Let me start by saying that I am not a sporty person. I know it’s bad, but I do no exercise other than walking to the tube and back and sometimes taking the stairs at work (hey, I work on the 7th floor!). So as you can imagine, going from nothing to a 4 day, 47 km trek in the jungle was a challenge. Now add to that a knee injury, humidity of around 80%, 31 degrees and a backpack.. now you may empathise a little with why this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!
What is the Lost City Trek?
As the name itself says in Spanish, La Ciudad Perdida is a city that was founded in the Colombian Sierra Nevada around the year 800, making it 650 years older than the Machu Picchu! It was a prosperous city up until the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in the late 16th century with their diseases and started ransacking the place, forcing the locals to abandon it. The city then remained lost for over 400 years until it was rediscovered only in 1972 when treasure looters found the 1200 steps that lead up to the city. Years later a German woman arrived in Mamey and demanded to be taken to the Ciudad Perdida, which is what inspired the idea to start commercialising the itinerary and making actual tours for tourists.
After some research we chose to go with Expotur, the newest company, but personally I would not recommend it. Our translator never rocked up, our guide gave us only minimal explanations and never waited for us during the hike, meaning we basically did it alone and there was very little empathy when a bunch of us got sick. There are many to choose from such as Turcol (the oldest), Magic Tours, etc.. but the end of the day it all depends on your guide & the group you get!
What to bring:
You are limited to a small back-pack and the agency holds on to your other luggage, so forget bringing your whole wardrobe! You will be eternally grateful for not having to hike around with your big bag. Remember the following:
- Mosquito repellent with Deet – lots of it! Cream, spray, bring it all!
- Not more than 1 change of clothes (nothing ever dries and you sweat like crazy) + nice dry stuff to sleep in
- Body wash and shampoo if you can face the freezing showers, most of us couldn’t bare to be under the water long enough to wash our hair
- Comfy shoes – I was quite happy with some cheap £25 hiking shoes from Sports Direct as they were super comfy and gave my ankles the right support, rather than the rigid full on hiking boots. Most important is that they have some grip
- Water bottle
- Hand sanitiser
- Towel (I suggest a microfibre one as they are so thin & light)
The day kicks off in Santa Marta at 8:30 am, for us at the Expotur agency as that is who we went with, but realistically begins fashionably late as we found everything does in Colombia, so no need to feel guilty if you arrive 10 min late (as we did). You are put in 4×4 jeeps and driven for about 2 hours to El Mamey where you enjoy lunch before starting the trek. I found it strange that they choose to loose so much time meaning you only get started at around 12:30 when the sun is at its hottest, just as you start the 600m climb to the first camp. Not long after setting off I though to myself: “what have I gotten myself into!!” as the ground incline started to get steeper and steeper and I knew I still had at least 4 hours (7 km) to go to reach Camp Adán (Camp 1).
One of the best parts of the trek is the facts that most days after the longest part of the trek, once you’ve reached the summit for the day, you have a fresh fruit break, where you are given fresh oranges or watermelon to energise you and give you some much needed hydration.
From there it’s mostly down hill, much to my heart’s delight (not that the downhill parts are a walk in the park either considering how steep they are) all the way to the camp. Once the joy of actually reaching your destination for the day fades away, you start to assess your sleeping conditions: the bare necessities! You can choose between a hammock or a series of bunk beds with the thinnest possible mattresses and if you’re lucky enough you even get a pillow! Oh the luxuries 🙂 To be honest by that point you don’t really care where you’ll sleep as long as you get get horizontal. All camps are also situated by a river, which means not only a nice sound of water to lull you to sleep, but also a refreshing place to swim after the day’s hike.
Added bonus of camp 1: the river also has a rock you can jump off into a natural pool, where they have improvised a ladder to get you back up.
Brace yourself because this is by far the longest day: you cover a distance of almost 15 km and most of it is up hill, and a steep freakin hill to say the least. On the bright side, I much preferred day 2 in terms of scenery, it’s simply spectacular. You s
tart to get quite high up and if you take it at the nice and easy pace I did, you have time to truly soak in the views and magical rain forest landscapes that surround you. You also get to pass though some local villages and if you don’t get lost as we did, actually speak to the locals and learn a lot about their lifestyle.
It’s amazing to see these tiny little people run past you barefoot while you are huffing and puffing, using a stick to pull yourself up and steady yourself down the hills, looking more like a dehidrated tomato than an actual human – they make it look so easy! But then again they literally grew up in the jungle, the kids reminded me of Mowgli: long hair, dark skinned and wild. There are 3 main tribes: Wiwa, Koguis & Arhuaco, each ‘specialised’ in different things and quite distinguishable if you know what to look for.
We managed to loose the group for around 2 hours, during which we magically found our way to the second camp (Wiwa)before them and took advantage of this time to swim in the river and sun bathe on some beautiful big smooth rocks. You only stop at camp 2 for lunch and then set off for several more hours hiking up and down until you get to camp 3 where you spend the night. By this point my body was feeling true and utter exhaustion, as well as a slight hate for rice and lentils, smothered in coriander, so like most of the other travellers we were in bed by about 7:30!
Being quite a seasoned traveller myself and having heard many awful stories of people getting sick on the trek, I wanted to avoid this at all costs. Hence we took great precaution and chose to be vegetarians for the duration of the trek (which for those who know us two carnivores, will understand this was a tough choice). Funnily enough, I’ve now realised that nothing can save you, because some people are just gonna get sick no matter what, one of those being me. So of course on the 2nd night, when you’re basically right in the middle of the trek, I started feeling really nauseous and spent the whole night throwing up. The morning after, with our usual 5:30 awakening I discovered that I was not alone in my misery and about 10 other girls had also been sick all night.. We were unable to make an actual connection as some had eaten the vegetarian option, other meat; we were told that some bodies react badly to the tablets they put in the water to purify it, so God knows. Fact is I was feeling like death and had to face the 1200 steps to the Lost City.. I was not a pretty sight!
I staggered up the stairs like a champ with the aid of my staff and my wonderful boyfriend, luckily on this day they make you leave your backpacks at the camp to help you out with an already challenging make-shift rock staircase. Once you finally reach the top you feel an inevitable sense of achievement and self pride, which in my case was quickly truncated by the urge to throw up once more.. After which I tried my best to take it all in, amazed by how they had managed to build all this on top of a jungle mountain all those years ago.
Unfortunately I was not able to enjoy the City or the sights as much as I would have liked to because I was too unwell and once I reached the middle view point basically collapsed and slept through the hour-long explanation. Quite a bummer considering this was the trek’s main attraction, but fortunately my fellow hikers filled me in once I was more human again. I’m just happy I made it! Would have been pretty crap if I’d hiked all that way to then miss out on the main attraction. One thing that did remain etched in my mind was when we were shown a sort of hole where people were put to be punished: they were tied there with their hands together and the hole was filled with water. When we asked what the people were punished for, the guide told us that there were no assassinations in the Ciudad Perdida, but that people were severely punished for theft and rape. If for example a man raped a woman, he was put in the hole for a few weeks, after which he was sent to the woman’s family and had to work for them doing whatever they wanted for 2 years, after which they were forced to marry. Pretty messed up if you ask me!
After a good few hours in the Ciudad Perdida you clamber back down the 1200 steps and cross the river back to the camp to pick up your bag and have lunch before you set off again. I was not in top form so decided to sleep through lunch which was a very wise decision as it gave me the energy to hike the remaining 5 km up and down hill back to camp 2 where you spend the night. Unfortunately it was during this part that my boyfriend fell sick as well, so you can just imagine what a wonderful sight we were as we almost crawled to our destination and were in bed by 6pm.
I can laugh about it now, but I’m not gonna lie, there is something exasperating about being so sick and not really having a way out. I asked our guide if I could cut the tour a day short but he told me that the only way out is by mule which can’t cover the whole distance in one afternoon, or by helicopter which is kept only for real emergencies. So I was stuck. Mind over matter is what they say, but all my mind kept telling me at that point was “Lara why the hell are you doing this?!” But we made it and we powered through, supporting and caring for one another, as well as taking a cocktail of meds.
Day 4 is a good day because you know you’re almost done. You’re close to the finish line and you are fully aware that after today you will be able to sleep in a proper bed, with a proper toilet and finally wash your hair and clothes! It’s funny what you start missing when you are in these extreme conditions. My main cravings were to be clean and to eat a steak; 4 days as a veggie was just too much! And it didn’t even save us! So much effort for nada 😛
As you hike back you start to recognise the routes you had been through during the first few days and are hit by a warming sense of familiarity, almost as though the jungle were starting to become your home. I know for a fact now that it will never be mine though as apparently I’m too much of a princess!
Although during most of the way back we were far behind the others, something I actually really enjoyed, we must have smashed it on the downhill part as we arrived at the restaurant where it all began only 5 minutes after most people! It was nice to be welcomed by cheers and high fives from the people we had just spent 4 days with, our multi-cultural jungle family 🙂
Overall, I’m glad I did it, I’d never done something like it and I proved to myself that if I have to, I can push my body further than I imagined. It was also an incredible bonding experience for my boyfriend and I, given we saw each other in some pretty rough, extreme conditions with a general lack of hygiene, make-up and all those things! As you can imagine we’re closer than ever and definitely make a good team 🙂