La Ciudad Perdida / The Lost City: Trip Review and Tips
A lot of reviews and practical information about Ciudad Perdida online seemed to be a little outdated, so here is my take. This is where I talk about the trip and all of the fun we had or didn’t have.
Trip Dates: February 17-20, 2014
How we did it:
I started emailing with Magic Tour a few weeks in advance (only because my travel companions do things the American Way, meaning not the day before the trip) and made a reservation deposit directly through the Colombian bank here. It’s also possible through PayPal. The staff were super friendly and responsive. I corresponded with them in Spanish but at least one of them speaks flawless English.
We stayed in Magic Tour’s own hostel in Taganga, outside Santa Marta. It’s brand new in the sense that they haven’t really turned it from someone’s house into a real hostel yet, but it was 20mil a night for air conditioning and a decent bunk bed before and after the hike. It’s definitely not a social hostel for those people who like to socialize in hostels (shudder) although it has potential.
We went in the middle of February, which is dry season and absolutely lovely on the Colombian coast. Personally, I could see the trip being miserable in June or September when the sky is dumping rain every afternoon and turning the dust into mud. Still worth it? Probably! If you have the option, though, I suggest the driest time possible.
We were in a group of 18 people though it never felt like that many with our two guides. Jose and Juan Carlos were fantastic. The trek is SO organized, to the point where you don’t realize it but you’re dying for some sweet Vitamin C and, lo and behold, someone holds out a pre-cut orange just for you. They always had purified water available at the camps, snacks for purchase and more than enough food at meal times. The precision with which they fed me exactly when I needed it was uncanny.
Neither of our guides spoke English, so I ended up translating for my three friends and for the whole group at times. The language barrier didn’t seem to make a difference, though. At one point I was about 30 yards ahead of the three other girls walking with Juan Carlos and all I could make out was a lot of laughing, singing and conversation that was clearly unhindered by common vocabulary. (We will probably never know the real lyrics of the mouse in pants song…)
In short, our guides were wonderful, always ready to answer questions or help us across the rivers – it never actually felt like we were sharing the guides with nearly 20 people total.
The hike can be done in 4, 5 or 6 days. We had a limited time frame, and thus opted for 4.
Day 1 – Van picked us up at the hostel and we stopped at the Magic Tour office in Santa Marta for an hour or so to pay and get in our groups based on chosen length of trip. Next, we smooshed into the van again for a hot, bumpy 2 hours along the coast and up the mountains. Sandwiches for lunch, change into hiking shoes and we started walking around 1 or 2pm.
(Day 1 hiking was hard. We climbed steep, slippery switchbacks for an hour. Everyone had the same strained, kicked-puppy look on their face upon reaching each turn in the hopes that it was the last one going up. Usually, it was not.) We reached our first camp around 6pm for icy showers, delicious dinner and hammocks for the night.
Day 2 – Up early to eat breakfast and head out by 6. Lots of long uphills, sweating, beautiful views and Kogi houses. Lunch and free time to swim in the river. Give or take 4 more hours of hiking to camp for dinner and sleeping in summer camp-style beds.
Day 3 – Early again, breakfast and off to the Ciudad Perdida! We left our packs at the camp and hiked the last stretch to the bottom of the city. When they say 1200 stone stairs, they mean precisely 1200 stone stairs, most of them steep, narrow and torturous. Up the stairs, walk around and take pictures for a few hours, receive snacks, talk about history, back down the stairs. Camp for lunch and to pick up sweaty, heavy backpacks, then 3-4 hours of hiking.
Day 4: 7 hours of long, terrible hiking. Maybe take out “terrible” and insert your own adjective? Looking back, it wasn’t so bad! Right? I was being a baby? No, it was terrible. I think. The Swiss girls probably disagree. Anyway, you walk a lot and it hurts.
Around 1 or 2 pm we moseyed back to the starting point for our last delicious lunch and the sweaty van ride back to our hostel.
The 5 and 6 day tours simply mean more free time in the afternoons. It would be a really great way to spend a week with a big group of friends with no outside distractions.
What I brought:
Note: I talk here about how I am unsure about my feelings towards hiking. I don’t do these multi-day hike things on a regular basis so I don’t have fancy gear or clothing unless it serves another purpose in my everyday Colombian life.
All stuffed in Ziploc bags in my 50-liter Gregory Jade pack
- 2 pairs athletic shorts, 1 pair spandex capris
- 1 regular t shirt (my favorite green Mokaná shirt that sadly seems to have sacrificed itself to the Tayrona gods)
- 1 short sleeve underarmour shirt, 1 tank top
- 1 pair cotton leggings for sleeping
- 1 long sleeve button up, 1 long sleeve Underarmour shirt
- 2 sports bras & 5-6 pairs of underwear
- 4 pairs of socks (regular cotton – I didn’t get blisters!)
- 1 pair flip flops
- 1 pair Keen hiking shoes
- 1 bathing suit
- Minimal toiletries
- Toilet paper
- Nopikex bugspray – buy it at Colombian grocery stores
- 99% DEET bugspray from the states
- Bandaids, painkillers, basic first aid stuff
- Travel towel
- Baby wipes
- Nalgene water bottle
- Steripen water purifier – didn’t need this on the trek but it was good to have for Santa Marta/Taganga
- Baseball hat
- Clif bars and other snacks
- One smelly, soggy plaster cast and sling
- Snack money
– I magically used or wore every single thing that I packed! You can decide if that makes me high- or low-maintenance.
– I was freezing the first night when we slept in hammocks, so a sleeping bag liner or another long-sleeve something would have been great.
– As I said, we did the hike during dry season, which meant that the river crossings simple meant ditching my hiking shoes and wading across (or Juan Carlos piggy-backing me because he was worried about my broken arm!) If the water were higher with more of a current, I can see how you might want separate water shoes.
– At least one of the camps had outlets, so charging cameras isn’t out of the question.