Ultimate Guide to Ciudad Perdida – Colombia’s Lost City
Colombia’s famous Ciudad Perdida – or, the Lost City – is one of the country’s most fascinating destinations. The so-called Ciudad Perdida trek, a multi-day hike through dense jungle along the Buritaca River to reach the Lost City, is not for the faint of heart, but has quickly become one of South America’s most famous hikes.
This is our ultimate guide to the Ciudad Perdida hike, where we share everything you need to know to plan a trip to this unforgettable destination. We’re sharing how to get to Ciudad Perdida, which Ciudad Perdida tours are worth your time, and what to expect on the Ciudad Perdida trek.
Don’t forget to check out our Ciudad Perdida map to get a sense of where this trek will take you.
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Ciudad Perdida Colombia
Located in the dense jungle of the Sierra Nevada mountain range a few hours outside of Colombia’s coastal city of Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida is better known as Colombia’s “Lost City.” Hidden in the jungle and known only to the local indigenous communities for centuries, this lost city is over 650 years older than Machu Picchu.
Built by the Tairona people around 800 A.D. and occupied until the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the 1500s, about one-third of the site is currently open for visiting and exploring – about 32,000 square feet (3,000 square kilometers). Ciudad Perdida is also known by its original name – Teyuna.
Some ongoing archeological studies and excavations continue at the site today, under the leadership and with the express permission of the local indigenous communities, descendants of the Tairona peoples.
While visitors have access to today feels massive, it’s estimated that as much as 100,00 square feet (9,000 square meters) of structures are still to be uncovered, hidden among the jungle.
Today Ciudad Perdida is one of the most famous and well-known treks in South America, and one of the most visited destinations in Colombia. Despite being such a popular and well-known attraction, the site is only accessible by multi-day trek through the thick jungle that surrounds it.
While last-minute tickets are sometimes available, you should book your trek months in advance if possible, especially if planning to hike during the high season. Tickets to visit this adventure-travel bucket list destination are limited.
The challenge of getting here means you’ll be rewarded with having the site mostly to yourself – less than 250 hikers make it here every day.
Ciudad Perdida History
It’s important to recognize that the “Lost City” was never truly “lost” to the indigenous communities who live here – they’ve always known of this important site their ancestors built. Outsiders first became aware of this historic treasure in the 1970s, when looters in the area stumbled upon the site while trekking through the mountains, and began taking important artifacts.
The Colombian government clamped down on looting shortly after when it realized the extent of this ancient site. Currently, Ciudad Perdida is part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Indigenous communities descended from the Tairona peoples – Arhuaco, Kogui, and Wiwa – care for the site.
The first guided tours to the site started as early as the late 1970s, but didn’t start to grow much in popularity for several decades. In 2003, eight visitors to Ciudad Perdida were kidnapped and held hostage by the ELN guerilla group and held for over 100 days, though unharmed.
There have been no such security concerns since, and now the site is protected and guarded by the Colombian military.
All visits to Ciudad Perdida must be conducted by licensed tour companies approved by the local indigenous peoples, in utmost respect to the cultural patrimony the site represents. We recommend Expotur and Baquianos Travel excursions, some of the oldest and most well-respected companies operating in the area.
What to Pack for Ciudad Perdida
Check out our Ultimate Ciudad Perdida Packing List for this tried and tested packing list for the Ciudad Perdida trek.
How To Get to Ciudad Perdida
Located deep within the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia along the Caribbean coast, getting to Ciudad Perdida is only possible via the 3-5 day Ciudad Perdida trek. The most common itinerary of this in-and-out trek takes 4 days.
The journey to get to Ciudad Perdida starts in Santa Marta, the largest city nearby. Located in the far north of the country, this is a beautiful area with a lot to see – if your itinerary allows for it, stick around to visit the Parque Nacional Tayrona, with some of the best beaches in the country, and the many other beautiful natural areas nearby.
From Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida treks include transportation to the small outpost town of Machete Pelao, about two and a half hours east. Also known as Mamey, this small town is the start (and end) of the trek.
From there, you’ll trek about 28 miles (44 km) out and back over the course of the next four days to reach the famous Lost City of Colombia.
For a detailed guide to the specific day-by-day breakdown of how to get to Ciudad Perdida, jump ahead in this article to our section on the Ciudad Perdida hike. Here you’ll find a day-by-day outline of what to expect.
Ciudad Perdida Trek
How Long is the Hike to Ciudad Perdida?
The Ciudad Perdida trek takes a minimum of 3 days, though the most common trek duration is four days. You can even find treks lasting up to 7 days, though these usually include spending a period of time with local indigenous peoples in their villages rather than exclusively trekking.
I highly recommend selecting a 4-day or 5-day Ciudad Perdida hike. The last day of the 3-day hike involves a very long trek to make it back to Machete Pelao and transfer back to Santa Marta, and at the end of this trek I think this would be exhausting. Check out these tour options we recommend for four-day and five-day treks.
4-Day Lost City Trek – Expotur
This Expotur Santa Marta trek is led by one of the most respected Ciudad Perdida hike operators and is one of the most booked tours you’ll find.
4-Day or 5-Day Lost City Trek – Baquianos Travel
Run by Baquianos Travel, one of the oldest and most well-respected ecotourism travel companies in Santa Marta, this trek has options for 4-day or 5-day routes.
How Difficult is Ciudad Perdida?
The multiday hike to reach Ciudad Perdida is not for the faint of heart and is not to be underestimated. To reach the abandoned city you’ll need to navigate river crossings, muddy terrain, constant ups and downs along narrow paths, mosquitos, and more.
The trek is considered a challenging one, of moderate to high difficulty. You won’t need any special gear like ropes to complete the trek. Generally, a level of moderate physical fitness means you’ll do just fine on the Ciudad Perdida hike. No need for special training or conditioning.
Conditions on the Ciudad Perdida trek vary significantly based on the time of year you embark on the hike. This area of the country has two seasons – wet season and dry season, and both have their advantages and disadvantages for the trek.
(roughly April through November)
Wet season means you can expect daily rainstorms in the afternoon. Guides know how to handle this, and you’ll likely get earlier starts to avoid trudging through the rain.
Wet season makes river crossings a bit more challenging, and you’ll likely need to wade even up to your waist at some points. Again, guides will support you through this!
(roughly December through March)
Dry season means you’ll avoid the afternoon rains and have an easier time crossing the Buritaca River as you navigate along it. However, this is also high season at the hike, so expect fuller camps and trails.
To read more about the day-to-day details of the Ciudad Perdida trek, jump ahead to our section on the Ciudad Perdida hike. We outline all the details and what to expect from the Lost City trek every step of the way.
Ciudad Perdida Map
Check out this interactive Ciudad Perdida map we’ve created to help you visualize the Ciudad Perdida trek route. It is rather imperfect – the route is through the dense jungle after all – but this should give you a better idea about the length and location of the Ciudad Perdida hike.
I’ve dropped pins in the locations of the camps along the way, as well as the starting point of Santa Marta, and the Santa Marta tour offices of the companies that offer the Ciudad Perdida tours we recommend: Expotur and Baquianos Travel.
However, don’t wait to book your tour until you’re in Santa Marta – this is one of the most popular experiences in Colombia, and tours do sell out.
Ciudad Perdida Hike
By far the most common and popular Ciudad Perdida hike itinerary is the four-day trek. I think this is generally the best trek for most participants. If you’re particularly short on time and have no doubt that you’re fit enough to do very well on this hike, you can consider the three-day trek.
Alternatively, if you’re a bit more hesitant about keeping up the pace of the trek, consider the five-day option. Five-day treks generally also include more time to meet and interact with the protectors and keepers of the Lost City – the area’s indigenous communities.
Here’s a quick outline of the Ciudad Perdida hike in four days:
- Day One: Transfer from Santa Marta to Machete Pelao and 4 hours of hiking to Camp Adán
- Day Two: Full day of hiking! 20 km hike to Camp El Paraíso Teyuna
- Day Three: Arrival at Ciudad Perdida, climb the terraced hills to get an incredible view over this ancient city! Enjoy Several hours enjoying this archeological jewel perched on the mountainside, then hike back to Camp Mumake – about 10 km of hiking in total for the day.
- Day Four: About 20 km of hiking from Camp Mumake back to Machete Pelao. Transfer back to Santa Marta.
While the entire Ciudad Perdida hike is special and the views throughout the jungle and through the mountains are splendid, there is nothing like the moment you arrive to the Lost City. Ancient steps, worn and steep, carry you high up the terraces to that classic Lost City viewpoint of the main terraces.
While the main terraces are impressive, even more fascinating is exploring the entirety of the site, walking the terraces, and feeling the history here.
The site is truly massive, which you might not realize from seeing photos online, so the several hours you’ll spend here are exciting. They’re well-earned after your trek here.
If you’ve ever been to Machu Picchu, you’ll notice instantly how seeing so few visitors changes your experience with a place! The experience of visiting Ciudad Perdida, while a similar destination, is so different after all the effort it takes to get here, and with significantly fewer visitors to share the site with!
You’ll also likely get the chance to meet with the indigenous caretakers of the site, another highlight of Day Three and of the trek as a whole. It’s a special moment to see this historic destination with them and have them introduce you to their patrimony.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to meet with an indigenous leader back at camp!
Ciudad Perdida Tours
There are countless tour providers in Santa Marta – and throughout Colombia – that sell tours to Ciudad Perdida. While many are fine, you don’t just want an okay trek – you want a great one.
These are our top recommended tours for the Ciudad Perdida trek – both are with very reputable companies that have a long history leading these tours, and trained, experienced guides.
4-Day Lost City Trek – Expotur
This Expotur Santa Marta trek is led by one of the most respected Ciudad Perdida hike operators and is one of the most booked tours you’ll find. This is the typical 4-day trek, with attention to detail in every area to make the experience special and memorable for participants.
4-Day or 5-Day Lost City Trek – Baquianos Travel
This trek, with options for 4-day or 5-day routes – is run by Baquianos Travel, one of the oldest and most well-respected ecotourism travel companies in Santa Marta.
They’ve been in the business since 1977 and led some of the first tours to the Lost City, so you know they’re doing something right! Top-notch guides make their trips exceptional.
Many travelers like to wait until they get to Colombia, or even until they get to Santa Marta, to book their trek. However, I recommend against waiting – book in advance if possible! You won’t save any money by waiting to book, and you could even lose the opportunity to start your trip when you want if you’re traveling in the high season.
Regardless of the tour you choose to go with, make sure that your guides are reputable and experienced, as this can make all the difference for your trip. Look for reviews online, or speak with the tour company in advance of booking.
Ciudad Perdida Trek Price
The price for the Ciudad Perdida treks currently hovers between $425-500 USD per person for the 4-day trek. Some tour providers offer the 5-day trek for the same price as the 4-day trek, though most are a bit more expensive to cover the costs of the trip.
You’ll find some tour providers also offer the trek as a private tour rather than a group tour. The cost of these treks can vary anywhere from $850 USD to nearly $1000 USD.