I have always been fascinated by the ancient civilizations. I wanted to visit Tierradentro and San Agustin ruins, but I could not fit it into the itinerary. In the beginning, I also decided not to go to Ciudad Perdida due to time constraints. However, as the trip went on, I felt I was not doing myself justice by not going to Ciudad Perdida. A last minute decision had me extending my stay in Santa Marta by a day to fit Ciudad Perdida 4-day trek and split from my travel companion and buying a new air ticket to Bogota. It was the BEST decision I could have done for myself! It was just in time, too. The trek and ruins are closed annually from September 1-15 for Indian ceremonies and trek maintenance.
The energy of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains and the ruins really spoke to me. Although the hike was tough and I was always the last to arrive at Camp, I felt fulfilled each day of the trek. We saw many different flora and fauna that thrive in the Sierra, and we also came across the indigeneous people, especially the kids who always accosted us for candies or cookies.
I signed up with Magic Tour and was lucky to have a group of only 5-awesome people! I made awesome new friends who are into adventures and South America as I am. We had a great bonding experience. We also had an amazing guide Rodrigo. He was always there taking care of us. He even helped the girls from the other tour companies when it came to tricky areas like river crossing and slippery rocks. Magic Tour also treats their guides the best as a company. I am happy to support them. Food was also tasty and satisfying.
The camps are run by the Colombian Archeology foundations, I believe. We all stayed in the same camps (except for the third nights when the various groups are split into two camps). We had beds, bathrooms with toilets (which worked well until dense trekkers throw papers into them!) and showers. The first camp had electricity 24/7. The other two camps had no electricity and are also more damp due to their locations higher up the mountains. Falling asleep each night was an issue, but the adrenaline from the lack of sleep actually helped going through the hike.
The most worrying part is the river crossing (of Rio Buritaca) as rains can make the crossing easy or a nightmare! It rained a lot on our first night, and the river crossing on the second day tough. On our third day, the river crossing was a breeze as it did not rain much on the second night. On the whole trek, we crossed Rio Buritaca four times at two places. Once those crossings were over, I was mostly relieved. The rest of the trek is tough, but it is very manageable. The tough part of the trek is the climb and descent, which seems to happen almost every day, a few times a day. For example, on the first day, we started at 150m above sea level then we climbed to 650m elevation, then we descended to 475m elevation to sleep. We had to do the reverse on last half of the last day 🙂 As we descended I always thought to myself: damn, we had to climb that on the last day!!! Second day was the longest and toughest and I was getting overwhelmed by the one-hour climb ahead. Luckily, a team member just told me to cut it out and took it one step at the time. At the end, that was how I got through.
Ciudad Perdida trek is often compared to the Incan Valley trek to Macchu Picchu. I did the latter 9 years ago, but due to landslides, the trek was cut short by a day. I cannot speak to this comparison personally. As a ruins, Macchu Picchu is more grand than Ciudad Perdida Of Teyuna. I remember feeling a lot of energy in Macchu Picchu, just as I felt in Ciudad Perdida.
In terms of history, not much is known of the Teyuna people (they are also referred to as Tayrona Indians). They do not have any written records left. The city was found due to tomb looters, which means a lot of the artifacts are now missing. What I found interesting, they did not seem to be as concerned with equinoxes and solstices like the other known ancient civilizations (Mayans and Incans for example). I am definitely looking forward to learn more about the Teyuna people. We passed many Kogui’s houses and people on our trek. They allow one shaman and his family to live within the Ciudad Perdida complex. The Shaman was not there when we came. However, we did manage to meet his beautiful grandchildren who were quite shy and but were quite happy to get some cookies.
The descendants of the Teyuna people are the Koguis, the Wiwas, the Arhuacos, and the Kankuamos. We came across mostly the Koguis and the Wiwas on our trek. On our trek we learnt about poporos, which is given when a boy turns 18. It is a pumpkin shell with crushed shells inside, which is then mixed with chewed coca leaves. Coca growing in Colombia is illegal, except for the Indians’ traditional purposes. We also learnt that the shaman got to try all the girl virgins before they get married, and the boys had to practice with the elderly women 🙂 The trek is definitely educational LOL.
I really am glad I did the trek. We had an amazing time touring the ruins, but what was most important is the journey there and back. Never has the phrase “life is about the journey and not the destination” rings true.
For those interested in the trek and are not used to roughing it and a bit of a clean freak, here are some tips:
1. Bring performance clothes (from undies to tops to pants) that can dry easily and can cool when it is hot. I am always prone to insect bites and had to wear long pants and long sleeve tops at all times (I was still bitten a bit). On the second day, I had on a cotton long sleeve top over my bikini. At the end I had to hike in my bikini top, as the wet cotton top did not let me breath. This trek is in the tropical jungle. You will sweat a lot! My gym leggings of lycra worked very well. They are cooling and dry easily (at the end I just crossed the river with my leggings on).
2. Bring sandals for the camp.
3. Bring water sport sandals or water sport shoes for major river crossings.
4. Cushioned hiking boots are much more comfortable then hard, structures hiking boots. Good grips help a lot. I did it in my Saucony running shoes. I was very happy with them. They had good grips and dry easily.
5. Always have one set of dry clothes for camp every night.
6. Invest in top repellents, sunscreens, anti-itch creams, and hats. And bring a full bottle. I had 3/4 of a large bottle of repellents and I ran out!
7. Because I decided to go at the last minute, and I did not have proper trekking gears including light backpacks, I hired a porter to carry most of my staffs. It added 25 percent to my trekking costs (COP60,000 a day), but I could enjoy and completed the trek. Know yourself!
8. Be ready to re-wear your wet, dirty clothes, as nothing will get dry at camp.
9. Bring silk sheets. There are always different people daily occupying the beds and hammocks at camp. And with the damp conditions and lack of electricity, I doubt they change the sheet and wash the blankets that often.
10. Bring hand soaps and wet naps.
11. Bring a dry bag or hooks for your stuffs at the shower. There is no hot water in camp, by the way.
12. Forget your cleanliness tendencies and just enjoy yourself. A little of dirt will not kill you!
13. When the struggle becomes too great, just remember that your mind is stronger than your body. One step at the time. I am really putting emphasis on this point because a conversation with someone upon signing up planted doubt over my ability to complete the trek. I have always been overweight, and this person asked me if I am used to walking with a doubtful expression on his face. That worried me a bit, but I decided to go for it anyways. Lesson of the story is believe in yourself. Forget the doubters.
Safety on the Trek
There are Colombian military posts in Ciudad Perdida and along the trek. We felt quite safe. The last incident involving tourists was on Sep 13, 2013 by ELN (National Liberation Army). The Guide was telling us the story on our last night. Somehow I rather not know the details….it all ended well though.