Travel Guide to The Lost City Trek – Ciudad Perdida – in Colombia
Ciudad Perdida, or Teyuna, is the greatest archaeological finding in Colombia. This ancient indigenous civilization was built in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta by the Tayrona peoples.
It is located on the northern face of the mountain, in the upper area of the Buritaca river basin at 900 – 1,200 meters above sea level. The site is reportedly 12,000 square meters, although only 3,000 m2 are open for tourists.
Over 200 stone structures including interconnected roads, stairs, terraces, canals, and ceremonial buildings are the remnants of the city, which was forcibly abandoned during the Spanish colonization.
What remained of the stone roads and buildings is now claimed as a sacred territory of the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo indigenous communities and also is an archaeological park, part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park.
A look into the past of Ciudad Perdida
The Lost City -English for Ciudad Perdida- received this name because it remained hidden in the forest until the 1970s, when the government realized its existence after rumors of hidden treasures in the Sierra spread out.
Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida has been compared to Machu Picchu, and it was actually built around 600 years before the world-famous Peruvian ruins. The Tayrona architecture highlighted the circle as the main infrastructural element.
The preference for the circulation around the villages also stands out and is reflected in the extensive network of roads, stairs and platforms that allow internal mobility in the settlement.
A Place of Archeological Richness
Out of the 26 archaeological sites found in the river basin, the Lost City was the largest and most important of all, since it was assumed to be the political and cultural center of all the nearby settlements.
Archaeologists say that in the 16th century, Teyuna may have had between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants belonging to different political units with a language, architectural and cultural unity – the Tayrona culture.
The Conquest Period
The 16th century, when the Spaniards arrived on the continent was quite intense and the civilization faced intermittent periods of conflict and peace when the indigenous and Spaniards held exchange relationships.
The latter was never able to dominate the Tayrona civilization nor settle in the Santa Marta range. However, several factors – such as conflicts and new diseases, progressively destabilized and decimated the population.
The Indigenous People of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Today, the Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo indigenous peoples, inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, claim their right to this territory as descendants of the populations that inhabited it in the past.
These communities have learned to share their sacred land since the Teyuna Archaeological Park opened in 1980, but they demand respect for their traditions and territory.
Biodiversity of the Lost City Trek
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an important biodiversity reservoir due to its location in the Caribbean region of Colombia and the changes in elevation, known as thermal floors.
In Colombian mountains, every 1,000-meter increase in altitude means an estimated 3.5°F temperature decrease. This means that the higher you go, the cooler it gets, and also the ecosystems change.
The Santa Marta range presents a variety of wildlife including 90 species of fish, 49 amphibians, 92 reptiles, 184 mammals, and 631 species of birds!
Birding at the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
This is a paradise for birders since 36% of the Colombian avifauna -and 7% of the world’s avifauna- is found here.
Find out more about birdwatching in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in our entry Colombia’s Prime Birding Destination: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
It has Important Areas for Bird Conservation (AICAS) in different zones of the park, where you can spot the Andean Condor, the Santa Marta Parakeet, and the Blue-billed Curassow.
The Lost City Trek
Local tour agencies offer treks of 4, 5, or 6 days to Ciudad Perdida. In Sula, we have a 4-day tour. The journey starts in Santa Marta, where Jeeps pick up tourists and take them to the starting point of the Lost City Trek, El Mamey, which is about 3 hours from the city.
You will Arrive on Foot
The only way to get to Teyuna is on foot, so consider your fitness level if you plan to embark on this journey. The trek is about 50 km, you have to ascend and descend 4 small mountains… twice.
The daily hikes are at least 4 hours but can go up to 5 or 6 hours. Some quite steep stretches leave you exhausted but there is always time to rest. If you are physically trained, it will be OK; as long as you tolerate humidity.
You will have to cross the Buritaca river many times, sometimes –when the water is high, with the help of a rope. At one point of the climb, there is also a type of improvised, hand-operated cable car that helps trekkers cross the river one by one.
When your guide warns you it is the last time you have to cross the river, it means that the Lost City is really close. What separates you from the ancient civilization? Only a quite steep 1,200 step stone stairway!
Throughout the whole climb, you enjoy breathtaking views over the Caribbean sea and the tropical forest with exotic wildlife. But getting to the Lost City is another level of excitement.
There are several stops during the trek where you are offered snacks and hydration. The camps where you spend the nights offer really basic accommodation in cabins with bunk beds or hammocks.
You can carry your own hammock with a mosquito net and hang it if you prefer. These campsites are managed by local farmers or indigenous, and they offer you fresh food as well.
After the challenging trek, you will feel rewarded with the landscape and the peaceful atmosphere. This is the point where your guide talks about how the Tayronas build their civilization and lived kind of isolated in the forest.
It is a fascinating story that encourages you to go explore the ruins and, of course, take tons of pictures as souvenirs. One good thing is that Ciudad Perdida is not a massive tourist destination, so you won’t have to deal with hundreds of people disturbing your calm or ruining your selfie.
After this accomplishment, it is time to return. Two days of hiking and crossing the river again await you and your group.
- Get yellow fever and tetanus vaccines at least 10 days before your trip to the Lost City.
- You need to wear one good pair of hiking shoes with good traction and waterproof if possible.
- The type of shoes you wear is crucial since the weather is warm and humid, and the rain is always a possibility.
- Wear long pants and breathable long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself from mosquito bites -these abound, and sunburns.
- Pack enough underwear and sets of clothes, since you will get wet, whether because of the sweat or a well-deserved dip in the river.
- If you have trouble sleeping in strange beds and in packed rooms, consider carrying your own hammock.
- Take into account that you have to carry your luggage, so don’t overpack.
- Be careful when drinking water in the camps, there have been people poisoned because of the questionable quality of water up there in the mountain.
- Respect nature and the privacy of the indigenous peoples and farmers of the region.
- Don’t throw garbage away.
- Don’t take pictures of the communities or their belongings without their permission.
- Contact a local agency with knowledge of the region, the trip, and the requirements.
We, in Sula, are happy to help you organize your Lost City trek!
The trekking to Ciudad Perdida in Colombia is an unrivaled experience for your soul and body. No need to say more, live the Lost City trek yourself!
About the author
Ana María Parra
Modern Languages professional with an emphasis on business translation. Interested in the cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content. Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism, and sustainable living.