Colombia’s Lost City (“Ciudad Perdida” in Spanish) is an ancient Tayrona ruins site abandoned during the Spanish conquest. It’s older than Machu Picchu and only reachable via a four-day trek through the jungle. You must do this trek as part of a guided tour — you cannot trek independently. I went with Expotur Colombia. In this post I’ll share my experience hiking in Colombia with them.
Only a few tour companies operate this trek: Expotur, Turcol, Magic Tours, Wiwa Tours, and Guias y Baquianos. If you book through your hostel or another agency, they’re just a middle-man for these agencies. Price is not a factor in choosing your trek — the Ciudad Perdida trek price is fixed and non-negotiable at $950,000 Colombian pesos ($312 USD).
I’m writing this review so you know exactly what to expect when embarking on a Ciudad Perdida Colombia tour with Expotur — both the good and the bad. These opinions are 100% my own. I paid for my trip just like you would and do not have any sort of relationship with the agency.
Before the trek
The Lost City trek starts in Santa Marta, about five hours from Cartagena and a short flight from anywhere else in the country. It’s a fun place for young backpackers to party and has great food and hostels, but otherwise not a lot to do.
You used to be able to roll up to the Expotur Colombia office the day before you wanted to start trekking and book a tour. But now, if you’re traveling in high season, you may find the treks all booked out for days. I’d recommend booking in advance if you’re in Colombia in November-March or August.
Luckily, Expotur is used to dealing with a high volume of bookings and makes the process easy and painless.
Communication and booking from abroad: 10/10
I didn’t do much research before selecting Expotur Colombia for my trek. Knowing that only a few companies operate the trek, and they all charge the same government-mandated price, made the decision easier. Plus Expotur has a reputation for giving back to the local Indigenous communities.
I emailed Expotur asking about my dates. We exchanged a couple of back-and-forth messages to answer some questions I had: would there be an English translator? When did I need to arrive in Santa Marta? Etc. They always responded within a few hours, and they always answered my questions completely.
When I was ready to book, I had to send them my passport information and make a 10% deposit payment. They sent me a PayPal link. I didn’t have to pay any additional foreign currency fees — the process was easy and painless. They informed me I could complete the payment with cash or credit card when I arrived in Santa Marta.
Then, a couple days before my trek, the agency sent me a reminder email confirming my booking. They asked if I would be able to come to the office the night before to complete the payment, but I told them it would not be possible and they said that wasn’t a problem, I could just do it in the morning after they picked me up.
Overall, Expotur Colombia gave off the impression that they were super organized and responsive to customers.
Meeting in Santa Marta: 6/10
As positive as my booking-from-abroad experience with Expotur was, things were not as smooth on the morning of the trek.
First, someone from the Expotur Santa Marta office arrived at my hostel to pick me up (and drive me the whopping 3 blocks to the office) an hour before they were supposed to. It turned out they were picking up multiple groups from my hostel and didn’t know who was in which group, so they mistakenly told me I was running late. Luckily I was just about ready to go. But I wish I’d been given the option to just go to the office myself rather than go through the disorganized pickup process.
Since I was in one of the earlier groups to be picked up, I was also one of the first people to pay and register. That part was done in five minutes. Since I wouldn’t be returning to Santa Marta after the trek, the staff clearly marked my bag to meet me at the final lunch spot.
But things got a bit more chaotic as more groups showed up to pay for their treks. In total, Expotur processed over 50 trekkers that morning, with only two staff. It wasn’t stressful or anything — it was clear that the staff just wasn’t ready for us yet — but it did feel like a waste of time. It would have been far more efficient if we’d been picked up in the same order that we’d be leaving for the trek, so we could leave in shifts.
Finally, the staff divided us into our actual trekking groups and sent us to the trucks to start our Expotur Ciudad Perdida adventure. It was almost 10 am — two and a half hours after I arrived at the office.
On the trail with Expotur Colombia
Once you leave Santa Marta, your life is in the hands of the staff at Expotur Colombia. The jungle on the way to the Ciudad Perdida is extremely remote. The guides’ radios are the only point of contact with the outside world. So it’s absolutely critical that the staff does everything right — to ensure your safety and enjoyment.
The guide: 5/10
The primary guide for my Lost City tour was Jorge. He was reserved, but quite knowledgeable about the history and culture of the Sierra Nevada.
The highlight of my experience with Jorge was the Ciudad Perdida tour itself. He provided in-depth knowledge about the ancient Tayrona civilization. He was able to answer everyone’s questions thoroughly. And he went above and beyond to tell us some stories about the grave robbers who pillaged the city in the mid-20th century — information the other groups didn’t get.
Jorge also gave informative nightly briefings about the Indigenous communities and the campesinos in the area, the history of the cocaine trade in the region, and the government’s efforts to protect the trail. Compared to the other Expotur Colombia groups, he spent more time talking with us about these issues and was more attentive to our questions.
Unfortunately, when it came to being a trekking guide, Jorge fell short. For instance, at the beginning of the trek he told us to stay between him in the lead and an assistant guide at the back. But on the trail, Jorge hung back to chat with the assistant the whole time. This meant we didn’t always know where to stop for fruit breaks or what to do when the path split.
But my biggest frustration with Jorge came on the morning of the Lost City tour. We finished breakfast early — around 5 am. Jorge asked us to meet at the exit to the camp in five minutes to leave. I ran to the restroom, thinking I had enough time. I was gone for maybe three minutes. But when I came back, Jorge and the group had already left — without even bothering to check if everyone was there.
I spent the next fifteen minutes looking for other Expotur Colombia guides who could radio Jorge before we figured out he’d already left. I ended up leaving the camp with another group and catching up with Jorge when we reached the Lost City. He didn’t even acknowledge that he’d left me behind. It struck me as very unprofessional.
If you prefer to be very independent on a trekking tour, you might enjoy trekking with Jorge. But if you want a high-energy guide who looks out for you at all times, Jorge is not a great fit.
The translator: 10/10
In addition to Jorge as our guide, our Expotur Colombia team included a translator — Jorge didn’t speak English. Santi (short for Santiago) was a great companion on the trail and picked up some of Jorge’s slack when it came to looking after the trekkers.
Santi lived in the United States for awhile, so his English was excellent. Instead of just memorizing the scripts the guides used, he really listened to exactly what Jorge was saying, so he could translate the nuances. Other translators I heard on the trek sounded more like they were just repeating things back like robots.
What’s more, Santi seemed very interested in the history and culture of the Tayrona. He had done a lot of reading about this civilization and was able to fill in details when Jorge didn’t know the answer to a question. It was also nice just to have a translator who genuinely cared about giving the best Ciudad Perdida tour instead of just going through the motions.
Santi also provided excellent customer service along the Lost City trek. When it started to rain on our second day, he was the one who made sure everyone had protection for our backpacks. When someone in my group got sick, he found some medicine for them. He always remembered who was vegetarian and was always the first one to ask if anyone needed anything.
Overall I would highly recommend Santi as a translator with Expotur Colombia.
The camps: 7/10
During the trek to Colombia’s Lost City, you sleep in open-air jungle lodges with bunk beds and hammocks. They’re surprisingly comfortable and charming.
Expotur Colombia uses two of its own camps (where you won’t run into people from other agencies) on the first and third nights. Both are clean (well, as clean as you can get in the jungle) and comfortable. They have enough beds for everyone — no one has to sleep in a hammock. They have cold-water showers, sanitary bathrooms, and even mirrors. Additionally and importantly, they have plenty of places to hang up wet clothes.
On the second night of the Ciudad Perdida Colombia tour, everyone from all the different agencies stays at the same camp — Paraiso. This is the least pleasant of the camps, as it’s extremely crowded. You have to eat dinner and breakfast in shifts, since the camp doesn’t have enough seating for everyone. Some people have to sleep in hammocks, because it doesn’t have enough beds for everyone. The lines for toilets and showers are long, and cleanliness takes a plunge for the worse.
Unfortunately, Paraiso is the only option for the second night, since it provides easy access to the Lost City in the morning. And I don’t blame the agency for it being less than perfect. It’s just something to be aware of before you book an Expotur Ciudad Perdida trip.
The food: 8/10
One of the best parts of a Lost City tour is indulging in the amazing food Expotur Colombia provides. (And hey, you’re trekking for six hours a day, so you can eat anything you want…right?)
Your group’s private chef freshly prepares three meals a day for you and your fellow trekkers. You get a decent amount of variety — pasta dishes, chicken, fish, beef, pork, rice, potatoes, soup, eggs, arepas, and more. No sad bologna sandwiches handed to you half-smushed on the side of the trail here! (We’ve all been on those tours…)
Expotur Colombia can accommodate vegetarians and other dietary preferences with no problem. In fact, the veggie dishes looked better than the meat dishes at least half the time.
In addition to meals, you’ll also stop along the trail for fruit breaks — watermelon, pineapple and oranges. (Who knows how they get so many watermelons to these remote places?) You’ll have snacks like popcorn and cheese puffs. You’ll have dessert and fresh-squeezed fruit juice with each meal. And you’ll have the option of coffee or hot chocolate each morning (and sometimes tea), and more coffee in the afternoons.
Expotur also provides drinking water for trekkers, so you don’t need to buy bottled water along the way. It’s treated with iodine and completely safe, and it doesn’t even taste that weird.
The activities: 9/10
The two main activities you’ll do while doing the Expotur Lost City Trek are hiking and visiting the ruins. Both are amazing (and exhausting).
The hiking on the Lost City trek is surprisingly difficult. It’s near-constant up and down, sometimes in the rain, always in extreme heat and humidity. But the Expotur staff understand that some people hike faster than others, and they never rush you to keep up with the 21-year-old backpackers at the front of the group.
The visit to the Lost City itself is on the morning of the third day. The tour takes about three hours and covers all the different sections of the city, along with a couple of great viewpoints.
The whole way, the scenery is spectacular. While other jungle treks I’ve done mostly traverse dense forests, the trekking in Colombia is through the mountains — they just happen to be covered by virgin rainforest.
You will also get the opportunity to interact with the Indigenous Kogi communities who call this part of Colombia home. You’ll visit one of their villages on the second day, and on the third night, Expotur Colombia arranges for a spiritual leader to speak with your trekking group and answer questions about their lifestyle.
Another popular activity during the Lost City trek is swimming. The second and third camps both sit on the banks of rivers with natural swimming holes, and you can go for a dip at lunch on your second day, too. It’s the ideal way to cool off.
The one reason I didn’t give Expotur Colombia a perfect rating in this category is sometimes you arrive at camp really early in the afternoon (like 2 pm), and have nothing to do for the rest of the day. I highly recommend bringing some playing cards or a book to help pass the time.
Dealing with the unexpected: 10/10
One of the most important aspects of a tour company for me is how they deal with unexpected situations and emergencies. These events tend to expose the truth about how skilled the guide is, or whether the agency cares about its customers or is just out to make money.
The good news is, no emergencies came up while I was on the Lost City Trek with Expotur. Everything went smoothly — we barely even got any rain. To me, that’s an indication that the agency does a good job anticipating all problems and taking steps to make sure nothing goes wrong.
The one example I saw of how Expotur Colombia does this well is they have mules on hand to help sick or injured trekkers get out of the jungle. In an area this remote, with no road access and nowhere for a helicopter to land, you have few options if you can’t walk. Expotur arranged a mule for one guy in another group who had a severely infected mosquito bite, leaving his ankle so swollen he couldn’t put his boots on and a high fever. They organized it fast enough that it didn’t disrupt any of the other trekkers’ schedules at all.
Overall experience with Expotur Colombia: 7/10
Overall, my experience with Expotur Colombia was positive. While I was disappointed in my guide and the agency’s handling of departing for the trek, I was impressed with how smooth every other aspect of their operation runs. And I appreciate their support and sensitivity to the needs of the local Indigenous people. So I’d still recommend them over the other agencies offering this trek.
I should also say that my group trekked on the same schedule as two others from Expotur. Their guides were much more energetic and attentive. So I would recommend asking the agency for the name of your guide in advance. If you’re placed in Jorge’s group you may be able to request a change to a different group. Alternatively, if you don’t mind a guide who takes a very hands-off attitude, you might enjoy trekking with Jorge.
Whichever agency you choose, I highly recommend the trek to the Lost City in Colombia. It’s a jungle experience like no other — with a bit of culture too. You’ll surely enjoy the adventure no matter who you go with!
What do you look for in a jungle trekking tour company? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Bonus tip: Expotur also offers a highly rated option to tour Puntas Gallinas — a great addition to your trek if you have time.