food, “filtered” water, camping, and a guide. What sets Wiwa Tours apart is that they are the only company to offer an indigenous guide. So why does that matter?
Well….if you’ve already shelled out the 850,000 pesos or $285 USD for the tour package with any company. You might as well get the most bang for your buck and have a guide who knows everything about the local culture and is himself an integral part of it.
Not to mention their rides are pretty sweet.
You will need to meet at the Wiwa Tours office at half past eight in the morning and pay the remainder of your fee for the trip. After everyone has arrived, you will gather up your gear, throw it on top of the cruiser, and load into the back.
After an hour-long drive East on highway 90 and then South down a windy dirt road, you will arrive at base camp in the town of Machete Pelao. Lunch will be served with a choice of chicken, fish or vegetarian. After a short time to let the food settle, you’ll set off.
Disclaimer: The beginning of this journey is quite uneventful. Just stick with it and let the adventure unfold. Immediately following the story is a step by step guide to planning your trip to The Lost City, as well as what you should pack.
Day 1 – Full Hearts And Minds
The trail doesn’t get off to a particularly exciting start. Walking from town down a dirt road with irrigation pipes and burnt fields is not exactly what I had in mind for my wild trek through the jungle. This was nothing like camping in Tayrona National Park. Where was that beautiful Colombian landscape I had come to know and love?
A constant flow of weary hikers, completely covered in mud and mosquito bites, was a pretty amusing sight though. It did, however, make the entire group nervous about the days to come.
Would we be looking like that in just a few days time?
As we carried on, our guide took his time to stop and explain the history of the towns surrounding the park, as well as the constant struggle between the locals and the government, who was trying to impose higher taxes on the land that was rightfully theirs to begin with.
Our only repast to the dullness of the hike thus far was the occasional beautiful jungle plant peeking out of the hedgerow.
Bright reds and purples were a sharp contrast to the dark green vegetation and the burnt and blackened hills.
After about half an hour we came upon our first river crossing. While not overly exciting, it offered a sign of hope for the rest of the journey to come.
We encountered a few more of these small obstacles in the road as we carried on through the thrill-less landscape.
The horizon was finally starting to show promise. Instead of flat nothingness, we were now walking on a ridge that was getting much denser the further we went.
The hike from this point was much of the same. Thick sweaty jungle and mud, lots of mud. The sky was beginning to turn on us as we descended into the first camp. Sweaty and tired, we stripped down to our skivvies as the rain started to fall. Wearing only flip-flops, we slowly made our way to the swimming hole just beyond the camp.
The hour was spent jumping from a small waterfall and exploring the river downstream, hopping from boulder to boulder. One by one we made our way back to dry off and prepare for dinner.
Completely surrounded by wet smelly clothes hung up to stay wet, we sat shoulder to shoulder. Our mouths watering as we passed each steaming plate of fish and veggies down the line. With utensils in hand, ready to feast, our guide spoke up, introduced himself, and welcomed us to our first night in the jungle.
Sitting around the dinner table was when we really got to know one another. Manners pushed aside, we introduced ourselves, occasionally choking on the food protruding from our mouths. It was the first time of the hike that we became more than just a group of pure strangers.
As we finished off dinner with a warm gooey chocolate bar and a game of cards, we were all looking pretty weary. It was time to find where we would be sleeping for the night.
I was pretty impressed with how well established the camp was, considering that we were in the middle of nowhere. The only means of bringing in supplies that I could see was by mule along the same small muddy path from which we came.
The beds were nice and soft, and the bug nets didn’t have a single hole. I’ve stayed in places much closer to civilization that were in far worse shape.
So with stomachs and hearts full, we settled in for the night, very much excited for the tough day to come.
Day 2 – Then The Rain Came
As the darkness slowly gave way to the morning light; the roosters did what roosters do best. I think it’s funny; people being annoyed by the sound of ten alarm clocks at the break of dawn. For me, it is one of the sounds that let me know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Near nature.
I can’t speak for the others, but I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed. I felt great. There was no way I was going to end up looking so destroyed like all the hikers we’d seen coming out of the park.
Oh….how little I knew of my future.
It was a little tough leaving camp after spending so few hours there. It was truly a beautiful valley in the heart of the jungle. However, the views that morning would make it pretty easy to get over.
The dense clouds, remnants of the storm the night before, were starting to clear as we made our way further down the trail.
The hike was finally starting to get interesting. It seemed like every time we turned a corner we were crossing yet another river. The mud that was a nightmare before was all downhill this time, which meant plenty of chances for my inner child to emerge and slide through some mud.
That fun lasted up until our next fruit pit-stop. From here on in the hike would show us very little kindness.
It was half-past ten, and we had been hiking for over four hours. We were all wiped out and ready for a real break. More than just a ten-minute fruit stop. We soon found our relief in the form of a well established Wiwa campsite. Although not our sleeping spot for the night, it was a very welcomed sight.
We took this time to wash off the mud clumped to our boots. Rinsing off in the cold water and laying in the midday sun was a huge relaxer.
For lunch, we had a big bowl of chicken stock soup accompanied by rice and tomate de Arbol (tree tomato?), a somewhat sweet drink. After letting the food settle from inside a hammock, we rucked up and headed off for the second part of our day-long journey.
Walking ahead of the pack, I was able to enjoy the peace and quiet of this open part of the trail in the middle of the jungle. The breeze was a nice relief from the stagnant jungle heat. It brought with it, however, a new smell. One that I knew very well. Smoke.
Smoke meant fire, and fire in a wet jungle meant people. Maybe even one of the local villages I had been waiting to see with great anticipation. I rounded the bend, and there it was, just sitting there inconspicuously.
I couldn’t believe I was standing in a local village. Something that has been on my bucket list for awhile. Being able to walk through and touch the well-built huts made of sticks, mud was pretty surreal.
A couple of kids hardly wearing clothes, ran up and tugged on my backpack; dulce they cried. Dulce means candy, and it’s something you hear quite often from children of all ages in this part of the world. Once they realized I had no sweets, their attention quickly turned to the others just coming around the corner.
The People Of The Sierra Nevada
The indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta have been around for a very long time. Known as the Kogi, or Jaguar in the Kogi language; they have been in the Sierra since the time of the Conquest.
Evidence of their ancestors the Tyrone has been found all along Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, and all the way down to the most well know city of Ciudad Perdida.
Suddenly there was a noise coming from inside one of the huts. It spooked me, so I high-tailed it out of there. Not before taking one last shot though. It was probably my favorite view of the hike.
Small drops started falling from the sky as the others arrived. We put away our cameras and strapped on our rain covers.
This was the last picture I was able to take before the skies opened up. The next few hours would be some of the toughest uphill bulls**t I’ve ever had the pleasure to hike. The rain was practically coming at us sideways as we made our way up the mountain. The ground had turned into pure mud, and a river now ran between our feet as we struggled to catch our breath.
A small area selling drinks and giving away free fruit meant we had finally reached the top and the end of our uphill battle. A few minutes recovering, and then we were off again down the mountain. This was it, our guide assured us. Only an hour and a half down the mountain to the next camp.
With the rain now coming down in spurts, we quickened our pace. The land was wet and the skies dark as we made our way through open fields dotted with livestock and across a very formidable river.
When we arrived, we were all exhausted. Completely soaked and cold, we jumped into the nearby river to wash off the sweat. It was so cold that I couldn’t help but yell a few choice words as I went in head first.
Day 3 – The Great Sickness
I tossed and turned all night, continuously waking up to burps that smelled of eggs and sweating bullets even though it was quite cold. In the back of my mind, I knew what this meant. It had happened many times before on the road.
Suddenly at 3 A.M., I startled awake, this time not to burp. My mouth was full of the chicken and rice I’d eaten at dinner. With all of my might, I held it in as I shimmied my way towards the end of the bed. My foot found the first rung of the ladder, and it felt firmly planted. It was not.
I fell from the top bunk, my head catching the mosquito net on the way down, yanking me back against the bed frame. Usually, I would take a moment to groan in agony, but there was no time. I quickly limped to the tree line and like a scene out of the movie The Exorcist; began painting the jungle.
Advice: When your guide gets angry at you for using a UV filter because the rain god is watching over you and won’t let you get sick, DO NOT listen to him. The chemicals they pour into the water to make it “safe,” will, in fact, destroy your immune system. I wasn’t the only one who felt like crap.
The worst part of being sick in the jungle is not the lack of a solid toilet or a pharmacy. It is the hike that lies before you each and every morning. Walking uphill through stifling jungle heat is definitely not the remedy for a sour stomach.
Welcome To The Lost City
Upon arriving the sun came out and cast its rays across the site. Our guide had us stand in a circle and make an offering to the gods, permitting us entry into this sacred place. I lasted about two minutes before again running into the bushes.
As we made our way through the site, our guide Rafael stopped to explain the large stones covered in ancient carvings standing by the side of the path. They depicted the stars and planetary system, as well as a map of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, the name of the area currently engulfing us.
More than a few of us raised an eyebrow at the religious information he was throwing around as he interpreted the stone. We just took it with a grain of salt. After all, being introduced to different cultures and their belief systems is one of the greatest things about traveling. You don’t always have to agree with them.
Especially when they’ve been chewing coca leaves all day.
After a few very tough days hiking in the heat and trudging through mud uphill in the pouring rain; It was pretty amazing finally being in The Lost City. The day couldn’t have been any better, apart from my current state. The temperature was near perfect, and the birds were singing all around us.
I started noticing all of this as we came upon a nice looking flat piece of earth. My head was spinning, and I could barely see. So I decided right then and there I’d had enough. I was content with how far I had come, and a nap sounded like pure freaking heaven.
Don’t judge me; I still had an entire day of hiking ahead of me.
I struggled with the decision because I was so close. I still needed to get a photo overlooking the site. The golf course shot. The one on all of the other travel sites and brochures. I saw the steps leading up to that vantage point, and my decision was clear.
So I handed off my camera to my friend, giving brief instructions on how to use it, all while trying not to barf on her. I drifted into non-existence as they started their final ascent. I was really hoping that the pictures turned out well, and all of my hard work throughout the trek wasn’t going to be just short of complete.
The results would speak for themselves.
I was kicking myself for not walking the rest of the way. They looked like they felt true accomplishment. Although the desire not to die of dehydration in the jungle only two weeks into Colombia, quickly outweighed that jealousy.
I woke up feeling slightly better having emptied all the contents of my stomach. The hike back down the staircase to camp three was much easier this time around. Once we arrived, lunch was being served. I obviously passed. I can handle being drained of energy but what I can’t stand is barfing every thirty minutes.
The hike was long and tough the entire way back to the Wiwa camp where we had eaten lunch the day before. This time it would be our home for the night.
Day 4 – The Great Escape
We woke up tired and sore but very eager for this, the final day. It meant that by midday we would be sitting in the same spot as the weary travelers we’d met when we started this adventure. Sitting there enjoying a hot meal with not another mile to traverse.
Our pace quickened each time we passed a familiar part of the trail.
Again the rain started to fall as we made our way out of the wilderness. Thankfully, running down mountains is something I was taught as a kid, and it came in handy as the trail soon turned to mud. Hopping from one patch of rocks to the next and sliding down the hillside, I was making great time.
Then after about two hours of downhill fun, the path started to turn back into the same boring nothingness that we had passed through at the beginning of our journey. Finally, the end was near. We had made our great escape from the hot, dense jungle.
Throwing off our socks and shoes, we sat and enjoyed some well-deserved beers and a hot meal. It was a long and arduous journey, and we could only think of one question to ask ourselves. Was hiking through the hot muddy jungle really worth it?
Was The Lost City Worth It?
There are a few things that I’m sure you’ve been wondering. Was the hike to The Lost City an overly beautiful one? No. Was I happy and enjoying myself for the majority of the trek? No. Will I remember the hike to The Lost City for the rest of my life? Absolutely!
I’ve recently adopted a word that I now use quite regularly. Psychopath. It is the word I use for the people I meet who commit absolutely ridiculous acts on the road. Such as walking buck naked through Mexico after being robbed of everything, relying only on the kindness of strangers to replenish your gear (Including your clothes).
I have started to notice that the more often I am in pure agony and being pushed past my breaking point, the more I become addicted to the adventures that spawn those feelings. Does that in turn, make me a psychopath?
(That’s a rhetorical question.)
Planning Your Trip To The Lost City
Now I have you questioning whether or not you still want to do this crazy hike to The Lost City, right? Well for you brave souls who love a good adventure, here are a few tips on how to book a tour, where to stay, and what to pack for this escapade into the jungle.
Where should I stay before the trek? – Staying in Santa Marta is your best bet if you want a no hassle experience. There are plenty of cheap hostels close to the Wiwa main office downtown. I stayed at a pretty nice place called Tiki Hut Santa Marta Hostel.
With whom should I book? – There are many companies offering much of the same thing, but for the reasons that I mentioned earlier, I would recommend booking with Wiwa Tours. The price of the tour is 850,000 pesos or $285 USD. Make sure to bring your passport and a 20% deposit at the latest, a day before your trek.
Should I go for the 4 or 5-day trek? – This is entirely up to how you think you’ll feel after the hike back. The 5-day hike just means you hang out at the first camp for an extra day while all of your comrades head home. I didn’t meet a single traveler who wanted to stay one day longer than the four days.
Do I need to bring food and water? – I would bring a few small snacks for in between meals. The meals are pretty hardy though, so don’t bring much.
For water, I highly recommend bringing at least 2 liters. You can purchase water throughout each day, so don’t worry about running out. You can also try your luck with the “filtered” water provided.
What To Pack
- Bag Rain Cover
- Bug Spray
- First Aid Kit
- Extra Batteries
- Power Bank
- Lifeproof Case
- Dry Bag
- 4 T-Shirts
- Swim Shorts
- Convertable Hiking Pants
- Pullover (for cold nights)
- Rain Jacket
- Hiking Shoes
- 3 Pairs of Socks
- 4 Pairs of Underwear
- UV Water Filter
- Travel Pillow
- Travel Towel
So will you do it?
Will you brave the jungle and mosquitos to find The Lost City?
If you’ve already blazed a trail to The Lost City, I want to know what your best or worst moments were.