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Ciudad Perdida, die verlorene Stadt in Kolumbien, Bild: James Wagstaff / shutterstock

Ciudad Perdida – Colombia’s Lost City

Confucius already knew: “The journey is the goal.” With every step, the anticipation increases. Is it worth the long journey? What exactly is behind the lost city (Spanish: “Ciudad Perdida”)? A few years ago, the Sierra Nevada in Colombia was still part of the guerrilla zone and thus one of the most dangerous areas in the world. Today, the jungle near the Caribbean coast is the destination of thousands of tourists. But why was the ruined city considered lost for so long? Many secrets are hidden behind the Ciudad Perdida and only those who dare to do the four-day jungle trek get the opportunity to discover this natural wonder.

The Mystery of the Lost City

Staircase Ciudad Perdida
Image: dunn4040 / shutterstock

It is the first encounter with the indigenous people, who own a large part of the area around the Ciudad Perdida, the breathtaking view over Colombia’s north and the unique opportunity to hike through the jungle of Colombia for four days. Located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia, Ciudad Perdida is one of the largest and oldest rediscovered cities in South America, along with Machu Picchu. The ruined city is located about 40 km southeast of Santa Marta in the middle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the upper valley of the Río Buritaca and consists of almost 200 oval and round terraces. Many of these terraces now serve as a tourist attraction, but some are still considered untouched.

Ciudad Perdida in Colombia
Image: Jenny Leonard / shutterstock

For almost four hundred years, the city of Teyuna, which means “origin of the peoples of the earth” in the indigenous Chibcha language, lay forgotten in the Colombian jungle. The foundation stone for the construction was laid around 700 AD. The estimated population was around 7,000 people for a time. When the Spaniards conquered large parts of today’s Colombia, the peaceful indigenous people retreated more and more to the higher mountains to flee from epidemics and other diseases. Imported diseases such as syphilis and smallpox reduced the population until the lost city fell into oblivion a short time later. Only a few knew about the secret of the lost city, until 1972. There are many legends about the rediscovery of the Ciudad Perdida. One of them says that in 1972 a hunter discovered overgrown steps in the middle of the jungle. He followed the 1200 steps and came to the lost city. As a result, grave robbers plundered the city, looting ancient treasures and destroying houses and the landscape. As a result, there were severe restrictions on entering the lost city.

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Nowadays, a four-day trek leads to the remains of the ancient Teyuna civilization. To protect the lost city, agreements have been made with the indigenous population and the government, which severely limit the number of visitors. Nevertheless, more and more visitors are embarking on an adventure through the jungle. Although the demanding hike deters many people from doing so in advance, more and more tourists come to Colombia every year to discover the secret of the lost city. The hike is not a bargain and luxury is also limited during this time. Tropical heat, instead of air-conditioned rooms, limited access to drinking water, hammocks in the open air and dangerous jungle inhabitants. As soon as you leave Santa Marta by bus, you give up any kind of modern civilization. Electricity is only available for a short time in the evening, mobile phone reception is a foreign word and this hike is also a real challenge in other respects. But maybe that’s what makes this trek special. One thing is for sure, however, for those who get involved, this hike is an unforgettable adventure.

Guided tour to Ciudad Perdida

Image: Joerg Steber / shutterstock

If you want to visit the Lost City, you have to rely on a guided tour. Several tour operators in Santa Marta and Cartagena offer hikes to Ciudad Perdida. The Ciudad Perdida Trek lasts 4 days and 3 nights and passes through some of the most spectacular landscapes in Colombia. Steep paths have to be overcome, mountain slopes lead into the abyss and ice-cold rivers flow everywhere that have to be crossed during the hike.

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Day 1

The first day begins with a drive in a van through the national park to the beginning of the trek, to the village of El Mamey. After the first few kilometers, you are already immersed in the silence of the jungle. A few hours later, you come across the first accommodation, where hammocks serve as night quarters. The mud of the jungle and the dried blood of the mosquito bites on the skin are washed off under a cold shower. And the first night also brings magical moments, because the jungle only really wakes up at night.

Day 2

However, the nights are short! Every morning you are woken up early, there is breakfast and you go straight on. Past steep rock slopes and surrounded by huge swarms of mosquitoes, we pass indigenous tribes to the next camp. This also has some surprises in store. The bathing area located at the camp invites you to cool off after another energy-sapping day. However, they spend the night one camp away, just before the gates of the Ciudad Perdida – and thus shortly before the destination.

Day 3

The path is the goal and it is steep. It goes up 1,200 Teyuna steps. The steps are a challenge in themselves, but every step is worth it. The ruined city itself is much bigger than you think. Once you reach the highest point, you can look out over the breathtaking terraced landscape of the Ciudad Perdida. It almost seems as if we are in a country before our time.

Day 4

It’s hard. It’s hot. It goes uphill and downhill. The last day of the hike is the most challenging. In just four days you walk about 70km, with 95% humidity and 30 degrees in the deepest jungle. Finally, the question arises again: Is it worth the long journey? Absolute. Exploring Ciudad Perdida is a real adventure and a unique experience.

Although the lost city is considered rediscovered today, it will probably never reveal its secrets once and for all, and that’s a good thing.