Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Find out what DEET is really and how it is apparently utterly useless against the mosquitoes in the Sierra Nevada National Park.
I mean that both the figurate and the literal. It rained the night before and the Colombian Red Clay has caked my hiking boots almost making effort to gain any traction useless. The only thing that is keeping me from falling on my ass and sliding off to unknown depths of the dense jungle is my trekking pole. It looks like shit and thanks to the mules that transport various things from foods, equipment, lumber and Gringo luggage there is literal shit covering various points on the trek. I guess if it has to carry our load, mule is free to drop his load wherever he wants.
Ciudad Perdida is located in Northwest Colombia by the Caribbean coast in the Sierra Nevada National Park. Currently, the trek needs to be done with a tour company, all with the current fixed price as of 2012 600,000 pesos. The amount of days that you trek is up to you varying from 4 days to 6 days. It takes about 2-3 days to hike up to Ciudad Perdida and the rest of the time is hustling back to the start point. The trek is about 52 Km long but it is not 52 Km on a nice flat plateau, it is more like up and down hills and trails that vary from rocky to muddy or the combination of the two. The trek is visually stimulating as you pass through farms, valleys, hills (plural) and through the dense jungle and over and through rivers. This trek is not the most gringo friendly trek as there are so questionable safety areas for those that are clumsy and a lot of uneven footing. It is not dangerous, just the clumsy need to pay attention a bit more. More After the Jump!
I did not paint a pretty picture of the trek but no worries, I always make sound more harrowing than it seems and it is a trek that is well worth it. Besides basically everyone you know not knowing where the hell you are going, it is still not a popular destination with only about 200 people at Ciudad Perdida a day. You virtually see no one else on the trail the whole time and really only meet other groups when you are at campsites. You hike/trek mainly in the morning and early afternoon and usually make it to the campsites by noon. Most of the campsites, depending on rotation have a nice swimming hole you can jump into and cool off. If not, all the campsites have actual running water and Western toilets, which I was happy about because I hate squatting when uhh taking care of business. You also can carry less because each site provides blankets (it gets cold in the jungle surprisingly) that are clean and either the sleep option of hammocks or bunks.
You can read the wiki on Ciudad Perdida but the tl;dr version is that it was founded by grave robbers in the 70s doing the whole Indiana Jones thing and then during the Regan years, while trying to search for dope, it was found via aerial photographs. The combination between random awesome artifacts showing up on the black market and pictures, the Lost City was found. There is not really much on Ciudad Perdida mainly because archeologists are not allowed to go in and study it due to the local Indians that live there, do not want them too. Also these are legitimate Indigenous people, they are not Bollywood Indians or “Injuns” they are people that live in the jungle.
I concluded that ancient civilizations have a broad definition of what constitutes are stairs. It was not a easy walk up and it was more like a scramble and because it is one way up and one way down, going down said stairs, was not to fun either. Yet after the steps leading to the city, it is pretty impressive. Many try and compare Machu Picchu and Ciudad Pedida on which is better but I do not think it is something that is really comparable. Unlike Machu Picchu, there is virtually no one there and you have the whole site to yourself. Machu Picchu hits you all at once and is all out in the open, it has more of that breathtaking feel to it whereas Ciudad Perdida, has more of an alluring mystery to it. As you walk through the jungle environment and up uneven steps you are surprised by random open spaces and parts of the city and jungle overgrowth everywhere pressing how lost the city is. The parts that you see are only a small part of the city and there is more to the city that the Tayrona Indians have not revealed and still hidden.
Overall, the hike was a great experience and was a lot of fun. Trekking in the jungle, despite the constant state of dampness is beautiful and peaceful. As far as the food goes, it was great and was well fed. Breakfast consisted of fruit, hot chocolate or coffee and something hot ranging from eggs, arepas to grilled cheese. The cook was one of the hardest working woman I have ever met. Humped a pack, hiked, cut up fruit when we stopped and cooked full meals when we got to camp and was always happy. Oh and every stop, they would have fresh cut fruit for us ranging from, watermelon, oranges and pineapples. The fruits in Colombia were ample and I think my time in Colombia, I have far exceeded by quota of fruit in seven day period.
The quick facts of my trip and tips for those going:
1. There are only a few authorized tour companies and they charge the same price. I went with Magic Tours because I was told the guide some English. Yeah, that part was not true. They all spoke Spanish as well as all the other guides I have encountered. They more or less stay at the same places. I noticed in reviews and the smaller groups like mine had a more enjoyable experience than those in larger groups. Reviews via TripAdvisor that some groups ranged from 4-22. I had a small group, of 5 others and I had an enjoyable experience. Departures are daily and can book up to the day before so if you would like a smaller group, try to leave on an off day. I left on a Sunday.
2. From Santa Marta and surrounding area, it is about a 2 hour ride up to the start, the first hour is more or less on paved flat group. The second hour is a kidney abusing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride up a Mountain. Suggest a light breakfast for those that experience motion sickness.
3. You carry your own packs for those that are lazy. However, no need for sleeping bags and such because you will be in hammocks and bunks. Yet, you are in the jungle; everything gets damp or wet to a point. Even the clothes that you wear, it will get damp. Nothing ever fully dries. All of that is added weight to your pack, quick dry and light clothes are key. If you are a dude, one word: Commando.
4. Depending on the campsite, there will most likely been a river/swimming hole that you can swim in. It is free animals (again, no crocodiles or SyFy creatures) and great to cool off in and smell less bad. I suggest waiting to take a dip into the river when you are at a campsite. The first day our guide made a stop at a quick swim hole. Everyone except for me jumped in. However, afterwards we did a heck of a trek up hill and I was glad I did not jump in because strenuous hikes and wet clothes is not a fun. Swim at your own discretion.
5. The jungle gets stupid dark at night. About 6pm Mother Nature goes lights out and she means it. A headlamp is a nice thing to have in this case.
6. You will have to cross rivers. Some you can just skip from rock to rock and some the water comes up knee length (or higher depending on how much rain there was) so sandals are a nice thing to have. Do not be like me, and when had to cross a small river, decide to attempt to skip rock to rock and fall completely in. Just strip off the shoes and walk it.
7. The Tayrona Indians are nice and pleasant and the kids are cute. Do not be a prick and treat them like Disney Character Mascots and take 20 millions photos of them and pose with them. Not saying that you should not take pictures of them, just be a polite human being and kindly ask and if they say no, accept it.
8. This is not a terribly difficult trek but that is from my point of view. You will sweat a lot and get a nice workout. If you want an easy walk, go to the mall. Not saying that you cannot complete this trek, but your enjoyment is a direct proportion to your fitness level. There is no altitude adjustment needed for this trip which makes it easier.