Trekking to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City), Colombia

Lost City Upper Levels

Colombia’s Lost City Trek has become a journey of backpacker legend. Easily accessible from the coastal city of Santa Marta, this multi-day trek takes you through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, traversing rivers, hiking through cloud forests and ascending over 1200 ancient steps to reach La Ciudad Perdida.

A grand undertaking not for the faint of heart, the Lost City hike is challenging but oh-so worth it. If you’re considering taking on this epic adventure, this guide will tell you everything you need to know, written by someone who has the blisters to prove it! 

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A Guide to The Lost City Trek, Colombia

The Lost City Trek: How Much Does It Cost?

First thing to know, it is not possible to trek to the Lost City independently. You will need to join a group tour offered by a local tour agency. The rates for the hike are set at 2,150,000COP (approx $550USD) so you should pay the same no matter which company you go with.

The price is also the same whether you choose the four or five-day option (more information on these options later). Although many tour agencies offer the trek, it is important to do your research when deciding who to go with. Note that the price includes all food and accommodation along the route.

Bridge on Lost City Trek
Only five companies are authorised to offer the Lost City Trek.

Choosing a Lost City Tour

There are currently five tour agencies that are authorised to offer this trek. They are:

  • Expotur
  • Magic Tours
  • Baquianos Travel
  • Turcol
  • Wiwa Tours

All the other tour providers outsource to one of these companies so if you use a third party travel agency to help you arrange the tour, just make sure you are paying the same amount as you would do going direct.

Our Top Pick!
Lost City Trek by Expotur
  • Take on Colombia's most popular trek!
  • Explore the ancient Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida)
  • Hike, swim and climb through Colombian jungle
  • Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

Note: Expotour is part of Corpoteyuna, a corporation that protects the welfare of farmers and indigenous communities living in the area of the Lost City.

Nearly all of the Lost City tours are offered in Spanish. However, agencies will pay for English translators. It is important to establish whether there will be an English-speaking guide or translator on your tour before booking.

Some of the companies, such as Wiwa Tours, will provide an indigenous guide. The companies that do this argue that it provides a more ‘authentic’ experience as you’ll be passing through ancient indigenous lands. However, it is important to remember that Spanish isn’t the first language of these guides and there is the potential for a lot to get lost in translation if you do not speak Spanish fluently.

Respecting the Local Communities

When choosing a trek, it is important to check that the company works with local indigenous communities while still respecting their sacred lands and cultures. The most reputable agencies (like ExpoTur) will belong to CORPOTEYUNA, a local community and sustainability association within the tourism industry.

Indigenous Village on Lost City Trek 3
Much of the Lost City Trek runs through ancient indigenous lands.

Much of the trek facilities are outsourced to the indigenous communities in the area. For example, all of the campsites are run by locals and the mules used to transport food also belong to the indigenous. No matter which tour company you choose, you will stay in camps that are managed externally. 

This is an important factor to remember. During our trek, we did notice that some of the mules looked overworked and not entirely well cared for. This is not the fault of the tour companies and in fact, many of them are trying to work with the local communities to persuade them to offer a higher standard of care for their animals. However, long-standing attitudes and traditions often stand in the way of progress.

Signs to Lost City
The Lost City trail is pretty well-marked.

Which Is the Best Lost City Trek Company?

When I trekked to the Lost City, I went with Expotur and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to other travellers. After spending five months in Panama and Colombia, they were the company that we were recommended by travellers on the ground, time and time again. 

Our guide at Expotur originally started as a chef on Lost City tours before progressing to guiding his own treks. He has over thirty years of experience and knows the trail like the back of his hand. His knowledge, combined with our friendly and enthusiastic translator made the trip a pleasure. 

Another thing I was particularly pleased about was that all of the Expotur staff on my trek were friendly, or at worst indifferent, to the stray dogs en route. We had seen some of the guides from other companies being quite mean to the dogs, which as an animal lover, I found quite uncomfortable.

You can book your own Lost City Trek with Expotur via our website here.

Mules on Lost City Trek
Mules on the Lost City Trek, Colombia.

Best Time to Trek to The Lost City

Colombia is an absolutely massive country and the northern part of the country has two seasons: wet and dry. The best time to hike to the Lost City is during the dry season which spans from mid-December to March as well as the month of August. Be aware that even though this is technically the dry season, it can still rain during this time – you’ll need to pack accordingly!

Muddy Trail on Lost City Trek
If this is how muddy it is during dry season, just imagine how slippery it’ll be in the wet!

April, May, October and November are the wettest months and the route closes completely for September. This is to allow time to perform route maintenance and clean up the trail. It also gives the local indigenous communities a break from the endless trekkers hiking through their lands. 

The Lost City Trek: Terrain and Difficulty

Consider this your official warning, this is no easy trek. While it doesn’t present the altitude struggles that many of the treks to Machu Picchu pose (the highest point is located around 1,200 m.a.s.l), it is still a demanding journey which requires hikers to be physically fit and healthy. 

The Lost City hike takes you through the Colombian cloud forest, presenting a hot and humid environment year-round. The trail consists of many steep ascents and descents, all of which will be very slippery after rain. 

Very little of the trail is flat, at least not in the way you probably imagine. The guides on your hike will call it ‘Colombian flat’ which essentially means no prolonged steep ascents or descents but instead, undulating terrain. 

Misty Morning on Lost City Trek
A section of ‘Colombian flat’.

You will be required to hike up to eight hours a day and there are various trek lengths available, ranging from four days all the way up to six. Be aware that while the trail is well-beaten and very popular, it is by no means a walk in the park, even if spread over more days. 

Travellers often debate which is the toughest day of the trek, with most settling on either day two for its sheer length and steep descents, or day three. The third day is when you visit the Lost City and there are over 1,200 very narrow steps up to the complex. These are tiring and difficult to navigate at the best of times but after rain, this section of the hike poses a new level of challenge. 

Lost City Trek Itinerary – How Many Days?

The Lost City Trek is typically done over four days but there is also a popular five-day option. While the schedule will differ slightly depending on the tour company that you choose, the four-day Lost City itinerary looks roughly like this:

4-Day Lost City Itinerary

Day 1: Santa Marta to El Mamey to Camp 1

  • Drive to El Mamey
  • Begin hike to Camp 1 from El Mamey
  • 4 hours trekking (approx. 6.8 km) 

Day 2: Camp 1 to Camp 3

  • Hike from Camp 1 to Camp 3
  • 7 hours trekking (approx. 14.7km)

Day 3: Camp 3 to Lost City to Camp 2

  • Ascend 1,200 stairs up to Lost City
  • Spend around 3 hours at the Lost City
  • 4 hours trekking (approx. 6km – this doesn’t include walking around the Lost City)

Day 4: Camp 2 to El Mamey to Santa Marta

  • Hike from Camp 2 to El Mamey
  • 7-8 hours trekking (approx. 16km)
  • Return to Santa Marta by van
Losyt City stairs
A small selection of the 1,200 stairs up to the Lost City!

The five-day tour follows much of the same schedule, except the last day is split. The itinerary is roughly as follows: 

5-Day Lost City Itinerary

Day 1: Santa Marta to El Mamey to Camp 1

  • Drive to El Mamey
  • Begin hike to Camp 1 from El Mamey
  • 4 hours trekking (approx. 6.8 km) 

Day 2: Camp 1 to Camp 3

  • Hike from Camp 1 to Camp 3
  • 7 hours trekking (approx. 14.7km)

Day 3: Camp 3 to Lost City to Camp 2

  • Ascend 1,200 stairs up to Lost City
  • Spend around 3 hours at the Lost City
  • 4 hours trekking (approx. 6km – this doesn’t include walking around the Lost City)

Day 4: Camp 2 to Camp 1

  • Hike from Camp 2 to Camp 1
  • 3.5-4 hours trekking (approx. 8km)

Day 5: Camp 1 to El Mamey to Santa Marta

  • Hike from Camp 1 to El Mamey
  • 3.5-4 hours trekking (approx. 8km)
  • Return to Santa Marta by van
People on Lost City Trek
The five-day trek splits the last day of trekking across two days.

Personally, I’d recommend the four-day option, unless you have doubts about your fitness level. Most people in our group agreed that although long, the final day was not that challenging in terms of terrain and there wouldn’t be many benefits in splitting it. You have no extra time at the Lost City when choosing the 5-day trek. 

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South America Backpacker

There is also the option to do a three-day trek and a six-day trek with certain companies, however, these are private tours which come with a higher price tag and a minimum visitor requirement. 

Both the 4-day and 5-day options usually include a meeting with a prominent figure within the Wiwa or Kogui community somewhere en route. This session will likely be shared with hikers from a range of tour groups and will explain a little about the lives of the indigenous communities in the area. 

Indigenous Village on Lost City Trek
An indigenous village along the Lost City trail.

Sometimes, there is the opportunity to meet the spiritual leader of the Kogui community inside the Lost City itself. Mamo Romualdo will usually allow hikers to snap photos with him and buy his handmade bracelets, each of which is believed to carry spiritual protection for the wearer.  

Many tours also include the opportunity to take a dip in the local rivers – this is a great way to cool off after a long day’s hike. Don’t forget your swimwear and towel! 

River on Lost City Trek
There are lots of opportunities to take a dip close to the trail.

Lost City Trek Accommodation: Campsites and Facilities

The camps are very basic but unlike times of old, electricity is a regular feature, although it will usually be cut around 9 pm until around 5 am.  This is the time that you’ll be expected to wake up. Some camps even have (very unreliable) WiFi but you have to pay to use it! There is no mobile signal en route so you’ll probably only be using your phone to take photos. 

Bunk beds with a pillow and blanket are provided and there are also hammocks. All beds/hammocks come with mosquito nets. The toilets are pretty decent but you don’t expect to find soap anywhere – bring your own, along with hand sanitiser and toilet paper! 

Hikers on the Lost City Trek
You will need to carry all of your stuff to each camp.

All hikers are advised to use insect repellent, both throughout the day and also at night. While we didn’t see any on our trek and didn’t meet anyone who had any problems, bed bugs can rear their ugly heads at camp. Mosquitoes and ticks also pose a problem. You should check your body for ticks before going to bed every day. 

If you have done some of the other hikes around South America, you may be pleasantly surprised by the fact that there are showers at the camps. They are cold but after all that sweating, that shouldn’t matter much! 

Most of the camps have washing lines however, these aren’t as useful as you’d expect. Owing to the hot and humid environment, clothes will rarely dry out overnight and you’ll likely find yourself wrestling into wet clothes the next morning!

Perhaps most importantly, the camps do stock beer for hikers to purchase. An ice-cold Club Colombia is the perfect way to recover after a tough day on the trail! 

Top Tip!

There are no lockers provided at any of the camps. While it is unlikely you’ll be carrying much in the way of valuables, bring a padlock if you’re concerned about security. Whenever possible, aim to hang your backpack up somewhere – we saw some stray dogs peeing on people’s bags at camp! 

Lost City Trek Food and Drink

The food provided on the Lost City Trek is of a surprisingly high standard when you consider the remoteness of some of the camps. Meals are delicious and varied, with vegetarians also being well catered for. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks of fresh fruit are provided at regular intervals every day. 

Food on Lost City trek
An example meal on the Lost City Trek.

While you have to bring your own water for the first day’s hike, all the camps provide filtered water. Prior to embarking on the tour, we spoke to several travellers who said that they had got ill after the trek and thought it was the water. 

As this seems to be quite a persistent rumour, many backpackers were filtering their water on the trek and those that did, seemed to have no issues with stomach problems. I’d recommend filtering your water to be on the safe side but there is every chance that those who got ill simply forgot their hand sanitiser! 

Lost City Trek Packing List

  • Daypack (20-30L)
  • Good hiking shoes/boots
  • Sandals/flip-flops
  • Quick dry t-shirt(s) for hiking
  • Quick dry leggings or shorts for hiking
  • Comfortable long pants for evenings
  • Long-sleeved shirt for evenings
  • Hiking socks
  • Swimsuit/trunks
  • Hand sanitiser 
  • Soap 
  • Sun cream
  • Ziplocks for electronics
  • Portable charger
  • Plastic bags to separate wet/dirty clothes from dry/clean
  • Insect repellent 
  • Camera/phone
  • Headtorch
  • Packable rain jacket
  • Waterproof cover for your bag (or bin liner)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Water filter
  • Deodorant
  • Travel towel
  • Any personal medication
  • Tick remover
  • Hiking poles (If you don’t have these, ask your guide to find you a stick)
River Crossing on Lost City Trek 2
A stick can be a good walking aid for the river crossings!

History of the Lost City, Colombia

La Ciudad Perdida was believed to have been founded in 800CE, 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. Built by the Tairona people, it was once an extremely important complex believed to house between 2,000-8,000 people. 

Teyuna, as it was once called, sits around 1,200m.a.s.l in dense Colombian cloud forest. It is believed that the complex was inhabited until roughly the time of the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. Shortly after their arrival, the Tairona people abandoned the complex and the jungle began to reclaim it. 

Lost City Upper Levels from Below
Looking up at the upper tiers of the Lost City.

The Lost City was discovered around 400 years later by tomb raiders, who pillaged the site of many of its valuables, including precious stones and gold. Much of this loot later appeared on the black market. While some of it was reclaimed and can be seen in museums such as the Museo de Oro in Bogotá, much of it was never recovered. 

The official documented discovery of Colombia’s Lost City took place in 1976 and the expedition was led by three archaeologists, an architect and two tomb raiders. Once they had compiled enough evidence to demonstrate the existence of the Lost City, the government gave the go-ahead for the site to be ‘recovered’. 

Lost City Upper Levels from Below
The iconic Lost City view!

Since opening to the public back in the 1980s, the area has faced numerous challenges, from armed conflict in the nineties and early noughties to kidnappings of tourists taking on the trek. Tourist hikes resumed in 2005 and now, thanks to the presence of the Colombian army, the area is very safe. 

These days, much of the trail and accommodation en route is managed by the descendants of the Tairona people, namely the Wiwas, Koguis, Arhuaco and Kankuamos. One of the highlights of the Lost City Trek for travellers is the ability to see firsthand how these people live and meet representatives from some of the communities. 

Indigenous Man Playing Flute on Lost City Trek
Trekkers meet with a member of the Kogui community.

The Lost City Trek, Colombia – FAQ 

What is the best month to do the Lost City Trek? 

As the driest month, February is commonly touted as the best month to do the trek. We hiked at the end of the month and got no rain at all on the entire trek. 

How difficult is the Lost City Trek?

The Lost City Trek is a demanding hike which requires backpackers to be fit and healthy. There are a lot of steep ascents and descents and you’ll be hiking for up to eight hours each day. 

Are there showers?

All of the camps have cold water showers. 

What are the toilets like? 

The toilets at the camps are western style loos which are cleaned regularly. Remember to deposit all toilet paper in the bins provided so that they don’t get blocked! Toilets on the trail are ‘al fresco’, though you’ll likely be sweating so much that you don’t need to pee that often.

Are there river crossings?

There are a few river crossings to get to Colombia’s Lost City. Most of these can be crossed on stepping stones. Previously, there was one quite deep river crossing which trekkers had to wade through. A bridge has since been constructed to keep hikers dry! 

Can I do the trek independently? 

It is not possible to hike to the Lost City independently. All trekkers have to have a guide and to have obtained the relevant permissions in advance (this will be organised by your tour company of choice). I went with Expotur and would highly recommend them.

How much does the Lost City Trek cost?

Rates are standardised across the board for the Lost City Trek and the price is 2,150,000COP (approx $550USD). If you can, it is better to pay in cash as most vendors charge a fee (usually around 3%) when paying by card. 

Will I see wildlife?

There is a whole manner of birdlife and insects along the trail. During our trek, we saw some big spiders and even the odd snake. As the trail is so well-trafficked, you are unlikely to see mammals such as monkeys, although it is possible to hear the Howlers in the distance! 

Is the Lost City Trek safe?

While the Sierra Nevada mountains were once off-limits to tourists, they are now very safe. This extends to the Lost City trail too. You’ll likely see army members carrying guns in the surrounding area but their presence is to demonstrate that this is now a safe area, rather than an unsafe one. 

Where can I book the Lost City Trek and should I book in advance?

You can book the trek from a number of tour providers in Santa Marta or online in advance. It’s a good idea to book in advance if you are not flexible on time as it is a popular trek and there are limited places each day.

The Lost City Lower Levels 2
The Lost City Trek was one of my favourite experiences in Colombia.

The Lost City Trek: Is It Worth It?

The Lost City Trek was one of my Colombia highlights! When it comes to epic adventures in Colombia, trekking to the Lost City is hard to beat. Unlike Machu Picchu, it is not possible to reach this important archaeological site by train or bus, meaning only those that hike there are rewarded with sweeping vistas of the ancient city. 

While the accommodation and facilities en route are very basic, this only heightens the feeling of being on a real adventure. The trail is challenging for many, with steep ascents and descents but the view over the vast stone platforms is hard to beat. If you’re considering tackling the hike – don’t hesitate. The journey will be something you never forget. 

Have you done Colombia’s Lost City Trek? Let us know how you found it in the comments!

Sheree Hooker Bio Pic
Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South America Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

6 thoughts on “Trekking to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City), Colombia”

  1. Hi Ellen. I’m going to Colombia in January and was considering NOT doing the Lost City as it sounds really difficult. I’m not sure about dealing with the heat while hiking so much up hill. Your descriptions have me rethinking it though. I’ve done the Inka Trail as I see you have done as well. How does it compare? What time of year did you go?

  2. Hi Ellen,
    what a great blog. We are going to Columbia in December. I heard that it is dry season there.. hoping for lesser amount of mosquito bites!! Which month did you go?? Can you tell me the company you booked with… Also, are there no English speaking guides..? Thanks, Bhanu

  3. Hi Ellen, what a great blog of what looks like an incredible journey. Along the lines of the others above I was wondering please the name of the company you booked through. Thanks in advance 🙂

  4. wow, that sounds so amazing. Cann you tell me with which agency you went there and how much it costs? I would love to see this amazing place. Thanks in advance.

  5. What an amazing account of your experiences! I am going to colombia in july and hoping to do the lost city trek. Do you remember the name of the tour company you went with?

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