The road from Popayan to San Agustín climbs quite steeply to over three thousand metres and then just seems to disappear. This is one of those destinations where getting there makes it feel like an amazing adventure.
The Lost city trek | Is it worth the effort?
The simple answer is yes, most definitely, the effort is what makes the getting there so sweet. Not only is the Lost city an amazing place to visit but the trek through the lush cloud forrest of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a rewarding venture in itself. In the following chapters we will try and give you our view of why we think the lost city trek is an unmissable edition to your Colombian experience.
Teyuna, as it is know by the local indigenous people of the area, was believed to have been founded in around 800CE, although there has been speculation that there may be an older city underneath the current archaeological site. The city was rediscovered by a group of looters in 1972.
The government of the time, noticing a flood of artefacts entering the black market, quickly sealed off the city to save it for the community. In a strange twist of fate they then re-employed the looters to help the archaeologists undo the damage they had caused and map out how it was when they originally found it.
How to get to The lost city?
To visit the lost city you must book through one of the registered tour companies. These all have their offices in Santa Marta. All the tours charge the same price which has been fixed my the local communities. The price at the time of writing in 2022 was COP1,400,000, which works out at about $350 or £280.
We would not advise booking through a reseller as they may try and sell you things you don’t want at inflated prices to try and make some money out of your booking. It’s much better to wait until you get to Santa Marta and go and have a chat. The tours run everyday and if your flexible with your time you can choose if you go on a day with a large group or as we did try and get a quiet day. Our trip turned out to be just the two of us, two being the minimum group size.
Who did we do The lost city tour with?
In the UK I had looked at using a company call Wiwa tours and it was a very close decision as to who we went with, but in the end local knowledge won out and I think we made the right choice.
What to expect
You stop there for a short time to register and get your wristband its then another hour down a dirt road to the El Mamey, the town at the trail head. After a lunch stop in a local restaurant you’re off on the trek to the first camp. I won’t go into to much detail as you need to find things for yourself and each tour company does things slightly differently using differing camps along the trail.
What are the camps like?
The camps you say in along the trail are set up by the local communities that you pass through on the lost city. They are basically large open huts with kitchens and rows of bunks with mosquito nets. All the camps we used were clean and comfortable if a bit warm although the one’s by the rivers are cooler at night.
We had been told we were guaranteed to get a bed. I believe the camps have been improved as it used to be that most of the accommodation was in hammocks. This turned out to be true, we got a bed every night of the trek. We even got a double bed at one camp although neither of us was sure this was an advantage or not.
…and the food?
What it like on the trail
A lot of this depends on the weather. We were really lucky as May is supposed to be one of the wetter months. It did rain one night but that was it. The paths for us were quite dry with just a few muddy patches.
Every session on the trail has an up and a down and of course it’s a there and back route so what’s up on the way becomes down on the way back. This can be quite a challenge if you think to much about it, try and keep in the present and worry about the rest when it comes. If you’re doing the trek in four days most days will have two sessions of trekking one in the morning, usually a six o’clock start, then a session in the afternoon after a good lunch.
You will be wet all the time. With the high temperatures and the humidity there is no way to dry off. From the start to the finish you will be wet. We found it pretty tough going and we are both hill walkers back home. Some of the younger groups didn’t seem to struggle at all and there were families with young children really enjoying the trek. It’s all about how well you manage the humidity.
A lot of the paths are eroded as apart from the first day everything you see is brought up the trail by mule so over time the paths have cut deeper into the soft ground, creating some very deep grooves. Another thing to take into account is that the mules don’t stop for anyone or anything including you. So staying aware of your surroundings is very important. You soon get used to it.
The river crossings
We had read that the river crossings could be quite challenging, we really had nothing to worry about. All the major rivers have some kind of way to cross without getting your feet wet. There are streams to cross but for us these were easy to manage without taking off our boots although I suspect it may be different with a lot of rain. We took water shoes but only really needed them when swimming in the rivers after a hard day on the trail.
What to take with you
This really depends on how much you think you can carry. We took too much stuff and it became difficult, too difficult at times. So try and bare in mind how much you think you can manage and what is the minimum you will need to stay as comfortable as possible. I’m not going to give you a packing list as all the tour companies have packing lists on their websites. It also depends on the weather we took stuff we didn’t use and it becomes a real problem carrying stuff you know you don’t need.
One thing I would recommend is to take good proper walking boots. We found them an amazing help there were people doing it in wellies and trainers and when your feet are wet all the time it’s very easy to get really bad blisters. Don’t forget the sun cream and the mozzy spray you will need a lot of both.
Four wheel drive
If the worst happens and you can’t carry your bag or you just cannot walk any further don’t get disheartened your guide will always find a way although there is always a cost. For COP40,000 per session you can get a mule or a person to carry your bag for you and for your own personal for legged friend it will cost you COP140,000 per session which will add up if you really struggle so try and make sure you can manage your load. Take plenty of cash just in case, we almost ran out.
Hydration is your friend
All along the trail usually a the top of a hill are huts selling drinks and various other things. Make sure you have plenty of liquids on board and if your feeling a little drained most of them have energy drinks to perk you up a little. At least one per session will have free fruit which is a very refreshing treat.
About the city itself
Most groups head up to the lost city itself on the morning of day three for us there were about fifty people there when we were. It’s at the top of 1200 steps which makes it feel like something from a Lara croft film. I’m sure if you are doing the trek you will have seen the pictures including the ones on this post so I’m not going to go into too much detail, I will just say for me getting to see it in real life was quite emotional.
I hope if you were not sure, that now you are ,and you get the trek to the lost city on to your list. We absolutely recommend doing it. We did the five day trek which gave us time to slow down and enjoy the trail. The four day trail would be ideal as a challenge and a lot of people were getting it done as quickly as they could which is up to them. We found it difficult but doable in Lynne’s case with the help of our four legged friends one of which she became quite attached to and wanted to take home. But that’s a different challenge altogether.
We had more images for this post than we could realistically fit in with the post so we thought we would try something new and add an image gallery. Hope you enjoy the extra pictures if we get good feed back we may include it on future posts
Booking resources for your trip to Santa Marta
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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If you’re looking for that chilled out hippy vibe of fifteen years ago perhaps you may find Palomino disappointing. At times we found it more Benidorm than beguiling. Or maybe more Magaluf than mystic. Having said that if you take it for what it is a rustic holiday resort on the Caribbean coast of Colombia then you can still find plenty of reasons to visit.