4 nights, 39 miles, and a 1200 stone step staircase through the Colombian Sierra Nevada Mountains led us to The Lost City. While the city was never lost to the native Colombian tribes, called the Arhuaco/Koguis/Wiwas, it was kept secret from foreign invaders. The city was constructed in 800CE (650 years before Machu Picchu) and was a spiritual center for the community. It was officially rediscovered in 1972 by treasure hunters.
Our first major adventure in Colombia is the four-night trek through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To begin, we researched the various companies that offer this adventure. According to Colombian law, you must use a guide on most of the trails in the national parks; there is very little free-style hiking here. There are six major companies that offer the trek, and each company uses the same camps/facilities. Each company also charges the same price, $350.00 US (2020) for either the three-night or four-night hike. So, when researching companies, I was looking for reviews and an agenda that would allow for the kids to enjoy the pace.
There are two options; a three night or four-night trek. On either trek you visit the same camps and spend the same amount of time in the lost city. The three-night trek has a longer hike on day two. You then visit the Lost City first thing in the morning. This longer hike means that there is a shorter amount of time to stop and swim in the river along the route. We needed the stops to be a little more enjoyable for the kids, and breaking up the hike accomplished their need to play. Also, because of our agenda, we visited the city in the afternoon. We were the only hiking group there. It made the city feel more authentic and not as though we were one of the hundreds of tourists traipsing through each day.
So, we opted for the four-night trek using Ecotour (https://expotur-eco.com/en). The company was uber responsive to emails, has great reviews, and is conveniently located in the city of Santa Marta (approximately 0.6 miles from the marina). Now, it was time to pack! I read a few travel sites for tips and then figured what our family could carry for the journey. Below is the list recommended by some travel blogs, along with my own thoughts and additions. Keep in mind we trekked during the dry season (January), so our clothes were not soaked with rain whilst we hiked. And, keep in mind, no matter what you do, you will smell like a monkey at the end!
WHAT TO PACK FOR THE LOST CITY
- 1 x backpack
- 1 x refillable filter water bottle (we used Camelback styles)
- 1 x hiking poles (we don’t use these and were fine hiking)
- 1 x sport shorts
- 2 x high-wicking vests (nope and was fine)
- 4-5 x pairs of underwear (YES!)
- 4-5 x hiking socks (we each brought 2 pair and that was plenty)
- 1 x hiking boots (we hiked in our sneakers and Sophia used her hiking sandals)
- 1 x sweat rag (Yes! Especially those head cloth things)
- 1 x swim stuff (YES!)
- 1 x packing cube (Don’t know what this is so….)
- 1 x rain poncho / jacket/lightweight sweater (Yes)
- 1 x long-sleeved shirt / hoody (Yes)
- 1 x camp slouch trousers/yoga pant (Yes)
- 1 x cotton t-shirt (Yes)
- 1 x flip-flops (Yes for showers and lounging at night)
- 1 x travel towel (Yes we brought a few Turkish towels, not the heavy cotton towels)
- Various toiletries (including bug spray and sun cream YES!)
- 1 x head torch (Yes)
- 1 x battery power bank (Yes we took 3 small batteries. There are plugs but you are fighting with others to use them)
- 1 x mobile phone (Yes for pictures, there is no cell service)
- GoPro (Yes)
- Wet Wipes (Yes, because you feel grimy and will probably get diarrhea)
- Toilet paper because not all camps are fully stocked
- Sweet treats for hiking (I thought I was nuts for adding that weight, but the chocolate M and Ms really helped the kids)
- Ibuprofen and Imodium (Yes! Thank goodness a fellow hiker had the Imodium or it would have been tough)
- Deck of playing cards for the evening (Yes, so fun and breaks the ice with others)
Now, it was time to begin the trek! On the morning of the trek we walked to the office (a bus will pick you up if you want). We arrived at 8:15 for a 9:00 departure time. Check in was easy because we were early. As the morning wore on more and more people arrived. Our family began to worry that we were going to be cattle trudging in line toward the city, but rest assured that once you leave Santa Marta you only see other groups in the various camps at night. We were especially isolated because of doing the longer trek. Most of the hikers were in their mid-twenties and completed the three-night hike. Our group hopped on the bus and headed toward the city of Mamey. The ride was eye opening as to the differences between those with money and those making ends meet. Also, we became aware of the tourism springing up all around.
After you arrive at the park, you check in, mount your packs and begin the long uphill climb toward the first camp. It was not too tough and everyone was excited! Camp One is lovely, though could use more showers. The tour company kept us constantly fed. Water was available via a three filtered process. We felt safe drinking this water (more on that later!). Day Two wake up call came very early. For the three-night hike this was a looong day of hiking. For our group, the four-night hike, we only had to make it to Camp Two. There is a great river along route. We stopped and jumped off its highest point and splashed in the icy waters until we could stand it no longer.
Camp Two is where the trouble began for our group. The drinking water is extra filtered. But the shower water and general dish washing water is river water. So, not only are showers freezing, dishes are washed in tainted water. The donkeys that bring supplies through each camp poop in the same area as the camp. That poop eventually makes it into the river system. Nick fell first with fever and diarrhea…the rest of us were not far behind. Luckily, I packed some ibuprofen and kept us moving. And, there are stops along the way with bathrooms. These stops generally charge, so bring small 2,000 COP bills. In our group of 16, only 4 did not get sick, and they were Colombian.
So, Camp Three. We arrived by lunchtime and had to decide whether to do the Lost City that afternoon or the next morning. Knowing that hundreds of others would begin hiking at 6am made the decision to go in the afternoon easy. And, we are so thankful we went that afternoon! We were the only group in the city. Our guide gave the most amazing presentation of the native tribe that still uses the city today. The trek is closed in September because the native tribe uses that month to drive out all of the negative energy and bring balance back to this sacred space. We hiked to the river, crossed with shoes in hand, and huffed up the 1200 steps to the Lost City. We learned about its restoration, soaked up the spirits in the fountain of youth and learned of the traditions on top of the many circles. The afternoon was amazing.
Now, to hike back. The adrenaline was gone and we were all sick. So, it was tough. Because we chose the extra day hike we could sleep in an extra hour (meaning a 6am wake up call) and take a slower pace. At Camp Two there is a waterfall inside the rocks and a fun current that took us down river. At Camp One, we were just done. I think our whole group was asleep by 7:30pm and not awake until 7:00am. We completed the last portion of the hike, had lunch, boarded the buses and returned to the marina.
We were so disgusting that I did not let the kids go onto the boat. Our backpacks full of dirty clothes went straight to the laundry and kids straight to the showers! By 7:00pm we were all asleep. You will smell like a monkey. And bring the wet wipes! Diarrhea is terrible without them on this trek.
Time for overall thoughts…I am so glad that we did this adventure. I cannot imagine skipping this learning experience for the kids and adults. And, I am so glad I will never have to do it again. Just book it…just do it…the trek is worth the cost, both financially and physically!
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