The city was built between the eighth and the fourteenth centuries by the Tayrona Indians. Nowadays only circular stone terraces covered by jungle remain, but the views and the location of the site are extraordinary. A local name for Ciudad Perdida/Lost City is Teyuna.
Treks to Lost City Teyuna are arranged by only a few different authorized companies and it is not possible to visit the site on your own :
Magictour, Santa Marta: street 16 # 4-41, ☎ 57 5 421 5820 - (57)5 421 9429 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Magictour Colombia specializes on adventure tours in Tayrona Park and Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.edit
Guias y Baquianos Tour, Calle 10C #1C-59 In the Hotel Miramar, ☎ 57 5 431 9667 - cel (57)317-6611-635 (email@example.com), . This is the first tour company to offer tours to The Lost City Teyuna. They began running the tours in 1984 in a rather disorganized way.edit
Turcol, Santa Marta: Calle 13 N° 3-13 • CC San Francisco Plaza L.115, ☎ 57 5 421 2256 - cel (57)310-640-1875 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Turcol is a tour operator born in 1992 to offer organized tours to the Lost City/Ciudad Perdida: before, there were no proper campsites and the path was sometimes not well marked.edit
Wiwa Tour, CRA 3a, Calle 16-49, ☎ 57 5 4208413 - cel (57)3205108287 (email@example.com), . The Lost City is a sacred site for the region's indigenous people and forms part of their reservation in the Sierra Nevada. This is the only indigenous owned agency in town and the only agency that will take you to the Lost City with indigenous guides.edit
Check reviews before selecting a tour operator. You can also book your tour ahead while you are in Santa Marta.
At the moment, all tour companies have made an agreement such that every tour costs 700,000 COP (since January 2015), regardless of whether it lasts six or five (or only four) days (see below). Depending on the season, tours may leave every day or every few days - if you have one or two traveling companions, you are almost assured to be able to leave on the day of your choice.
Make sure to bring appropriate gear for trekking, including good walking boots, mosquito repellent, a sleeping bag, appropriate clothing for hiking and for nights, and a water bottle. You should also take a small amount of cash, a torch, toilet roll, hand sanitizer or soap, and snacks. A book and/or a pack of cards can also be helpful or you could just talk to your guides and your fellow travellers.
Note that Helicopter tours were outlawed in 2010 after studies demonstrated that the helicopter landings were causing site deterioration, and will not be returning.
The whole trek is 46.6 km round trip and starts in a small village of Macheté. Note that on the first and the last day you lose some time of the day, because you need to drive to Macheté first.
Six days/five nights:
The first day is a three-hour walk to the first camp. The second day is another four hours' hiking, and the third day is six hours to the third camp. The fourth day you walk 1km to the start of Cuidad Perdida and walk up ~1400 steps and spend about 2 hours exploring the site. The fifth day is a eight hour walk back to the first camp and the sixth day is only three hours back to civilization. (An alternative is to spend only the third night at the site and the fourth night in the same camp as the second night, meaning you avoid the eight-hour fifth day.)
Five days/four nights:
Day 1: three hour walk to the first camp (possibly the camp "de Adan", 7.6 km)
Day 2: four hours' hiking to the camp "Mumake" (7.3 km)
Day 3: five hours (7.4 km) to the camp "El Paraiso" located about 1 km (1 hour - bear in mind the 1400 steep and slippery steps) before the Lost City Teyuna.
Day 4: You may start early in the morning to explore the site. After your return, and possibly some breakfast, you return to the camp "Mumake" reached after the second day (1 km to CP + 1 km back from CP + 7.4 km = 9.4 km).
Day 5: An eight hour walk back to civilization (14.9 km). This last day is mostly downhill, however there are some steep parts - you will remember them from going down on the way to the Ciudad Perdida/Lost City/Teyuna.
Four days/three nights:
If you are in a rush, the trek is definitely doable in four days. Note that day 2 & 3 are comparably short in the 5-day tour, in the 4-day tour those two days are basically merged. Quite a hike, but for fit persons nevertheless a healthy option to escape extensive playing games and reading books in the camp. You will still have down time, just not as long as the other options.
All the tours (4, 5, 6 day) are priced the same. So there is an incentive to rush you. A group of 7 of us bought a 5-day tour, and then were grouped into a 14-person group and led the 4-day tour. Make sure you go with a reputable agency, and check reviews before you choose.
Also make sure with your company that you get the tour you ordered. You might end up getting a guide for all the people that start the tour on the same day, even though everyone might have booked a different tour length, which can cause complications due to different plans and lack of guides.
During the trek you will pass many little streams and waterfalls, some of which you can swim in and which have great views. There are several steep uphill climbs, the steepest on the first day, the longest on the 3rd day (2nd day if you do the 4-day tour). In general the amount of height distance covered in this hike is quite a lot.
Although the community atmosphere while walking is great, it is also fun to spend an hour or so away from the group while trekking to see more wildlife, particularly on the 3rd day (on the 5/6-day tour only)
Make sure to bring a book and some kind of reading light for the downtime each day and night and for the early morning hours. This is much less of an issue on the 4-day tour.
You may end up playing cards a lot during rest periods; it gets dark quite quickly (around 6pm) and while the thought of walking in the jungle sounds good, you will be knackered. Plus, it's not a great idea to go wandering about at night outside of the camps; and the nights in the jungle are pitch black.
Take advantage of opportunities to swim when you can. This obviously depends on your personal preferences. Note that every camp has the opportunity of a shower and/or a nearby river to get some fresh water. Keep natural time constraints for your walking in mind (e.g. daily rain - see below).
Try to finish your tour goals before the daily rain at around 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (true [at least] for September). Not only is hiking in the rain bothersome, but it will also get stuff wet and everything that once has become wet will stay wet for the whole trip in this humid climate. (remark: there is no rain in April, though sweat and humidity will get stuff wet, too)
Get up as soon as the sun rises and start early with your walk. Since you are close to the equator and electricity is scarce it gets dark soon and you are well advised to use as much natural lighting as possible. This will allow you to indulge in nature even more.
As much as you might want to just put your head down and keep walking, take the opportunity to watch for wildlife or take in the amazing scenery. Ask your guide for things to watch out for.
Mosquitos are much less of a problem if you are constantly moving. However, you should not be reluctant on the use of repellent. Bear in mind that after crossing a river water may have taken away some of your mosquito protection, and reapply frequently. Before taking up the stairs to Lost City Teyuna, make sure to have applied lots of mosquito repellent, as the lost city is by far more plagued by mosquitos than any other part of the tour. While mosquitos can be a minor nuisance, repellents help you ignoring them and enjoying the hike.
For some people the bigger problem might be ticks, which you could catch by a) walking through tall grass or b) resting in highly tick-populated areas. The densest population seemed to be in the Wiwa camp you reach/pass through on the second day. Make sure to bring tweezers and read up how to remove them safely from your body. While diseases are unlikely a problem, tick bites can cause pain. Remark: The tick issue may be seasonal. In September no tick bites were reported.
In addition to the occasional beer, bottled water or Gatorade purchasing possibility listed below there is no good reason to bring money.
However, if you do get hurt there is an exit option to take a mule (or horse - depending on availability) back from the camp "Mumake". There is no earlier return point (except a military helicopter, with which they can fly out severe cases from the top of the Lost City Teyuna). If you need this exit option let your guide know in advance because they will bring that poor animal up the mountain just for you. The price for the return should be between COP 80.000 and COP 100.000. Try to avoid this "service" for the animals sake; choose the tour package (6 or 5 days) according to your personal level of fitness.
Meals are included in the price of the tour. The food is basic and scrumptious after intense activity, with plenty of beans, rice , and meat, plus a bit of salad. Dinner and lunch are accompanied with... Tang? Don't worry, you'll be tired enough where everything tastes fantastic. Expect a break or two during the day's hike to stop and refuel with a sugar kick from some fresh fruit.
Bottled water, gatorade, Coca Cola and beer are sold on most of the campsites for 2000-3000 COP each. Prices go up the further you go and reach 5,000 COP at the last camp. Bring extra cash! Better yet, pack a full bottle of something stiff to uncork and share with your new friends after reaching the city.
Sleeping space is either in hammocks strung out under a communal shelter, or in small bunkbeds under netting. Some cabañas even have tents so you can snuggle with another trekker. Blankets are provided if you ask; it's worth asking for one even if the evening is warm as it can get very cold at the higher altitudes. Bringing an inlay may be a wise choice since you can never be sure when those blankets have been washed the last time.
Travel as light as possible. There is lots of uphill walking and extra weight will wear you out faster.
Good walking boots. While one can do the hike with almost any type of shoes, it is highly advised against it, as they will be worn off much faster and for crossing rivers and various other parts it helps a lot to have boots with good grip. Depending on the season rivers can sometimes be crossed using rocks in the water.
Mosquito repellent. Especially advised to be used when you visit the actual site of the Lost City. You might not need repellent before the city, but up there the gnats get nasty.
Bring tweezers and look up how to remove a tick safely.
Silk sleep sack/silk inlay. Those are like lightweight sleeping bags that you can put between your body and bed sheets/covers/sleeping bags/blankets/... of unknown origin. You don't want to carry a cover up the trek and the nights get surprisingly chilly. Recall that you are in the jungle, there is no electricity and thus don't expect to get a super clean blankets, washed in a washing machine. They only have water available.
Water bottle(s). At every resting place you can refill that bottle with fresh water. Take at least 1 liter (or 2 small bottles).
Torch/head lights. After 6pm the sun sets and the jungle becomes pitch black as there are no artificial sources of light. This is the second most important piece of equipment to bring after good footwear.
Toilet roll. Facilities are at each camp site, but you should bring your own toilet paper. Plus, it might happen that you have to do your business during the walk.
Hand sanitizer. Mostly due to the previous sentence.
Hygiene articles, i.e., soap and shampoo, though remember to travel light.
Travel towel. If you don't have one, you should get one. They are very useful. Otherwise, bring a lightweight towel.
Rain coat/cover/poncho - only in a rainy season. Ask your tour operator ahead of the hike. When rain sets in make sure to cover your backback under the poncho (if you have). This will keep you AND your backback dry, because there is no pressure on your rain cloth on the shoulder and the straps of your backpack also stay dry.
Small amount of cash. There is little to buy, but having no money leaves you without options.
Camera. Make it light, though.
Swimsuit. Surfer shorts (exist for both sexes) can replace the need for normal shorts. They may dry naturally and every time you swim in them you get rid of any accumulated sweat. But be sure that your piece of cloth is comfortable. Also remember that walking in wet cloths can get very cumbersome. If you are not absolutely sure this doesn't bother you, use dedicated swim cloths and dry off after swimming.
4/5/6 pairs of socks and 4/5/6 pieces of underwear (counting also the one you are wearing when you arrive in Macheté). You might want to bring a total of 2/3 (long sleeved - due to mosquitos) t-shirts.
Hat & sunglasses. Protect your skin.
Sunscreen. Not much is needed, but on the first and last day you walk through a more exposed area.
Flip flops. During resting periods and for crossing rivers (if you don't feel safe using the rocks).
Optional: Pack of cards/book/... if you take the 5/6-day tour, you might want to have some entertainment.
Very optional: Sleeping pills. This is optional and mainly advised for people that have troubles sleeping in hammocks or suspect that they might have. The first night is with hammocks, if you go with Wiwa, also the second and the fourth.
Showers are available at the camps along the way (but lingering in the rivers during crossings makes for a good rinse in the meantime). Just be aware that remaining dripping wet for extended periods in an already humid environment can lead to fungal infections and just generally smelling bad, so it is good to dry off completely after swimming, showering, etc.
Bring at least one full bottle of bug spray and at least one pair of long pants and one long-sleeved shirt to protect yourself from the swarms during rest periods and breaks. Mosquitoes and biting flies are a constant nuisance, especially when you are resting or stopped at camp - when you are actually hiking and moving the problem is much less severe. Bring more bugspray than sunscreen, as often you will be hiking with substantial tree cover.
Optional: For each piece of electronic equipment you choose to bring (cell phone, camera, ipod, etc.), purchase a waterproof, crushproof, drybox.
The actual hiking should be done with hiking boots. Tennis shoes or sneakers may also work but bear the risk of injury (due to extremely challenging terrain). Remember that you will be walking for a couple of days without getting the chance to seriously cure any achings. For most people hiking boots are advisable as the terrain can be extremely rocky, muddy, and most important - slippery. Probably the most important consideration is to bring a pair of shoes that have a strong grip and are well broken in to avoid blisters. The trail is also often done in hiking sandals (Chaco, Teva, ect) but this can lead to disaster if your feet are not used to the sandals.
It is convenient to bring a pair of sandals for river crossings or to hang out at night at the camp at the camp. But it is possible to cross the rivers barefooted. Do not get your hiking shoes wet, or you may get problems with your feet. Make sure you bring sandals or flip-flips so your feet can have a chance to dry out.