Thinking about doing the Lost City trek? Here you will find all you need to know about the trek to the Lost City in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park.
- How long time?
- Key Facts
- Trip Report
- Wildlife & Vegetation
- Weather & Conditions
- Plan your trip to the Lost City
We have created a trip report with lots of pictures of the Trip Report:4 Days-Lost City Trek, and a summary of our experience day by day, so you know what to expect of this hike.
If you already decided to go, and you are ready to start this adventure, you might find useful the section Plan your trip to The Lost City. There you will find information about what to pack, how to get there and where to sleep.
The Lost City trek is a strenuous hike but it definitely worth it. It requires going up and down steep hills and narrow stone steps, and crossing the Buritaca river several times. In the rainy season, it will require hiking through trails full of mud and water. Good physical condition for extreme hot and humid climate conditions is required.
How long time?
To hike up and down the Lost City, you will need 4 days at minimum. Although it is possible to do it in tours of 5 and 6 days, walking less hours per day and including a rest day between, our recommendation is doing it in 4 days, and take extra days at the end in Santa Marta or nearby towns.
The approximate distance for the whole hike back and forth is 29 miles (47 Km).
- The Lost City is located in the north face of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, in the North region of Colombia.
- The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of world’s highest mountain ranges, with the peaks Cristóbal Colón and Simón Bolívar, over 18,700 ft (5700 masl). This mountain range is isolated from the Andes chain, and it has about 6,600 sq mi (16.500 square Km).
- The real name of the Lost City, is Teyuna Archeological Park. It is a sacred place for the descendants of Tayrona culture. Currently there are four ethnic groups in the region, Kogui, Arhuaco, Kankuamo and Wiwa.
- The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range is considered one of the most biodiverse areas in South America. There are approximately 628 species of birds, some of them endemic.
- The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was declared a Biosphere reserve by the UNESCO in 1979.
Trip Report: 4 Days – Lost City Trek
If you don’t know what to expect about this trek, we are pretty sure this trip report will answer your questions and will inspire you to start your journey towards the Lost City in Colombia. Our adventurers Andrea Rincón, James Kaiser and Yohana Moreno shared their experience on they way to The Lost City with Wiwatours as their guides.
Day 1 – Santa Marta – El Mamey – Campsite “La Cabaña de Adán”
We arrived to Santa Marta the night before the start of the trek, and went straight to bed because we knew we will have an early start. The next day, after an early breakfast, we packed our backpacks, and left two changes of clothes in the hostel to use after the trek.
At 8:00 am, we showed up in Wiwatours office, and they asked to wait until the SUV arrived to take us to El Mamey. While we waited, we took some pictures around.
The trip from Santa Marta to El Mamey lasted 2 hours and half, with just one stop on the way. It took more than normal, becausethere was a big traffic jam in the highway, leaving Santa Marta. (We went on Easter Week)
While on the car, we had the chance to meet the other hikers and share some previous experiences with them. There was a couple of Americans, and a couple of Colombians among the group. Everyone was very excited about the hike. Although the Americans, have been traveling around Colombia for some weeks, they had the smallest backpacks, whereas the Colombians, had suitcases instead of backpacks, and looked the least prepared of the group for the 4 day trek.
Once we arrived to El Mamey, we had a typical lunch with a whole fried fish, rice, fried plantains and salda. The lunch, yet simple, was delicious and we ate everything to have enough energy for the hike. After the lunch break, we started the adventure towards the Lost City.
The first day, the hike wasn’t that bad. It took 4 hours and half. Jose, our Wiwa guide, stopped us along the way to give some details about the trail, and some tips for the hike.
The first half hour was easy, but then it started to get hot and humid, and we sweat like horses. Although, the views worth it!
We went up and down several hills, fortunately with the clouds providing some shade.
Half the way, it started raining, and Yohana – who was carrying a normal backpack without a raincover-, had to improvise with a garbage bag to avoid getting her stuff wet.
Around 5:00 pm, we arrived to “La Cabaña de Adan”, the campsite where we were going to sleep that night. We were tired and with a lot of mud on our feet, but we were more than happy to have a place to rest and recharge batteries for the next day.
Note: The Campsites along the way to the Lost City are pretty basic. Don’t expect any luxury while on this trek!
As soos as we arrived, we got three bunkbeds with mosquito nets. They were pretty basic, and next to each other, but enough to rest and get some sleep.
After a while, we got our bathing suits and went to the natural pool nearby to cool off. Every other hiker staying at the campsite was there enjoying the place. Finally, around 6:30 pm we had a group dinner with fresh fried fish again (although it was a different specie, and it was really good!). After chatting for a while with our new friends, went to bed and crashed.
Lesson of the Day: Whenever you are in the outdoors, be always prepared for the worst climate conditions.@hikingfeliz
Day 2 – La Cabaña de Adán – Mutanzhi Community- Campsite “Paraíso Teyuna”
On the second day, we started super early, and started the hike at 6:00 am. We knew it will be a though day and we should start early to ty to advance before the heat and the humidity hit us. Btw, this day we didn’t have any option to shower.
The first track of the trail was magical. We spotted the firsts rays of sunlight, and saw the sky completely clear and listened to the beautiful bird songs. James found the perfect moment and the perfect light to take hundreds of pictures.
Afterwards, the hill got steeper and the hike more strenous. We took a break after a hill called “rompepiernas”, leg-breaking hill. There, the crew of Wiwatour was waiting for us with a delicious and refreshing watermelon and orange slices.
Then, we continued the hike and around 11:00 am we arrived to the campsite of Mutanzhi community. There, we put our backpacks on the floor, changed our clothes for bathing suits and went directly to the Buritaca River. It was cool and beautiful, a God’s blessing!
After lunch, we continue the hike towards the next campsite, “Paraíso Teyuna. The hike was long and took us four hours to get there.
Unfortunately, when we arrived to the campsite, we weren’t lucky enough, and didn’t get bunkbeds for the night. The only option available were hammocks.
The bunkbeds are assigned on a first-arrive basis, and we arrived after everyone. The good thing about this campsite, is that there were showers available, and it compensated the uncomfortable night at the hammock.
Lesson of the Day: Getting out of your comfort zone let you value the simple things you took for granted and let you become more flexible@hikingfeliz
Day 3 – Paraíso Teyuna – Teyuna (Lost City) – Mutanzhi Community Campsite
On the third day, we had an early start again on our final hike to the Lost City. The trail was gorgeous and there was green lush everywhere. Although, it was early, the environment was hot and humid.
After an hour, we crossed the river and got prepared to conquer the summit after the 1200 stone steps to get to the Lost City. After this physical and mental challenge, we finally found the Lost City of the Tayrona culture!
The Lost City was indeed a magical place, and it reminded us of Indiana Jone’s movies. But it was 100% real!
There, our Wiwa guides explained to us some beliefs and traditions of the Tayrona culture, and then we enjoyed walking around the different areas and terraces of the archeological complex.
Over the top of the Lost City, we met with the Colombian Military that monitors and look after the safety of all visitors. They were very kind to let us take a picture of them.
After spending 2 hours in the Lost City, we started the descend, not without visiting the house of the Mamo on the way down. The Mamo is the maximum authority among the indigenous communities and lives close to the Lost city. Unfortunately he wasn’t there that day, but got the chance to stop in front of his house, and our guides explained to us the use of the coca leaves and the poporo – the sacred device used to storage limestone- and the process to combine it with the coca leaves while chewing.
On our way down, we stopped by Paraiso Teyuna (our campsite the past night) and had lunch. After the break, we continued the hike to the next campsite at the Mutanzhi community.
Once we got to Mutanzhi, we got a well deserved shower with cold water and celebrated with a beer.
Lesson of the Day: Dreaming is free, but only those who work hard can make their dreams come true!@hikingfeliz
Day 4 – Mutanzhi Community- El Mamey – Santa Marta
The last night of our adventure was smooth. Everyone was exhausted and went to bed early. We slept like babys!.
To not loose the tradition of the past few days, we woke at 5:30 am, packed our stuff, and had breakfast with the first sun rays. Then started the hike to El Mamey with the goal to get there before lunch.
On our way back, we met various indigenous that were carrying provisions by donkey to their houses.
This last day, the sun was very strong, and our body was extremely tired from the previous days. We had to stop several times on the way down, and the trail seemed to never ends.
Once in a while we stopped just for the pleasure of taking pictures of the amazing views.
In the last track of the hike, Yohana went ahead, and James and I continued at our slow pace. When we finally got to El Mamey, we went straight to the restaurant, and Yohana and our hike friends received us cheering and clapping.
When and How was the Lost City discovered?
The Lost City was discovered officially in 1976, by a group of archeologists from the Colombian Anthropology Institute, under the direction of Alvaro Soto Holguin.
Luisa Fernanda Hernández and Gilberto Cadavid, the Institute’s archeologist, had spent more than a year registering 199 archeological sites in the Sierra Nevada, when they received a report from an arqueological pieces dealer, stating that he had found a truly special site.
Since the report, Alvaro Soto Holguin, the head of the Colombian Archeological Institute, scheduled an expedition to the Sierra Nevada. This expedition was lead by Luisa and Gilberto with the help of two tomb robbers from the region. After this expedition, the Lost City was officially discovered.
Thanks to this expedition, and with the support of the former President of Colombia, López Michelsen, a budget was assigned to recover the site called “Buritaca 200”, known today as The Lost City. For 7 years, more than 50 professionals, 100 workers (most of them former tomb robbers) and military detachment worked in the site’s restoration.
If you want to know more details about the history of how The Lost City was discovered, please visit this chronicle of the Colombian Magazine “Semana”. Please note, the chronicle is in Spanish.
What is known about the Lost City?
Until recently, people believed that The Lost City was built around the XV century, but, the last archeologic investigations have found that the first Tayorna towns, including The Lost City were built between the years 200 a.c and 1100 a.c.
Then, during the years 1100 and 1600 a.c, the Tayrona society prospered and built over 250 little towns between the Caribbean Sea and the 8.800 ft (2700 masl) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. In this period, the vast network of stones trails among the towns was also built, as well as farming terraces, complex irrigation systems and water channeling.
Around the 1600 a.c, Tayronas abandoned The Lost City and the nearby town, possibly trying to overcome the Spaniards persecution and the horrible diseases that have killed a great part of its population. Afterwards, the town fall forgotten in the middle of the jungle.
If you want to know more details about The Lost City, here you can download the official visitor guide to The Lost City, in english.
Wildlife and Vegetation
Among toucans, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, parakeets, and guans, there are registered 628 species of birds in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park. If you pay attention and don’t make too much noise, you will be able to observe some of them on the way to The Lost City.
There are also howler monkeys, and a great variety of snakes. In the far lands of the park, there are also peccaries, jaguars, raccoons, and margays.
Regarding the snakes, the majority are not poisonous. But be aware, that there are fer-de-lance and coral snakes that are extremely poisonous!
Weather and Conditions
The trail to The Lost City is mainly in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. To complete this hike you will need to walk through steep hills and horse trails. The total distance (back and forth) is 52 Km and is neccessary to cross the river by foot (no bridges in some parts) several times.
The weather is hot and humid. The temperature changes along they ear, with an average temperature of 28ºC and 17ºC at night up in the mountain.
We assure that you will be sweating from start to finish on this hike!
When to go?
Although is possible to do this hike at any time of the year (except in September, when the park closes), the best time of the year to do it, is between the months of December and March. May, June, September, October and November are the months with the heavier rain.
Currently, the area is safe and is monitored by the Colombian Army. In fact, there is a militar base at the top of the Lost City.
Although it is not a requirement, it is strongly advisable to get the yellow fever vaccination prior to starting a trip to this zone. In the region there are tons of mosquitos waiting for fresh blood!
There are risk associated with this kind of adventures, with falls, twisted ankles, and dehydration among them. It is highly recommended to use hiking boots with anti-slip soles.
Please follow the guides advice when crossing the river, and don’t attempt to cross it when its current is high and strong. Ask him what is the best way to cross it. Unfortunately, there has been some fatalities when crossing the river.
Be careful in the natural pools, enjoy and swim only if you know how to! Also, don’t go on the side streams, this is a preferred place for the snakes!
Also, please have in mind that is responsibility of everyone to protect the natural environment. Please do not leave garbage behind, pack out whatever you produce, and don’t make campfires or throw cigarettes butts on the ground.
The weather during the hike is humid tropical, and the trail is pretty much in the jungle. So, be sure that there will be plenty of mosquitoes along the way.
We suggest using insect repellent with 15% DEET minimum. And please, don’t forget to check for thicks after your trip!
There are not restrooms on the trails, so please use the restroom at the campsite before starting your hike. If you can’t hold it, please leave no trace on the trail.
The showers and restroom in the campsites on Day 2 and Day 3 are shared. Please, pack a toiletries kit with soap, toothpaste and toilet paper.
The campsites have limited power outlets. You wont be the only one looking for power outlets to charge the cellphone and cameras, so you should pack extra batteries for your camera and an USB charger to your cellphone. Also, a solar charger could be useful while hiking during daylight.
The water in the campsites and rivers is not safe to drink. Please use the treated water provided by your tour guide, treat it yourself (if you don’t trust) or buy bottled water.
If you buy bottled water, please carry the plastic bottles with you. Don’t leave them in the park!. Unfortunately, the park doesn’t have enough infrastructure to manage the garbage adequately.
Plan your trip to the Lost City
Things you should know
To do this trek you HAVE to hire a tour with one of the authorized travel agencies. It is not possible nor permitted to hike solo.
Although is not required, we strongly suggest to get yellow fever vaccination in advance.
How to get to the Lost City?
Santa Marta is the closest city to start this trek. Although you can get to Santa Marta by airplane or ground transportation, the easiest and fastest option is by airplane.
Once you get to Santa Marta, the travel agency will let you know where the tour starts. All the agencies, include transportation from and to Santa Marta, lodging, and meals in the total price. Although, if you want to be picked up on the way, please coordinate directly and in advance with the tour operator.
The hike starts officially in El Mamey town. The transportation from Santa Marta to El Mamey is by 4×4, and the average time of the trip is 2 hours and a half. The last hour is on a total dirt road.
What to pack?
Our suggestion is to pack just the necessary and carry it yourself. A backpack with about 5 Kg is just enough.
Although it is possible to hire a mule to carry your stuff for certain parts of the trail, it is very expensive and it doesn’t worth it. It is better to pack light and carry it yourself.
Here is our ideal packing list for The Lost City Trek:
- 1 pair of good quality Hiking Boots
- 1 pair of beach sandals (you would love them after hiking all the day long in your boots!)
- 1 pair of water shoes (to cross the rivers)
- 2 short sleeve t-shirts. Quick dry fabric desired!
- 2 shorts. Quick dry fabric desired!
- 3 pairs of hiking socks
- 2 pairs of liners or thin socks (This is the best to avoid blisters!)
- 3 changes of underwear. Quick dry fabric is desired!
- 1 pair of light pants for the night and to protect form the mosquitoes
- 1 long sleeve t-shirt for the night
- 1 swim suit
- 1 rain jacket or poncho
FIRST AID AND TOILETRIES KIT
- 1 quick dry towel
- 1 microfiber towel to dry off the sweat
- 1 small bottle of liquid biodegradable soap
- 1 small bottle of hand sanitizer
- Toilet paepr
- 1 small bottle of sunscreen 50 SPF
- 1 small bottle of insect repellent 15% DEET
- A couple of band-aid
- Anti diarrhea pills (just in case!)
- 1 Backpack with rain protector, 30 Liters is enough!
- 1 headlamp
- Hiking poles
- 1 drybag
- 1 sun hat to protect from the sun
- 1 pair of sunglasses with UV protection
- 1 solar charger
Where to Sleep?
The closest city to The Lost City is Santa Mart. You should probably spend the night before and after the hike there. Here is our list with our recommended hostels and hotels in Santa Marta.
Regarding the options to sleep while on the trek, you should know that the lodging is already included in the price of the tours to the The Lost City, and you will sleep in basic and rustic campsites along the way.
The campsites offer both bunkbeds and hammocks, and included a blankit and a mosquito net. Depending on the season and the amount of people doing the hike, there will be night when you don’t have the option to choose. If it is high season, the bunkbeds and hammocks are assigned in order of arrival.
Also, please be aware that these campsites receive several hikers everyday. If you are suspicious about thicks, and bedbugs, we suggest packing a light sleeping bag liner or sheet to have an extra layer of protection during the night.
How to hire a tour guide for the Lost City Trek?
You can hire the tour directly with one of the 5 authorized travel agencies.
For our trip we hired Wiwa tours, and the service was really good.
Wiwa Tour: www.wiwatour.com/
Expo Tour: www.ciudadperdidatourcolombia.com/
Guias y Baquianos: www.guiasybaquianos.com/
Magic Tours: www.magictourcolombia.com/