The Ciudad Perdida trek is a four-day slog through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The goal is to reach Colombia’s Lost City — an ancient Tayrona ruins site abandoned hundreds of years ago during the Spanish conquest and only reachable on foot. It’s one of the best adventures you can have while backpacking Colombia.
As amazing as this hike is, it’s not easy. And if you choose the wrong time of year or forget to bring bug repellent, it could be truly miserable. So to help you prepare for trekking to Ciudad Perdida and to make sure you have a good time, I put together this Lost City guide, including everything you need to know before you go.
(Want to know what the Ciudad Perdida tour is like? Read my day-by-day guide here!)
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running.
Where to start and finish the Ciudad Perdida hike
You depart for your Lost City trek from the city of Santa Marta, about five hours from Cartagena. Tour agencies will pick you up at any hostel or hotel in town. (I recommend Masaya Hostel.) Then you’ll take a two-hour jeep ride along the coast and then up into the mountains. The trek starts from the town of El Mamey before leaving civilization for four days.
You return to Santa Marta at the end of your Ciudad Perdida tour — or you can request to be dropped off anywhere along the coast (like the magical Costeño Beach or PNN Tayrona). Your tour company will bring your luggage when they pick you up, so you don’t have to carry your big backpack the whole time. From the beaches, it’s an easy local bus trip (one hour) back to Santa Marta to continue your backpacking Colombia adventure.
When to trek to Ciudad Perdida and weather on the trail
Possibly the most difficult part of the Ciudad Perdida hike is dealing with the weather. Regardless of what time of year you go, expect to encounter extreme heat and humidity. You also stand a chance of facing pouring rain.
The best season for trekking is November through February. Temperatures will be (relatively) cool and you have the best chance of avoiding rain. If you have a high tolerance for heat, August is also not a bad option — I trekked in mid-August and stayed mostly dry.
Flash thunderstorms and torrential downpours are a risk at any time of year. But outside of the months listed above, they’re almost guaranteed. Your best bet for avoiding rain is to get as early a start as possible in the mornings, so the storms don’t roll in until after you reach your camp.
The rain presents a couple of problems. First, everything you own will get soaked. (Keep your electronics in multiple layers of waterproof bags!) Second, since it’s so humid, nothing will dry overnight. Third, the river levels can be quite high during rainy periods, making the three river crossings more difficult. And finally, the rain turns the entire trail into a mud-bath. Get ready to slip and slide down the hills and plan to do laundry as soon as you get back to civilization!
The only plus to going in low season is the trail will be less crowded. In August, I was in a group of 15 and trekked alongside four other comparably-sized groups on the same schedule. At times we were well-spaced-out, but at other times the trail felt uncomfortably crowded.
Before you go: Arranging your Ciudad Perdida trek
The Ciudad Perdida trek runs through the Kogi community, who carefully protect the fragile environment they so value and depend on. As a result, the government carefully controls all traffic on this trail. You must do the trek with a guide from a licensed agency — you cannot go on your own.
Only four tour companies operate the trek to Ciudad Perdida: Expotur, Turcol, Magic Tours, and Guias y Baquianos. If you book with anyone else, they are just going to add you to one of those four agencies’ tours. I went with Expotur and had a mostly positive experience.
Regardless of who you go with, the Ciudad Perdida trek price is $950,000 Colombian pesos ($312 USD). That price is fixed and non-negotiable. If you pay any less, you will be cutting into either the salary of your Lost City guide, their insurance, or the fee paid to the indigenous communities. The price is the same regardless of how many days you spend on the trail. The Lost City trek price includes food, guides, accommodation, admission to the site, and a contribution to the local communities.
If you travel during low season or have some flexibility in your schedule, you can show up the day before you want to go and book a Ciudad Perdida hike. If you’re backpacking Colombia in high season, you should book your Lost City tour in advance. Usually the companies require a 10% deposit, payable via PayPal.
How fit do you need to be? And should you choose 4, 5 or 6 days?
If you’re a serious trekker, it’s easy to underestimate the Ciudad Perdida trek. If you look at the distances covered each day and consider that it’s just a few days, you may think, ‘that’s it?’ I did the trek coming off a two-week trip to Nepal and thought it would be a walk in the park in comparison.
What the maps won’t tell you is hiking in Colombia is a different ballgame. The trek is near-constant straight up or straight down. Almost none of it is flat. Each day involves climbing multiple hills for at least an hour — often more.
Add onto that the ridiculous jungle heat. While the Ciudad Perdida itself is at nearly 1,500 meters and reasonably cool, most of the trek is at lower elevations. Expect to sweat like you’ve never sweat before, especially on the first and fourth days, which involve long stretches with no shade.
That being said, anyone in reasonable shape could manage this trek. Our group even included a couple of newbie hikers who had never done a multi-day trek before. It’ll be tough, but it’s not impossible. I highly recommend training a bit in advance (check out my hiking training plan for ideas).
Most hikers complete the Ciudad Perdida trek in four days. But you also have the option to extend to five or six days. I don’t recommend this unless you’re seriously out of shape. For one, after four days, you will be so ready to get out of the jungle and be clean again. Additionally, the only real difference is in how the last day is broken up. If you do the four-day trek, you have to hike 17 km before lunch. If you extend the trek, you split up that very long morning — but you arrive at your final campsite at 9 am, leaving you with an entire day to do nothing.
Where do you sleep?
The good thing about the Ciudad Perdida trek is while you are surrounded by nature and far from any roads, you don’t have to sacrifice too many creature comforts. During your Lost City tour you’ll sleep in jungle lodges with decent facilities.
Each lodge along the trail has a large room of bunk beds. The beds are reasonably comfortable, with decent mattresses and mosquito nets. The sheets are clean-ish — the lodge operators wash them after each guest, but generally in cold water. You’ll also get a blanket and a pillow, although bringing an inflatable pillow is a good idea if you’re bothered by damp-smelling things.
On the second night, everyone stays at the very-crowded Paraiso Camp. The lodge doesn’t have enough beds for everyone in high season, so you may have to sleep in a hammock — it’s actually pretty comfortable!
All the camps also have good cold-water showers and reasonably clean Western-style flush toilets (bring your own toilet paper). Hygiene standards are about as good as they could be considering the number of people at each camp and the remoteness of the location. Bring hand sanitizer and you’ll be fine.
What do you eat? What about water?
The food along the Ciudad Perdida trek is shockingly good — I honestly don’t know how the tour companies do it. You’ll get three delicious meals a day, along with snacks and drinks.
Breakfast is generally coffee, eggs and toast or arepas (a traditional Colombian corn-based “bread”). Lunch is usually a main dish with rice and veggies, with cookies for dessert and fresh fruit juice. Dinner is a main dish with rice, potatoes, lentils, veggies, or other side dishes and a chocolate bar. You’ll also stop for fruit at least once each day, and you’ll have snacks like popcorn in the afternoons. In short, you don’t need to carry any of your own food for this trek.
Vegetarians are well-catered for on a Ciudad Perdida tour. In fact, the veggie dishes looked even better than the meat/fish dishes. Expect lots of lentils and beans, as well as omelettes and pasta dishes.
You can purchase snacks like energy bars, Pringles, and nuts along the way — they get more expensive as you get further away from El Mamey. The camps and rest stops along the way sell oottled water, beer, Coke, and even rum as well.
One of the best parts of the Ciudad Perdida trek is you never have to purchase bottled water. Each camp has iodine-treated water stops where you can refill a reusable bottle or Camelbak — bring something that can hold at least a liter, as you may not have a place to fill up between camps. The provided water is 100% safe to drink.
What should you bring?
Check out my full Ciudad Perdida trek packing list for more, but for now, suffice it to say that you will have to carry everything you bring — so bring as little as possible. Ideally everything you bring should fit into a day-pack like this one.
The essentials include your trekking clothes, a clean pair of clothes to sleep in, a camping towel, a swimsuit, plastic bags to protect your electronics, and — perhaps most importantly — mosquito repellent. Don’t skimp on that last one. The bugs when you’re hiking in Colombia are insane, especially at the Ciudad Perdida site.
To keep your clothes dry, line the inside of your backpack with a garbage bag. That way, no matter how drenched the outside of your pack gets, the contents will stay dry.
Finally, one important thing to bring that most of the trekking agencies don’t mention — $15-$20 in cash. Even if you never drink beer or soda at home, chances are you’ll crave it on the trail. Or maybe you’ll want to buy a bracelet or other craft product from the Indigenous communities. Better to have a bit of spending money and not use it than to be the one stuck staring enviously at your trekking buddies as they pass around a bottle of rum that you didn’t have any money to throw in for.
Is the Ciudad Perdida trek worth it?
It’s a tough hike through mud, rain, and bug-infested jungle in 90+-degree heat and high humidity. You’ll come away from it exhausted and dirtier than you’ve probably ever been before, with sore muscles and aching knees. Does that not sound like your ideal vacation?
But for all the discomfort you may have to endure on the trail, the Ciudad Perdida trek will leave you with an amazing sense of accomplishment — plus the unique opportunity to discover an ancient ruins site that hasn’t been totally trampled by mass tourism.
After completing this trek, I can resoundingly say that it’s worth doing for even casual hikers. So don’t miss out if you want to go hiking in Colombia — book your Ciudad Perdida trek now!
Am I missing anything you want to know from this Lost City guide? Leave a comment and let me know!
Like this post? Pin it!
I did this trek 12 years ago on my year long solo travel around South America. It was my favourite trek of all SA,sounds like it’s still fantastic although alot busier than it was back when I did it! I’d highly recommend this to anyone! Great post!
Nice, I was wondering how it stacks up to other treks, esp. in Peru. (I haven’t made it there yet.) It’s definitely getting busier — the guides were saying they may have to start restricting access like on the Inca trail.
Thanks for the detailed and step by step itinerary. I may go there soon and your tips will surely come in handy. Lovely pics BTW!
Thanks Sreekar! I hope you get a chance to do the trek.
We had the good fortune of doing the Ciudad Perdida trek in 2014, and I can say that it still remains one of the most epic trekking experiences we’ve had to date! I was surprised too how good the food was and the accommodation conditions were. My only regret was not building in time on the back end of the hike to relax at Tayrona National Natural Park. Just a reason to return to do it all over again, thanks for the added inspiration.
I never tried active traveling. Like trekking, hiking, an the like. I want to, but it seems that there’s a lot to know and do to prepare. This guide is great and I think it’s important to really know yourself before you choose your journey. I was wondering, is it any good for a beginner or a first time trekker?
You could do it, but it would be really tough. I’d recommend hiking a bit at home to prepare (even if you don’t have steep hills, get used to walking 6 hours a day at a fast pace). You don’t have to do anything multi-day in advance, but if you’ve never really hiked at all before, you’ll be pretty sore :). That being said, there were some first-time trekkers in my group — they found it tough but they made it!
Hearing how the hike takes four days definitely made me think twice about wanting to try this myself, but the scenery is so insanely beautiful! Props to you for completing it – and for doing that during August too. I don’t think I would’ve been able to survive the heat and humidity.
Colombia is my favourite country in South America, I loved it! This hike was definitely one of the many highlights, but by the end I was exhausted! I actually decided on the 5 day tour as I wanted an extra day to relax and swim in the pool by the camp – I figured as it was included in the price I may as well!
The Ciudad Perdid looks amazing, seems to be the perfect place to experience the natural beauty of Colombia. I am surprised that there are so many cool lodges around, I really like to enjoy a comfy bed in the end of the day!
Amid the wonderful experience that you have described, you have shared some very useful advise. Definitely need to keep the weather in mind before picking the duration of the hike. It can get strenuous even if you are an avid trekker. Good advise on where to start and what to expect.
I’m gutted that I didn’t make it to Colombia on my recent South America trip. This hike sounds great! Although I was spoiled by the likes of the Inca Trail where you don’t need to carry all of your belongings 😉
Yeahhhh that sounds great. The backpack definitely feels like it’s weighting you down after awhile.
[…] you only have one week in Colombia. With a week in the Caribbean, you could see Cartagena, do the Lost City Trek, and spend a few days lounging on a beach in or near Tayrona National Park. Or fly into Medellin […]
[…] days, but with only 1 week in Colombia, you’ll need to do the four-day version. It’s a tough hike through very hot and humid conditions. But it’s well worth the pain. There’s nothing […]
[…] experience. And for all the hassle of the journey, it’s well worth it. When you’re trekking through the jungle on the way to the Lost City or relaxing on one of Colombia’s most beautiful beaches, […]
[…] Ciudad Perdida Trek is easily Colombia’s most epic adventure. You start from Santa Marta and drive for about two […]
[…] beaches and hiking destinations are equally safe. The Lost City Trek once cut through cocaine plantations, but the drug activity has mostly moved on, and it poses no […]
Great review! Thank you so much!
To tell the truth, I think that Ciudad Perdida is a truly incredible and special place which has many unique distinctive features, attracting people with its special charm. Of course, this city has a rich and multifaceted history, making you feel that you are in another world. From my point of view, doing the trek in 4 days is the most optimal and comfortable option because you smartly manage the time in this way and can observe everything you need. I really like how you sort out your tasks because it is such an interesting and original idea. Of course,… Read more »
Totally agree, especially the psychological preparation when it’s so hot!