The Ciudad Perdida trek to the lost city was one of the adventures I was most looking forward to whilst traveling in South America. It is like a more raw form of Machu Picchu. It entails a 4 day trek to a massive piece of archeology amidst the jungle as with Machu Picchu, but with less regulations, and less people. The Machu Picchu Inca trail trek has 500 people per day including porters and travelers, whereas this may have 3-4 groups of 10 people and guides per day.
Being somewhat less glamorous, you have to carry your own backpack, however hammock dorms and the occasional beds are available at each campsite, so tents are a non-issue. All the campsites have cold showers and sinks for you to wash in. Your group will have one chef who travels with you, cooking copious amounts of delicious food and even cutting up and serving the occasional fruit snack along the way. The guides here are easy going and fun, but be prepared as finding an English speaking guide is a rarity. You can hire a translator for an extra fee or you can just wing it and practice your Spanish. Recommended!
The walk through the jungle is not treacherous or overly difficult, though this is the jungle. It will be HOT, so you probably will not smell all that great at the end of the day. You will sweat through all of your clothing, but that’s ok, it is part of the experience. The scenery of the jungle, the coco plantations, the mountains and everything that comes with this beautiful adventure will distract you from the heat. The only thing that might distract you from the sweeping mountainous views is the rain. Welcome to the rainforest. It usually rains in the afternoon making the trail hilariously challenging. The mud becomes almost a foot deep and staying upright is almost impossible. This only enhances the fun. During our tour, we wrapped our packs in garbage bags (provided by the guide) and then proceeded to slip, slop, and slide down the trail on our hands, feet, backs, butts and bellies. The task became about who can stand up longest hip-hoping from dry(est) spot to dry(est) spot, eventually leading to everyone falling in some amusing position into the mud.
Your clothes will never dry. You started your day sweating through them in the oppressive heat and humidity. Then you proceeded to slip and slide through the mud in the pouring rain, and if that was not enough you clean yourself up by jumping into a swimming hole or river along the way. By the time you reach camp at around four or five o’clock in the afternoon, you and your group are just a bunch of sopping wet, smelly trekkers. The camps have lines to hang your clothes on but because this is the jungle, the humidity keeps them happily wet. The next morning you just suck it up and start your day wet.
One special aspect of the trek is the opportunity one has to enjoy interactions with the Teyuna people. They are a protected indigenous tribe living in the middle of the jungle. This is the way that they always lived. Unaffected by technology and with a lack of modern education, they maintain nomadic style homes and remain a culture basically untouched. The kids will often come up to you on the trail if you have candy to feed them, but most of the Teyuna people keep their distance and go about their days working their farms. I found it very rewarding and special to experience their lifestyles, even from an arm’s length distance as we travelled alongside them. At one of our camps, we had indigenous children doing their laundry in the river in which we swam. Their old school clothes washing technique consisted of dipping their clothes in the water and banging them against the rock to help clean them. I felt very lucky on that day to have had the chance to interact with some of the children who played with me in the stream.
You reach the archeological site on the third morning and it does not disappoint. It is exactly what you would expect, stunning. After an hour’s walk and a few stairs you will reach the beginning of the famed terraces. The site goes on and on and the guides who have been doing this for so many years are very passionate, first about Colombia as a whole and second, about their indigenous history. They tour you through each stage of the city and afterwards you have 45 minutes to explore the site, or just sit and take it in. As you leave the city you can expect to stop for a swim under a waterfall which appears as you near the bottom of the valley. It is hard to imagine there are other sites as big as this hidden within the jungle around Colombia. It is nothing short of impressive.
This area has faced its own troubles throughout history, most recently having been rediscovered by grave robbers. A few years ago nine tourists on this trek were kidnapped by the guerillas. Their guides were tied up and they were held for ransom. Fortunately all escaped unharmed. This area was and is still a place of civil unrest. However the Colombian government has made a massive effort to create a safe environment for tourists to enjoy the trek without fear. This is an attempt to make it similar to the financially successful Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. At the top of the lost city there is now a large military fort which maintains a force of twenty soldiers patrolling the area day and night. I personally never felt unsafe during my journey. Apparently our guide was involved in the ransom plan mentioned above and was tied up during the kidnapping. Man, did he have some stories.
For anyone looking to spend a couple days in the jungle in South America, this trek is definitely worth doing. You do not need to worry about the price as no matter where you go it will cost 700,000 Colombian Pesos ($250 USD). All the tour agencies have the same set price. The trek is not overly strenuous. The food is plentiful and delicious. The guides are passionate and knowledgeable. More importantly, the prize at the end of your efforts, the Ciudad Perdida site itself, is worth every penny, every drop of sweat and every splash of mud.