Ciudad Perdida is the site of an ancient city in Colombia that is older than Machu Picchu in Peru. It’s a challenging but rewarding hike with ancient ruins, jungle, river crossings, native villages, waterfalls and much more. Ciudad Perdia is also one of the largest pre-Columbian towns discovered in the Americas.
Ciudad Perdida is located deep in the Sierra Nevada coastal mountains near Santa Marta. And it remains accessible only on foot in what is one of Colombia’s most exciting and breathtaking hikes. This is definitely one of the most rewarding and also challenging hikes I have been on.
In this comprehensive article, we provide a guide to all the Ciudad Perdida tour companies, what to expect, where you will sleep, what to pack, how much it costs, sample itinerary and much more.
History of Ciudad Perdida – Colombia’s Lost City
Ciudad Perdida is an archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountains near Santa Marta. It is believed to have been founded about 800 CE, which is about 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu in Peru.
So, 650 years before the Incas built Machu Picchu, in Colombia another civilization was building a city known as Teyuna as part of a network of smaller settlements along the ridges and valleys of the Sierra Nevada, the highest costal mountain range in the world.
It is thought that up to 10,000 people lived in Teyuna. Teyuna sits on a 4,265 feet high ridge above a valley. When the Spanish invaded Colombia, Teyuna was abandoned. But the local tribes, the Arhuaco, Koguis and the Wiwas claimed they visited the site regularly but had kept quiet about it.
For about 350 years, Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) was hidden from all but occasional natives. But Ciudad Perdida was discovered in 1972, when a group of local treasure looters found a series of stone steps rising up the mountainside and followed them to the abandoned city.
The tomb raiders found golden idols and artifacts. And it took three years before the Colombian government stepped in. In 1975, the Colombian government claimed Ciudad Perdida.
The area used to be affected by armed conflict between the Colombian Army and right-wing paramilitary groups and left-wing guerrilla groups. On September 15, 2003, the National Liberation Army (ELN) kidnapped eight foreign tourists visiting Ciudad Perdida. But they were released three months later.
Paramilitary right-wing groups reportedly attacked aborigines and non-aborigines in the zone. But the Colombian army started active patrols in the area. And guided tours to Ciudad Perdida resumed in 2005. And there haven’t been any security issues reported for several years.
Reportedly about 32,300 square feet (3,000 square meters) of the site are open to explore with over 270 terraces. This includes remains of canals, ceremonial areas, houses, plazas, stone-lined paths, staircases and storehouses. But some have estimated that the jungle hides another nearly 100,000 square feet (9,000 square meters) of additional structures nearby.
Who is the Ciudad Perdida Tour For?
A Ciudad Perdida tour consists of a multi-day hike to and from Ciudad Perdia requiring four to six days. It is considered a moderately difficult hike with a number of river crossings and several steep ascents and descents.
A Ciudad Perdida tour is a challenging hike that is more appropriate for those in good health with an adventurous spirit. There are five basic questions you should ask yourself:
- Can you hike for at least four or five hours per day, several days in a row?
- Can you cope with all the rain, mud, bugs and heat?
- Do you have problems sleeping in basic conditions with few amenities in the jungle?
- Can you handle steep ascents and descents?
- Do you have knee, back or other problems limiting your hiking abilities?
You really should have a decent fitness level to complete and enjoy a Ciudad Perdida hike.
Keep in mind there are 4-day, 5-day and 6-day hike options. Most of the walking days consist of four-hour or five-hour hikes on the 6-day trips.
The Ciudad Perdida hike is a popular hike. And you will see people of all ages and fitness levels completing it. When I went a couple years ago, in our group, there were some teens and also a couple over 60 years old that struggled at times but everyone still completed the challenging hike.
When to Go to Ciudad Perdida – Colombia’s Lost City
The dry season typically runs from December to March. So, this is normally the best time to go. The Buritaca River will be lower and easier to cross. And the track will be less muddy. But it’s possible to go anytime of the year.
Other times of the year, there can be anything from torrential downpours to light sprinkles but it may not rain every day. The Buritaca River will be flowing faster and will be deeper. And the water may be up to your chest for some river crossings. So, this can slow things down and the guides will use ropes to help you cross.
Going to and from Ciudad Perdida you will cross the Buritaca River almost twenty times. And this is much easier during the dry season. In addition, the 1,200 steps leading up to the ruins will be slipperier than usual if it has recently rained.
Also, keep in mind that it’s hot and humid in this jungle year-round. But the elevated camps at night can be quite cool if it has been raining or it’s windy.
Tour Options for Ciudad Perdida – Colombia’s Lost City
You can only do this hike with a tour company. You can’t go on your own. There currently are four authorized tour companies offering 4-, 5- or 6-day tours to Ciudad Perdida.
- Expotur – offers 4-, 5- or 6-day tours for 950,000 pesos
- Guias y Baquinos – offers 4-, 5- or 6-day tours for 950,000 pesos
- Magic Tour Colombia – offers 4- or 5-day tours for $351 or 6-day tour for $406
- Turcol Travel – offers 4- or 5-day tours for 950,000 pesos or 6-day tour for 1,050,000 pesos
The fee has gone up substantially over the past few years. When I went in 2016 the cost was 700,000 pesos. And last year the cost was 850,000 pesos.
Each of the four tour companies offers a similar tour package that includes:
- Luggage storage while you are on your tour
- Jeep ride to the town of El Mamey where you start the hike
- Meals during the tour including breakfasts, lunches, dinners and fruits and snacks
- Accommodation in hammocks or bunk beds with mosquito nets, pillows and blankets
- Experienced guide
- Travel insurance
- Entrance fee for the site
- Contribution to the indigenous communities
- Jeep ride back to Santa Marta
One differentiator is that not all the company tour guides speak English. So, if you need English, that is something to look for when choosing a Ciudad Perdida tour company. When I went, I saw several tour groups that had guides that only spoke Spanish. So, they had translators that had to repeat things in English.
The tour companies typically require a 15 or 20 percent deposit up front with the balance paid before you start the tour.
Sample Ciudad Perdida Itinerary for a Five-Day Tour
Each of the Ciudad Perdida tour companies have similar itineraries for their tours that are located on their websites. Here is a sample five-day itinerary with what to expect on each day of your tour.
Day 1 – Santa Marta to El Mamey to Camp 1: about 4.3 miles (7 km), 4 hours hiking
The first day typically starts at about 9:30 and you take a jeep to the small village of El Mamey. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive and you’ll have lunch in El Mamey.
You set off on your first hike at about 1pm. It’s mostly uphill without much shade. On the way there is a hut with Gatorade or water.
At the end of the afternoon you arrive at the first camp where you can enjoy the river waters for a nice break (if the weather cooperates). All the campsites have cold showers and toilets. And go to the shower when you arrive to any of the camps, as later there will be a big line.
Dinner is served at about 6 pm. Bunk beds or hammocks are available and they supply blankets, pillows and mosquito nets.
Day 2 – Camp 1 to Paraiso Camp: about 9 miles (14.7 km), 7 hours hiking
The second day starts at about 5 am for breakfast and preparing to leave. At about 6:30 am you start hiking on the longest hike of the tour.
The hike starts along the riverside of Buritaca River where several huts which make part of a Kogui indigenous village called Mutanshi.
The hike during the day is mostly uphill, some downhill going through the jungle of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and enjoying the biodiversity. Lunch will be at Mumake camp on the way at about 11am.
Finally, at about 4 pm you will reach Paraiso Camp also known as “base camp”, which has hammocks and/or beds. Dinner is served at about 6 pm.
Day 3 – Paraiso Camp to Ciudad Perdida to Mumake Camp: about 5.6 miles (9 km), 7 hours hiking
Early in the morning, at about 5:30 am you will have breakfast. And then a 1 km hike and up 1,200 steps to the main destination, which is a trail to reach the stunning Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). Since you will be returning to Paraiso Camp for lunch you can leave your backpack there.
You will have time to wander around the Ciudad Perdida site and take photos and learn about the history for a couple of hours. There is something primal about this place and I was amazed to find the plazas seemed to stretch endlessly into the jungle.
Afterwards you travel down the 1,200 steps but be careful as they can be slippery. And lunch is served at Paraiso camp.
You will then hike another 6 km back the way you came the day before and mostly downhill to Mumake camp. This is where you will have dinner and sleep. Note there is no electricity at Mumake camp.
Day 4 – Mumake Camp to Camp 1: about 3 miles (4.5 km), 4 hours hiking
Again, an early breakfast at about 5:30 am and a hike back to the 1st camp you stayed at the first night. This is mainly a downhill hike and you’ll have time to rest at the camp.
If you were taking a 4-day tour, instead of stopping at Camp 1 you would continue all the way back to El Mamey, which is over 10 km.
Day 5 – Camp 1 to El Mamey to Santa Marta: about 4.3 miles (7 km), 4 hours hiking
Another early breakfast at about 5:30 am and a hike back to El Mamey where you will have lunch. If the sun is out, there is little shade so use your hat and sunscreen. And a jeep will pick you up in El Mamey and take you back to Santa Marta.
What to Pack for a Ciudad Perdida Tour
Since you will need to carry everything, you will want to pack as little as possible. You obviously will need a backpack. We recommend that you line your backpack with a large garbage bag and putting everything in the bag to help keep things dry.
You want to keep everything inside your backpack dry, so you have something dry to change into at night. Also, keep in mind it is humid in the jungle. So, it seems like nothing dries overnight.
Here is our recommended Ciudad Perdida packing list:
- Hiking boots or hiking shoes
- Hiking pants (long pants if prone to mosquito bites) or capri pants for women
- Shorts – at least two pairs – most of our group hiked in shorts
- Socks and underwear for how many days your tour is
- T-shirts or tank tops (Quick-dry is best)
- Swimsuit if you plan to swim in the river
- Clothing for night – trousers, pajama bottoms or sweats and T-shirt
- Sandals or flip-flops
- Flashlight – not all camps have electricity and if they do they typically turn off lights early
- Insect repellent
- Toiletries – soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, small shampoo and conditioner
- Towel – quick dry is best
- Toilet paper
- Zip-loc plastic bags for your camera and other electronics
- 1.5 liters of water (only for first day, purified water provided on other days)
- Bottles for water
- Personal medications (if you take any)
- Ibuprofen for headaches and sore muscles
- Camera and extra batteries – not all camps have electricity and those that do only have afew outlets for the whole camp
- Wooden stick or hiking pole
- Identification document
- Cash – keep in mind drinks are typically 5,000 pesos and of course there are no credit card machines in the jungle
Locations of Santa Marta and Ciudad Perdida
How to Get to Santa Marta for a Ciudad Perdida Tour
All the Ciudad Perdida tours start in Santa Marta. The small Santa Marta airport has direct flights available from Bogotá, Cali and Medellín. There are no international flights to Santa Marta.
Also, there are buses and vans that operate from Barranquilla and Cartagena to Santa Marta. From Cartagena to Santa Marta by van is about four to five hours in my experience.
So, you could get to Santa Marta from Bogotá, Cali or Medellín by air (or bus but these are LONG bus rides that I wouldn’t recommend). Or you could get to Santa Marta by bus or van from Barranquilla or Cartagena.
Top Things to See and Do in Colombia
Ciudad Perdida is one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. It’s a challenging but very rewarding hike.
On the Medellin Guru website, we have been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Colombia in a series of top things to see and do in Colombia. This is due to many readers asking about several of these things to do in Colombia.
We have looked at 16 of the top things to see and do in Colombia:
- Cartagena – Oozing history, romance and sun-drenched beaches, the allure of historical Cartagena is hard to resist.
- Caño Cristales – the most beautiful river in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful river in the world by some people.
- Colombia’s Pacific coast – often overlooked by tourists visiting Colombia but offering untamed nature and undiscovered beauty that is off the beaten path for most foreign tourists.
- Las Lajas Sanctuary – the most beautiful church in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful church in the world.
- Parque Tayrona – known for its beautiful beaches and the world’s highest coastal mountain range.
- San Agustín Archaeological Park – the largest group of pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues in South America and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- San Jose del Guaviare – a hidden gem and eco-tourism location off the beaten path and offering wildlife watching, jungle trekking and delving into Colombia’s prehistoric past.
- Ciudad Perdida – the site of an ancient city in Colombia that is older than Machu Picchu in Peru.
- Salento and the Cocora Valley – Salento is a picturesque pueblo in Colombia’s coffee region and nearby Cocora Valley is one of the most striking landscapes found in Colombia.
- Popayán – a colonial gem in Colombia best known for its white buildings and churches, it’s a city off the beaten path for foreign tourists but is definitely worth visiting.
- Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados – a popular national park in Colombia located in the heart of the Colombian coffee region.
- Rio Claro Nature Reserve – located about three hours from Medellín, Rio Claro is the perfect place to unplug from hectic daily life and enjoy a picturesque crystal-clear river, canyon and tropical rainforest.
- Desierto de la Tatacoa – the second largest arid zone in Colombia is Tatacoa Desert, which has surreal desert landscapes and some of the best stargazing in Colombia.
- Carnival in Barranquilla – the second largest carnival in the world.
- Medellín’s Christmas lights – Medellín’s annual world-class Christmas lights known as Alumbrados Navideños.
- Medellín’s Feria de Las Flores – Medellín’s world-famous flower festival each year.
The Bottom Line: Ciudad Perdida – Colombia’s Lost City
The hike to Ciudad Perdida is one of the most amazing things to do in Colombia. But it’s not for everyone due to being a four-day to six-day hike in the jungle.
Pretty much everybody knows about Machu Picchu in Peru. While Ciudad Perdida in Colombia remains much less discovered by tourists with perhaps only a few hundred tourists visiting it each week. Since the Ciudad Perdida hike is still relatively unknown, your group may even have the site to yourselves to explore.
When I visited Ciudad Perdida in 2016 there were about 30 on the day I went with three groups of about 10 each. While Machu Picchu reportedly receives over 5,000 visitors per day during peaks and over 1 million visitors per year. I have even heard some foreigners call Ciudad Perdida the “New Machu Picchu” and they expressed they feel that Machu Picchu is being ruined by the strain of too many tourists.
If you go to Ciudad Perdida in Colombia you will have something to really remember. And the amazing landscapes and views plus the sense of remoteness will stay with you for a long time.
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