I had planned just one post about our four day trek to the Ciudad Perdida (“Lost City”) in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada but ended up writing a 5,000 word essay so decided it should probably be split into two! This first post will be a summary of the things you need to know before you set out on the trek, the next post will be a fully detailed recap of what it was like for us.
I chose to come to Colombia because I read about this four day hike to the “Lost City”, described as being Colombia’s answer to Machu Picchu but with less tourists. I showed a photo to mum and she said “ooo can I come too?” And thus the idea for our trip was born – everything else was to fit around this four day hike in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada.
As I researched the trip more, I realised that in no way was the Lost City itself going to be anything like Machu Picchu – in fact, I felt slightly underwhelmed by the pictures I had seen of the ruins. I also realised that it was by no means going to be empty of tourists – five years ago, perhaps, but not now. But then, I also haven’t been to Machu Picchu so can’t compare the two! I stumbled upon this travel blog which I felt gave a good summary of the two, coming down on the side of the trek to the Ciudad Perdida, for the trek and the overall experience.
First things first – it is not an easy hike. We had over 2000m (over 6500 feet) of total elevation gain – that’s like climbing from sea level to up above a ski resort. We clambered up rocks and over branches, waded through rivers, climbed on our hands and knees (maybe just me) and walked up over a thousand narrow, steep, ancient stone steps into the Ciudad Perdida. You can do it with a basic level of fitness, or even very little fitness – but you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much. Everyone struggles to get up the steepest, longest hills, but the fitter people recovered sooner and felt absolutely fine the next day, whereas the less fit people got progressively more and more tired, even on the easy days.
We walked a total of 46.6km or almost 29 miles, as I said, a total elevation gain of 2000m, and we spent three nights in the jungle. The hardest thing for me was not being properly clean and feeling I didn’t have any clean space to put my things – by the end, I wanted a shower and to be indoors! The best thing was the moments when it was just mum and I walking in the middle of the jungle, no other human in sight, or one morning as we left camp in our group and made our way uphill as the sun slowly rose.
You can do the hike in 4, 5 or 6 days. However, the hike is pretty much the same whether you choose to do four days or five, just the last day is much shorter if you are doing the 5 day hike. You still do the most difficult day just the same as on the four day hike. There were a few people who had planned to do the five day hike on our trip, but most of them ended up changing to the four days once they realised just how similar it was going to be.
The tour companies
There are now several tour operators that run the trek to Ciudad Perdida. We chose to go with Magic Tours as I had read they were more likely to have a slightly smaller group size than one of the other main companies, Ecotour. We ended up with a group size much bigger than I had expected but actually, that turned out not to be a problem at all. Everyone walks at their own pace so there were still lots of moments where mum and I ended up by ourselves, and the larger tour size meant there were always different people to talk to, but that it was completely okay to find a quiet corner to sit and read if you didnt want to chat in the evening! We also started on the same day as a group going with Turcol (a different company) – this group had only three people in it, a guy travelling by himself and a couple – not particularly nice for the guy by himself! In the end they all joined up with us so being in a super-small group is no guarantee that (1) it will stay that way, and (2) that you will want it to! We also had a translator join our tour – this doesn’t happen every time as Magic Tours use only local guides and many of them don’t speak any English. But Sergey was a lovely guy from Bogota who provided translating services to Magic Tours on a part-time basis whenever he was in the area. It was great having him along, although there were lots of people in the group who spoke good Spanish and so could have done some translating.
I have nothing but positive things to say about Nicolas, our guide, and would strongly recommend Magic Tours. Obviously, I have no knowledge of what it would be like to go with any other tour companies, but Magic were great and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and experienced. He seemed to be friends with a lot of the indigenous families that we met along the way and as a result we had some great experiences, such as meeting shamans and chatting to indigenous families. Indeed, one woman from another tour group came over to us at one point and said she was going to listen in to Nicolas’ talk as her guide didn’t give them anywhere near the same amount of information.
I was SO pleasantly surprised by the food. I really wasn’t expecting very much in terms of quality and we took lots of our own snacks along. I figured we were going to be alright when we had our first lunch in Mamey. We were served a huge plate of beef, fried banana, rice and lentils. The lentils were delicious but I thought the beef was probably going to be quite tough and tasteless … nope, it was delicious! Then for dinner that night we had a similar dish, but with a whole fish instead of the beef. The fish was also fantastic. Our second lunch was a huge bowl of vegetable soup served with rice which I stirred into the soup and then had a second bowl of. I have literally no memory of our second dinner, just that it was dark, I was hungry, it tasted good, and then I went straight to sleep afterwards! Lunch the next day was a lovely black beans and beef stew, followed by tuna pasta for dinner. Breakfasts were eggs, toast, and one morning wonderful cheese toasties.
Life would be more difficult if you were a vegetarian – for example, on the night we ate fish, the vegetarians had the same meal as us but with a square of cheese rather than our whole fish which did seem slightly unfair! So just be prepared if you are a vegetarian.
Snacks were great as well, with lots of fresh fruit such as watermelon and oranges, popcorn, Colombian snacks and chocolate biscuits. I ate some of my own snacks and never felt hungry!
The sleeping arrangements
We knew we would have to sleep in beds or hammocks. All the camps had long rows of bunkbeds under a corrugated iron roof, and areas where hammocks could be strung up. Thick blankets were provided. The beds were not comfortable due to rubbish mattresses but they were large enough and seemed pretty clean. I had to sleep in a hammock one night and it was actually nowhere near as uncomfortable as I had thought it was going to be!
What you need to bring – the definitive(!) list
- “technical” clothes – if you are a runner you will know what I mean! If you’re not a hiker, I would recommend lightweight gym kit for wearing during the day. It will be very hot and you will sweat. Clothes that are designed for that will dry faster and be more comfortable. Therefore:
- 1 pair of shorts
- 2 technical t-shirts (I would wash the one I was wearing at the end of the day, but it wouldn’t dry overnight due to the humidity, so I needed a clean, dry one for the start of the next day)
- hiking shoes and socks (some people in our group didn’t have hiking shoes so it’s not a must have but it would be much more comfortable with hiking shoes!)
- warm clothes for the evening and to sleep in – it does get cold at night. Therefore:
- 1 x long trousers / leggings (something that’s comfortable to sleep in!)
- 1 x fleece / jumper (I went for a fleece as usually they fold up smaller and take up less room in a rucksack)
- underwear (clean knickers / boxers for every day)
- 2 x bras (I took two because it allowed me to wash one of them and have a dry pair to wear the next day)
- 1 x bikini / swim-wear
- 1 x sandals – I tied a pair of old flip-flops to the outside of my backpack. There are a few moments where you will have to cross rivers, including one where you wade through a quite deep river and it was good to have sandals that I didn’t mind getting wet. Something slightly more sturdy than flip-flops would have been better.
- insect repellant (I went for 100% Deet and didn’t get bitten)
- head torch / torch / iphone light
- portable battery charger. Both my camera and go pro battery actually lasted the whole way anyway so this is more a “nice-to-have” than a must have, but it just meant we didn’t have to worry about things running out of battery, mum was able to charge her garmin and I was able to charge my phone (which I was using to keep a diary – there was no phone signal!)
- kindle / book – I did a lot of reading in the evenings at camp but would recommend taking an easy book as you will be tired!
- TOILET PAPER!!!! Many of the toilets in camp didn’t have any toilet paper so make sure you take your own. This wasn’t actually specified by MagicTours but is definitely something you will need.
- Water bottle – I took one water bottle and my camelbak and never ran out. At lunch and dinner, the tour guides set up a huge thing of purified water that you can use to top up so you just have to make sure you have enough to get through half a day.
- Rain jacket – although I didn’t use mine once it’s good to have just in case
- My clothes were in waterproof vacuum-bags – it means they packed up smaller into my rucksack and also kept them dry and clean.
Remember that clothes will dry very quickly during the day when the sun is out, but they didn’t dry at all overnight. It was easy to tie damp clothes to the top of my rucksack in the morning and allow them to dry as I walked along.
Any questions – let me know!!! As I said, the next post will be all about what the hike was actually like to do…..