La Ciudad Perdida, Colombia – A Photo Essay

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) was founded in around 500AD by the Tayrona tribe, and is believed to be one of the largest known archaeological sites in South America. The Tayrona fled the city due to the Spanish conquest in the 1500’s and the city was not rediscovered until recently (1972) by treasure looters who dug up graves for gold and ceramics. In 1976 the Colombian state declared the area a historical site.

The 45 kilometer (26 mile) hike to the ruins is becoming a popular excursion for those up to the challenge of a five day trek through the thick Sierra Nevada jungle.  There are six river crossings, nights spent sleeping in hammocks, and a final 1200 step climb straight up to the ruins.  Dalene, never fond of big bugs and crushing humidity, opted to spend this time beachside while I joined a group of 15 strangers also making the journey.

The city has 169 terraces that are carved into the mountainside offering stunning scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains and valleys.

Bullet holes line this tree

Plenty of swimming holes offered a necessary cool down

A Kogi community

The Kogi children came out to greet us

One of the many river crossings

Arrival at La Ciudad Perdida

This tour to the city has seen it’s share of trouble and controversy.  In 2003, 8 tourists were kidnapped by guerillas and held for 102 days (all were released alive).  Since then, military have been stationed at the Lost City to guard it.  On this excursion it is also possible to tour a cocaine factory for an additional cost (approx $20USD).  For the record, I opted out of this not wanting to contribute to this trade.

The tour can be completed in 5 or 6 days, depending on the pace you want to take it. You can arrange the tour in either Santa Marta or Taganga and the cost is approximately $250USD everything included except drinks (regardless of 5 or 6 days).

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  1. Hmm, not so sure about taking the cocaine factory tour either. Is that even legal? But the site itself does look like a location worth visiting.

    1. I am unsure about the legality of it, but again I just couldn’t support it. It was certainly a highlight in Colombia being able to explore this region.

  2. Awesome post Pete! I would have done the cocaine tour for the experience. Who knows…you may have even met some CIA guys down there getting shipments ready for America 😉 *just jokes…they don’t actually work there…just funnel money and arms* 😉

  3. A perfect backdrop for an Indiana Jones-type of adventure, don’t you think? We’re not sure if we’re going to do the hike when we’re there. It looks mighty lush and beautiful but we don’t think we can afford it if we’re also going to the Galapagos.

    Sigh. Decision, decision.

    1. Know exactly what you mean, it can be tough for sure deciding on what to do as there is so much!! You can’t do everything as we have found out. We didn’t do Easter Island in favor of the Galapagos, but I’m sure we will get there sooner or later.

  4. Amazing. I think this is the part of the world that I would most like to travel to. The jungle, the mountains, the ruins, the people – all just draw me in. The cocaine factory? Not so much.

    1. It was an unforgettable experience, it drew me in that’s for sure. What added to this great trip is that the guides speak very little English, and I was 1 of the few who did, so I hung out with the guides most of the time and heard some great stories. Some I shared with the other tour members, some I just kept to myself. Thanks for the read and comment!

  5. Hey Pete, did you feel like Arnold trekking through the jungle? Very cool hike! so do they provide the food? How much water did you have to bring?

    1. Yup, they provided the food. I only brought one liter of water, but also had water purification tablets for when I ran out. Hmmm…I felt less Arnold, but more Indiana Jones! 🙂

    1. Colombia was one of our favourite countries in South America. Great diversity of scenery, and the most hospitable people on the continent!

    1. Sometimes I wish I would have gone with Pete. It wasn’t the five days of hiking that scared me away, it was the sleeping in hammocks with big bugs all around me that kept me away!! Was very happy for him to go and do this though, he really loved it.

  6. Thanks for this post. I first heard about this hike from an off the beaten path picture book. It’s been on my to do list ever since. After reading this, I think it’s bumped to my must do list.

  7. Looks amazing. My brother did the cocaine trip, said it was definitely interesting. I don’t think I would do it eiter. I would be scared for one and I couldn’t support the industry- now that I am a mother I think more about things like that.

  8. The hike to Ciudad Perdida I thought was more challenging than the Inca Trail. I just finished this hike on March 2, 2011. The tour guides said they stopped the cocaine lab tour because they were trying to clean up the image of Colombia. We were told they use to show the lab to educate everyone all of the nasty ingredients that went into the manufacturing process with the intent to have them stop using drugs. I recommend doing this hike. It’s not easy, but the journey is worth it.

    1. Interesting, thanks for posting this. I am glad that they have stopped doing this. I heard from some peeps that did experience the candy tour and saw the shit they put into it, makes them ever question why anyone would put that into their body.

  9. Hey Peter, it’s really cool to hear the story of this trip right from yourself (in person!!!) today! Pictures are great (the portion that get downloaded, some only appears a half now. Just a while ago, I heard Dalene commented on how slow the internet is).

    As you know I’m bad in slopes and slippery surfaces. I hope by the time we reach Colombia, I have managed to handle those fears.

    1. Thanks Dina! The muddy slopes are half the fun of this hike, not scary at all. Definitely do it if you get a chance.

  10. wow…Great pics bro…hmmm i think its a Eco tourism destination ,because it has the potential with the local community participation too, But the fact which make me to fear is that u have stated tourists are kidnapped in the year 2003 thx god they are free ..

  11. Wow, looks like a very cool experience. Not sure I’d have five days worth of hiking in me, that’s awesome you did, Peter!

    1. Thanks Nicole, it was an awesome experience. It was a little tiresome especially on day 5, but all very worth it.

    1. Listen to your parents! 🙂 The whole country is very diverse in it’s scenery and really worth a visit. And the people are the friendliest we met in all of South America!

  12. Looks gorgeous! I know for one, my wife would NEVER do it, even though she is Colombian and it would be a big part of learning about her nationality and all the country has to offer, she too, is not a fan of bugs AT ALL.

    Needless to say, if we ever went, I would be doing that one by myself too, just like Pete.

  13. Great post, thanks for all the info! My husband and I are planning our trip around south america now and this trek is def on our to do list! We are trying to get together our packing list now and are ummming and aahhhhing about whether or not to take trek sandals. What did you wear to do the MANY river crossings? Did you just keep your boots on or go bare foot or some sort of sandal?

    1. Hi Em,

      Thanks for stopping by! The trek is truly amazing and I would recommend it to anybody traveling to that part of Colombia. Either of the footwear (sandal or boot) would work fine. When I first started the trek I went barefoot across the rivers, but there is so much rain and humidity that your boots just get soaked anyway. So by the end I was just leaving the boots on and crossing. Too much of a pain to stop and take them off. So my recommendation would be just go with a boot (just make sure that when you are done the trek you can dry them out at a hostel for a day or so 😉

      Good luck with the planning. If you have any other questions on the Lost City or South America we would be more than willing to give you our thoughts..


  14. Hi,

    Great pictures, thanks for sharing. I am going to do the walk in about a month, just booking it now. I can’t wait!

    Can you tell me which company you went with and how much it cost?

    Cheers 🙂

    1. Hi Ella, thanks for stopping by! It is an awesome experience, so worth it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

      I believe the tour company we went with was Magic Tours. If not it was Sierra Tours. One of the two… It cost around $250USD for the 5 day trek (the 6 day is the same price just slower pace), and everybody chose to do the 5 day as we have heard the 6 day you are lazing around for a day.

      We did it out of Taganga, but you can book it out of Santa Marta also.

      If you have any questions, let me know and I will be glad to give you some advice.

  15. I am colombian and I would LOVE to do this hike. But that wont happen until the terrorist are out of that area. Also I really doubt that police or military are the ones guarding Ciudad Perdida. Tourist are safe because part of the price you pay is to make sure the guerrilla knows you are going there and they LET you in. It’s very sad. Tayrona is such a paradise and I cannot wait to go to Ciudad Perdida… I really wish I could go before the snow completely melts.

  16. These are great stories; however, is sad to hear that the only “negative” comment came from a colombian… That country has come a long way when it comes to the terrorists and the guerrillas. It’s so much safer now and everybody should visit.

    1. It is interesting the negative comment I did get. I can’t say what it is like right now, but when I went there was never any fear. It was an amazing experience and I hope others have the chance to experience it. Such a wonderful place.

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