Ciudad Perdida is the archaeological site of an ancient city which was discovered in 1972 by a group of local treasure hunters. It is located in the Sierra Nevada in Colombia. While deep in the jungle they came across a series of stone steps in the mountain and decided to follow them. When certain treasures such as figurines, relics and urns started appearing on the local black market, archaeologists became aware and they reached the site in 1976. The recovery work went on until 1982 and was organised by the Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia.
Local tribes such as the Arhuaco, the Koguis and the Asario all said that they knew of the site. They had been regular visitors to Ciudad Perdida before it was officially discovered but had kept this to themselves. They named the city Teyuna and believe it was the centre of a group of villages which had been home to their ancestors, the Tairona.
Ciudada Perdida is believed to have been founded around 800 AD, which to put into context is about 650 years before Machu Picchu. It is thought to have had between 2,000 and 8,000 residents before it was abandoned during the Spanish conquest. There are 169 terraces - which are carved into the mountain, tiled roads and some small plazas spread over approximately 75 acres. To reach the entrance you have to climb up 1200 stone steps in the dense and steamy jungle.
However, it has not been without its controversy. On September 12, 2003, the Marxist guerilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) kidnapped 8 foreign tourists who were visiting the site, although one managed to escape on the first day. The hostages were held for 101 days before being released in exchange for an international delegation to investigate human rights violations in the area by the paramilitaries. After the kidnapping access for tourists to visit the site was restricted and was not relaxed until 2005.
Nowadays the Colombian army has a large presence patrolling the area and it’s considered to be a safe destination for tourists. According to the army, guerillas are virtually non-existent in the area these days. 4 of the hostages have since returned to the Lost City to make a documentary about their horrific ordeal and meet one of their former kidnappers. Their story has also become part of the guided tour.
Doing the hike
A return hike to the lost city from Santa Marta takes approximately 6 days and will cost in the region of US$300. You will hike for about 52 km and need to have a good level of fitness. There are 7 river crossings (backpack over the head and chest height water) as well as steep climbs and descents (along rock faces). Unlike Machu Picchu there is no train for the older or less able tourists. It’s a tough hike through thick jungle but with stunning scenery and far away from civilization. In the rainy season there are the daily rains to deal with which arrive like clockwork every afternoon. In addition blisters, bug bites and even poisonous snakes can be a problem.
Once you make it to Ciudad Perdida it’s easy to spend the best part of the day wandering around the winding pathways in relative tranquility as you will share it with so few other visitors. Unlike many other ancient sites you don’t have to contend with thronging crowds and are able to make the most of this most extraordinary place.
If you decide that physically you are up to the challenge then to make the most of your trip it is worth keeping a few things in mind:
· Dress appropriately and be prepared. Above all make sure you have a decent pair of hiking shoes that have been worn in so hopefully you won’t blister. Take torches, insect and sun protection and waterproofs. Iodine tablets are also a good idea as is an emergency medical kit. As you are likely to get wet and things take longer to dry in the steamy jungle, make sure you have enough suitable clothes.
· Your medical kit should contain painkillers, plasters, blister patches, antihistamines, anti-diarrhea tablets and antiseptic cream and wipes. And bring your own toilet paper!
· It’s going to be hot – in fact very hot! If you don’t cope well in the heat this might not be the trip for you. However there are some very inviting swimming holes along the way to help cool you down.
· It’s the journey as well as the destination that makes the trip so special. But still the destination is well worth the effort.
· Be prepared to rough it – the campsites are quite basic and there is nothing luxurious about the trip.
· You come back the same way you go and it’s worth noting during the wet season the paths can get very slippery.
· Some of the days are more difficult than others.
· Not much drinking water is provided so if you don’t feel like drinking from the streams (which is safe apparently) – make sure you bring plenty of water purification tablets.
· The food is good and plentiful at mealtimes but bring snacks as sometimes the wait between meals can be unbearably long.
· It is hard to find an English speaking guide so it’s either a good idea to brush up on your Spanish or make sure there is a bilingual speaker in your group who is happy to translate.
Colombia is an amazing country which touches the hearts of all its visitors. Even if you don’t think that a trip to the Lost City is for you there is so much on offer on Colombia. For inspiration on accommodation look at Historic Haciendas.
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