Walking to Ciudad Perdida

Sunday, 31 March 2013

A return trip to Colombia was the final journey for my forthcoming book Dark Lands and while I was in the country I made the trek up to Ciudad Perdida, the ‘Lost City.’ The ancient Tayrona capital was principally built between the 11th and 14th centuries and then, its population wiped out by European diseases, it disappeared until its rediscovery by guaqueros – tomb raiders! – in the early 1970s.

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It’s now firmly on the tourist map, but getting there requires a couple of days walking into the dense mountain jungle. Which keeps the visitor numbers down! Trek organisers in Santa Marta and Taganga on the Caribbean coast organise four or five day treks at a cost of around US$350 per person. I’ve recently joined the board of GHF – Global Heritage Fund – and I made the trek with Dr Santiago Giraldo (director of GHF’s operations in Colombia) and Vincent Michael (GHF’s Executive Director in the USA). Click here to read Vincent Michael’s thoughts on Ciudad Perdida. Last year I visited another GHF project, the wonderful Angkor-style Cambodian temple at Banteay Chhmar.

The first day’s walk takes you through farmed land before you plunge into the jungle, but when you reach the lost city there’s no sign of modern habitation at all, it’s just jungle in every direction for as far as you can see. It’s this ‘hidden in the jungle’ feeling that makes Ciudad Perdida such an experience. It’s also big, the cleared parts of the city cover three times the area of Machu Picchu and there’s a great deal more still shrouded by jungle.

Ciudad Perdida - jungle track 01 640

▲ The trail to the lost city can be very muddy (and this was the dry season), goes unrelentingly up and down and crosses numerous rivers and streams. It’s also amazingly humid, the temperatures were never that high, but you seemed to be dripping with sweat all the time. It was a pleasure to get into camp each night and put on some dry clothes.

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▲ There are a series of refuges with bunks or hammocks along the trail where trekkers stay the night. I was pleasantly surprised how the temperature and humidity seemed to drop to comfortable levels every night and by how well we were fed. This is the last refuge before the Lost City.

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▲ The trail follows the Buritaca River all the way and it’s dotted with wonderful swimming holes. It’s a real pleasure to arrive in camp, hot and sweaty, and to have an idyllic pool and waterfall waiting for you. Or along the trail if you just need a cool break. This one is right beside the Tezhúmake Refuge, where we stopped on our second night.

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▲ GHF’s mission is to protect the archaeology, but also to engage the local community and it’s the walkers on the Ciudad Perdida trail with their local guides and using the locally run refuges which brings much needed cash into those communities. GHF’s work included a recently completed suspension bridge across a difficult stretch of the Buritaca River.

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▲ There’s a final crossing of the Buritaca River just below the Lost City.

Ciudad Perdida - stairway 01 640◄ And then you’re faced with more than 1200 steps as you climb nearly 300 vertical metres up to the city entrance.




Where you’re still not finished with steps – in the middle of Ciudad Perdida there’s another 300 steps up the monumental stairway which leads to the core area of the city. The effort is worth it, this is one of the most spectacular pre-Columbian sites in the Americas.  ▼

Ciudad Perdida - monumental stairway 640