‘What percentage do you have?’
There was a chorus of responses from the group with everything between 15 to 50.
Amid the chatter, one of the guys chimes in with ‘98%’.
There were gasps from around the table and awed hush followed.
98% deet. The holy grail of mosquito spray, and a necessity to complete the four day Lost City trek.
Or so I thought until I counted 38 bites on our return to Santa Marta.
The Lost City or Ciudad Perdida in Spanish is only accessible by a 46km (28 miles) trek through jungle terrain and up the steep slopes of the Buritaca Valley in northern Colombia. It is possibly one of the hardest hikes I’ve done, but don’t let this put you off. It’s worth it for the incredible scenery and sense of achievement once you reach the overgrown ancient city, otherwise known as El Infierno Verde, or ‘Green Hell’.
Ciudad Perdida is one of the largest pre-Colombian towns discovered in the Americas, on the north-western slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It was built by the Tayrona Indians around the 9th century AD, which makes it 650 years older than Machu Picchu! During their conquest of South America, the Spaniards largely wiped out the Tayronas and their settlements disappeared largely without trace, although their descendants still inhabit the valley.
The Lost City was re-discovered in 1972 by guaqueros (grave robbers) who followed the stone steps deeper into the jungle on the hunt for gold.
It is now firmly on the traveller’s trail and one of our (rather sweaty) highlights in Colombia.
Day One – 7.6km
We were picked up at our hostel in Santa Marta (The Dreamer Hostel) at around 10am. The nerves were starting to kick in. What were we getting ourselves into? The 15 members of our group piled into two jeeps and sped off down the main road for an hour before we commenced a bumpy one-hour ride to the village, Machete, at the beginning of the trek.
The first day is only four hours of walking. Do not take the ‘only’ four hours too lightly. It is a hard and hot slog up the mountain and a series of questions will start to run through your head ‘How much further?’, ‘Is it too late to turn back’ and ‘Why in hell did we decide this was a good idea?’ ‘How is it possible for a human to sweat this much?’
*Top tip* The beginning of the trek is the best place to pick up a discarded walking stick. I found a superb stick, which earned me the nickname Gandalf.
Once we had arrived at our first camp where we were spending the night, we had already sweated more than I ever had in my life before. It felt great to strip off our clothes and out of our boots and potter down to the river and natural swimming pools for a dip. A sheer sense of relief gushed through us as we leapt off the rocky edge into the ice cold water and floated around.
The accommodation is basic but comfortable. We stayed along a strip of bunk bed style beds complete with mosquito nets, pillow and rug for the chilly nights. After a filling and tasty dinner, bed was calling to us at around 7pm. I think the latest we stayed up over the course of the three-nights was 8pm…
Day Two – 14.7km
Our wake-up calls were early, around 5am, to get started whilst it was still cool and to ensure we arrive at the next camp in the mid-afternoon, before the afternoon/evening rains kick in.
Day two is the longest day of trekking and definitely the most challenging. The scenery is spectacular and varied; the tropical jungle conjuring up images of Jurassic Park. The morning is mainly uphill passing through the lush terrain before arriving at the lunch stop and swimming hole.
We then continued to hike to our camping spot, located 1km below of the Lost City itself. There are various obstacles along the way including some rather precarious river crossings…at least the water is refreshing!
Day Three – 13.6km
The wake-up call was at 4.30, slightly earlier than the previous days, to ensure we got to the Lost City when it is still cool and also to beat the crowds (nothing like Machu Picchu crowds but around 50 people make it there daily). A short walk from the campsite lies the dreaded 1,200 steps up to the site, they are fairly precarious in places and it is an effort but as long as you take them at a slow and steady pace, it isn’t so bad.
Although the Lost City doesn’t have the same glamour as Machu Picchu, I think it is quietly and understatedly just as beautiful and interesting.
There are about 150 stone terraces to explore which once served as the foundations of their houses and community buildings.
Once we had looked around and our guide has explained some history to us we headed down to the campsite for a relaxing lunch before making our way back to the campsite where we stayed on the second night.
Day Four – 12.7km
The home straight! By this point we were sleep deprived, covered in mosquito bites and ready for a cold drink back at our hostel in Santa Marta. It’s another early start to begin our final day’s four and a half to six hours of walking back (depending on the speed of the group). I think we made it to the jeep pick-up point in about 4.5 hours which was an achievement and something our guides said was a bit of a record. We had a tasty lunch before hopping in the jeeps to take us back to civilisation, showers and the hostel swimming pool.
What to take
The key is to pack light as you will need to carry everything you bring:
- A day pack
- One pair of comfortable walking shorts and one quick drying sports top to wear for hiking every day (you will smell but everyone does so it doesn’t matter)
- 1X pair of long trousers for the evenings
- 1X tank top for the evenings
- 1X long sleeved top for the evenings
- 1X jumper, it can get chilly at night
- 2X sports bra for the ladies
- 4X underwear
- 2X walking socks
- One pair of swimmers
- 1X travel towel
- 1X bottle of water. There are regular stops where you can buy more and also they have filtered water at the camps to fill up
- Some cash – to buy cold drinks along the way
- Sunglasses (I actually didn’t end up wearing mine as I found I was sweating too much)
- A sun hat/cap – very necessary!
- Rain jacket – We took ours just in case of rain as we did the trek in rainy season but we actually didn’t end up wearing them. The rain was very well timed and started just as we arrived in the camps. We only got caught out in it once but felt too hot and sweaty to put it on
- Head torch (handy if you need the loo in the middle of the night!)
- Walking boots to hike in and flip flops to wear at the camping sites in the evening, also handy for when you are going swimming
- Shampoo, soap, toothpaste and toothbrush (there are basic showers with cold water and so we quite appreciated bringing the shampoo and soap)
- High factor sun cream
- Mosquito spray
- Malaria pills
- Blister plasters
- Toilet paper/tissues
- Hand sanitiser/wet wipes
- Ear plugs and eye mask
We booked the trek through our hostel in Santa Marta – The Dreamer Hostel. It was well organised and the food and accommodation, although basic, was very good. The four-day trek costs from 700,000 Colombian pesos (roughly £197). There are also five or six day options but we can’t imagine why you would choose to prolong it. We were ready for a dip in the pool and good night’s sleep after four-days!
Enjoy and get in touch if you have any concerns or questions about the trek 🙂
p.s. the links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links – they won’t cost you a penny more, but might make us a little bit of commission, which is helpful. The stuff linked to really is either the kit we recommend taking, or the actual kit we took.