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Lost City Trek, Colombia – Complete Guide To The Legendary Ciudad Perdida

On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, in the heart of a wild and mysterious mountain range called the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta,  lies one of the most mysterious archaeological sites in South America: the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City).

I bet you can already foresee the amazing adventure it is to explore the area. You are not alone!

Indeed, all the ingredients are there for a fantastic but challenging trek, and the Lost City Trek is quickly becoming the most renowned trek in Colombia. The trail goes up and down mountains, crossing countrysides, rivers, and rainforests for about 22 km one way, 44 km in total.

Despite having to hike on the same path to get to the Lost City and to come back (a loop is always nicer), it is truly one of the most beautiful treks I have done in South America, along with the Mount Roraima trek or the trek to Machu Picchu.

On this page, I will share my experience trekking to the Lost City, and share my best tips, as well as things I wish I had known before going. Let’s go!

Quick Info

GPS (Ciudad Perdida): 11°2’17.56″N, 73°55’30.55″W

How to go: Trek with a local travel agency in Santa Marta. I personally chose Expotur.

Cost of the trek: 1,150,000 Colombian Pesos (around US$280)

Duration of the trek: 4 days. 5 days is possible for the same price but doesn’t bring anything new, in my opinion, 4 days feels just right.

Trekking distance: 44 km (27 miles) in total.

Best season: December to April

Hotel recommendation in Santa Marta: Hotel Miami


Trek Day 2

Trek Overview

When you sign up for a trek, it’s not always easy to know what to expect in terms of organization, local weather, or infrastructure. So let’s see what the Lost City Trek looks like.

It departs from your agency’s office in Santa Marta and starts with a 2-hour drive to a small town called Machete.

It is a 4-day trek, from Machete to the Ciudad Perdida. You will be using the same path to go and come back, and each way is about 22 km / 14 miles long.

In the detailed itinerary below, I wrote the hiking distance and hiking time for each day. Of course, it can be a little longer or a little shorter depending on how fast you walk. But the most you will have to walk in a day is about 7 hours.

All along it is a simple dirt path, and a few times you have to hike across the river. But it is shallow enough to do so safely.

Along the way, wooden huts were built allowing trekkers to take a break, buy cold drinks and enjoy some fresh juicy fruits. Make sure to bring enough cash with you, in these shops, the drinks are overpriced (5000 pesos – double the normal price) but you will still need to buy them because it’s very hot and you will be incredibly thirsty. And well, you probably pay for the fact that all these bottles had to be brought all the way there as well.

Various camps were also created for the hikers to have lunch, dinner, a shower, and spend the night. I didn’t really know what to expect from the camps. Will they be small? Big? Comfortable? Or just an old hammock between two trees?

They are actually much bigger and more developed than I imagined. All the camps have a dormitory area with two levels of beds, each with a mosquito net.

Each camp also has flushing toilets and simple showers, and also a “restaurant” area with a kitchen and large tables. The camps are built along rivers and most people enjoy a nice swim after a long day of hiking.

Trail and Buritaca River
Along the Rio Buritaca


Can I Do The Trek Alone?

No. The Lost City Trek is a guided trek, it is illegal to go on your own. And honestly, I don’t really see the point of going alone. Such a trek requires quite a bit of logistics and it’s nice to just focus on your hike and discovering the landscape, without worrying about all that stuff.

I find the price very reasonable, and you get everything included except drinks outside of the camps or small extra snacks you might want to buy. You get access to the camps with a bed and a shower, the food is good, the guides are friendly…

And you get to meet other trekkers from all over the world, from your own group but from other groups as well when you spend the night at the same camp.

Moreover, no one forces you to hike as a group. I know I am a fast hiker and I was often in front of the group walking either alone or with a few other fast movers. It’s fine. So go ahead, book your trek with an agency and enjoy!

Is The Lost City Trek Safe?

Yes. I know Colombia has some kind of reputation, but the Lost City Trek is safe. In 2003, 8 tourists were kidnapped at the Lost City by guerilla groups but this is a remote memory. Nowadays, the Lost City is guarded by the military and the guerillas do not longer operate in the region.

So now you only need to pay attention to not get a heat stroke and be careful while bathing in the river if the flow is strong.

Lost City Trek Hiking Itinerary

Day 1  •  Santa Marta → Machete → Adán Camp

63 km (39 mi) ⁝ 2 hours | 8.3 km (5.17 mi) ⁝ 3:15 hours

Machete, 63 km west of Santa Marta, Colombia. It’s in this village that I got to know the group of people I was about to share this adventure with, with a nice lunch. We didn’t know it yet, but it was also the last time we would be dry, and wearing dry clothes in 4 days! On the first day of the trek, the goal is to reach the Adán Camp. That’s an 8 km / 5.2-mile hike, more or less.

This first day is, in my opinion, the hardest of the trek. The culprit? A really sweltering heat that surely doesn’t help when you need to climb challenging, long steep slopes. The result: all your clothes quickly get drenched in sweat. And they will stay that way for the whole trek (bring enough clothes!).

VIRTUAL TOUR – Lost City Trek, Day 1

Cross the sunny countryside in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains (6 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

The thing is, on the first day, you need to cross the countryside, and this heat is the direct result of the heavy deforestation that took place in this area. Not many trees are left to provide some shade and keep some “coolness”. The whole day, I bet everyone kept thinking of the wonderful natural pool awaiting us near the camp to escape the heat!

Nevertheless, the scenery is already stunning as we keep getting closer to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, with its mysterious peaks hidden in the clouds.

After three and a half hours of hike in the countryside and a bit of jungle, you will arrive at the Adán Camp, nicely located next to the Río Honduras. Before dinner, your long-awaited reward is now within reach: jumping in a natural pool in the Honduras River, surrounded by jungle. It’s the perfect way to get rid of the sweat covering your body!


Day 2  •  Adán Camp → El Paraíso Camp

14 km (8.7 mi) ⁝ 7 hours

The program for this second day is to first walk no less than 14 km / 8.7 miles to reach the Paraíso Camp, which is the closest to the Lost City. The lunch break takes place at another camp, the Mumake Camp, conveniently located exactly in the middle of today’s hike. So you hike for 3:30 hours in the morning, and 3:30 hours in the afternoon.

This day is also an opportunity to learn about the Kogi and Wiwa tribes, which have survived the Spanish Conquistador invasion, unlike the Tayronas. They are trying hard to preserve their culture and their lifestyle, and are not always too happy about getting more and more trekkers crossing their land – but they do get involved in the tourism economy and they are able to make some money out of it.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Lost City Trek, Day 2

Explore the jungle and cross rivers on your way to Paraiso Camp (11 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

On this second day, you leave the countryside to really penetrate into the rainforest, enjoying the most welcome shade from the trees. Some of the mountain views are really stunning! Untouched forest and mountains as far as you can see. As you slowly gain altitude, the heat becomes more and more bearable. The Lost City is perched at 900 to 1300 m / 3000 to 4300 ft above sea level.

Most of the trail follows the course of the Río Buritaca, and the Paraíso Camp was built on its bank. It is a really privileged environment to relax in, surrounded by untouched nature, with the sound of a small waterfall nearby.


Day 3 Morning  •  El Paraíso Camp → Visiting The Lost City

850 m (0.53 mi) ⁝ 45 min to the Lost City

Finally! The legendary Lost City is now (almost) within our reach! From the Paraíso Camp, a last small effort of 1200 steps is needed to get there.

As soon as I arrived at the site, I saw something very different from what I had imagined. Before going, I was just imagining a few small terraces lost in the jungle – I soon realized that it is much more extended than that.

But what I did imagine correctly is the incredible view of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, still largely untouched. When you think about it, it is often the surrounding scenery that makes an archaeological site stand out. It is the case for Machu Picchu for example, and it is also the case for the Lost City.

It is fascinating to imagine the Tayrona people building all this and living in these mountains. The site is divided into two main parts, linked by a really beautiful stone staircase. When you reach the furthest, most elevated terrace, the view of the whole archaeological site and the forested mountains around is unforgettable.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Ciudad Perdida

Visit the fascinating Lost City or Ciudad Perdida, with a fantastic view of the mountains around (10 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Ciudad Perdida Colombia
Ciudad Perdida

More About The Lost City

The Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City as it is known in English, is often considered “Colombia’s Machu Picchu”. However, it is said to have been founded around 800 CE, which is no less than 650 earlier than the foundation of Machu Picchu!

The Ciudad Perdida is made of 169 terraces carved into the mountain, serving as a construction ground for the traditional round houses, as well as stone staircases.  It was built by the Pre-Columbian Tairona culture high up the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, at an altitude ranging from 900 to 1300 m / 3,000 to 4,300 ft above sea level.

The town is believed to have been home to several thousand people (some estimate around 2,000 people). Unfortunately, the Tairona and the Lost City did not survive the Spanish invasion.

Even though the local Kogi and Wiwa tribes had been visiting the ruins regularly, it was only “rediscovered” in 1972 by looters. Nowadays, there are no more houses but the terraces and stairs are still in very good condition and are a real delight to discover.


Day 3 Afternoon  •  El Paraíso Camp → Mumake Camp

6.8 km (4.23 mi) ⁝ 3:30 hours

After walking 22 km to the Lost City, it is now time to walk this 22 km back to Machete. If we had to find a negative aspect of the Lost City Trek, it would be that we take exactly the same path to go to the Lost City and come back, instead of making a loop for example. However, I wouldn’t consider it to be a really negative aspect – the landscapes are gorgeous enough for you to bear seeing them twice!

We had been lucky with the weather so far but in the afternoon of the third day, thunderstorms burgeoned and before we knew it, we got caught in an insanely heavy rain only the tropics can produce.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Lost City Trek, Day 3 (Way Back)

Walk back towards the countryside, with misty mountains after the rain (2 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

As I was always among the fastest-moving hikers, I was lucky to arrive at the next hut just as the heavy downpour started. And I just watched the other people in my group arriving slowly, under the heavy rain. A good rain poncho and backpack cover are important!

As a result of the rain, the once swimmer-friendly rivers were in spate, violent and muddy. As for the mountains and jungle, they were caught in an elegant mist.

At the end of the day, we got back to the Mumake Camp, where we had lunch on the second day. This time, we got to spend the night there.


Day 4  •  Mumake Camp → Machete → Santa Marta

15.5 km (9.63 mi) ⁝ 6-7 hours | 63 km (39 mi) ⁝ 2 hours

After a good night at the Mumake Camp, we crossed back the overheated countryside to Machete, and the trek was over! Exhausted and sweating but feeling happy and satisfied with what I had just accomplished, I was sitting at the restaurant in Machete, watching the new batch of hikers getting ready for the trek, all fresh and dry, thinking “if they knew all the heat, the sweat and the slopes that are awaiting them…!”.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Lost City Trek, Day 4 (Way Back)

Last hike in the pretty countryside before the end of the trek (1 panorama).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

TRAVEL MAP – Lost City Trek

Visualize on the map the positions of the virtual tours’ panoramas, the camps, and the huts where we could buy cold drinks along the way to prepare for your trek to the Lost City.

Click Here to View The Map

The map opens in a lightbox. Zoom in to explore!

What To Pack For The Lost City Trek

The Lost City trek is marked by a lot of heat… and very high humidity. One thing I wish I had known before is the necessity to take 2 pants. At first, I was thinking that pants are heavy, I will just wear the same pants for 4 days and be a little dirty, never mind.

The thing is, after the first day, your pants are already drenched in sweat. On the first night, it dried a little so it was still okay to wear the next day. But at El Paraiso Camp, the air is not only extremely humid but also quite cool: nothing dries at all.

I just couldn’t wear my pants anymore and ended up finishing the trek with my swimming shorts! That’s all I had left. So better bring 2 hiking pants, quick-drying ones preferably.

As for t-shirts, it is also good to have one that you will keep clean and dry to wear only at night after shower (+ on the 4th day going back to Santa Marta). If you absolutely need to change your shirt every day, take 4, but I think you can do with 3. Again, every bit of weight you can avoid will be greatly appreciated by your shoulders.

As for the shoes, of course, you will need good trekking shoes or boots. My personal preference goes to hiking boots because I like my ankles to be supported, but the trails are pretty clean and hiking shoes are probably enough if that’s your preference.

To sum up – Packing List:

  • 4 days is pretty short so I recommend trying to squeeze everything in a smaller backpack instead of carrying a big one
    → You can read our Guide to Hiking Daypacks
  • 2 quick-drying hiking pants
  • Swimsuit (to bathe in the river!)
  • 3 or 4 t-shirts
  • Good hiking boots/shoes
  • Protection against the hot sun
  • Some cash to buy drinks and snacks
  • A good headlamp, very useful during camp time
    → Check out our complete Guide to Hiking Headlamps

What To Do With The Rest of Your Luggage?

Don’t worry, your agency will most probably have a dedicated, secure place to store your things while you are on the trek. So I was backpacking with my main, bigger backpack across Colombia and a smaller backpack where I usually put my electronics.

I simply used this smaller backpack for the trek and left my main backpack at the agency in Santa Marta.

Last Thoughts About The Lost City Trek

This trek is an awesome challenge to take, as it will make you hike in a mind-blowing landscape, make you discover an interesting local culture, and make you meet a lot of really cool people!

This trek is in my opinion a must-do in Colombia if you enjoy the outdoors, and one of the top treks in South America. The Ciudad Perdida may not have the beautiful stone houses and temples of Machu Picchu, but it is a really mysterious and fascinating archaeological site and totally deserved to be discovered.

Like It? Pin It!

Lost City Trek Pinterest Image


  • Jo from woody world packer
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 4:12 am

    This looks like a very interesting trek! Although Colombia might hold me off a little bit with the current situation ( especially because we travel with our 2 year old son ) The nature looks amazing though! Love what you did with your visuals! Great informative article!

    • Post Author
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you for your kind words! Colombia not as risky as it was before, but I understand your concerns. I think the Caribbean coast is generally safe to travel.

  • Rachelle
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    What an adventure! I’m glad you mentioned what is loading in your blog. The pictures and panoramas were totally worth it! I think it’s always fun to read about people’s experiences on long treks, because I think we often forget the trek back!

    • Post Author
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks a lot Rachelle, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Victoria
    Posted September 16, 2017 at 3:00 am

    What amazing panoramas. I haven’t been to Colombia, but these pictures could convince anyone. There is so much tranquility from the photos!

    • Post Author
      Posted September 16, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks Victoria, you are right Colombia is a fantastic country that deserves to be discovered and the scenery is amazing

  • Lucy - Travel Textbook
    Posted September 16, 2017 at 7:12 am

    This is such a comprehensive guide!! Love the virtual tours too, so cool.

    Really hope to make it to Colombia one day 🙂


    • Post Author
      Posted September 16, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you Lucy, you should definitely put Colombia in your bucket list!

  • Marya
    Posted December 10, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    this is amazing! it looks like fun and adventurous at the same time. hopefully could make it to do this as well one day. 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted December 10, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      Indeed Marya, a really cool and adventurous experience, I wish you to do it too!

  • Renata Green
    Posted December 10, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    I’ve been to Colombia this spring, so this post brings back wonderful memories. But I’m sooo jealous that you hiked to the Ciudad Perdida. I would so love to do it, but I know that I would collapse, since I found already other hikes in Colombia that probably would make you laugh (like Parque Tayrona) very tiring. BTW – Santa Marta was one of my favorite places: ideally located, a tad bit touristy, but still very laid-back and authentic.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      Haha well it was a challenging trek, but I am sure Parque Tayrona is beautiful too, I didn’t even have the time to go there!

  • Martina
    Posted December 11, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Omg! this panorama pic are amazing – fantastic blog post, I haven`t seen something like this before, I felt like beeing just inside the deep jungle.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      Thank you Martina glad you enjoyed it!

  • Angela @ Dang Travelers
    Posted December 11, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    This sounds like an amazing adventure! We are always looking for good hiking trips so this is right up our alley. I agree with you on the loop, I usually don’t like to backtrack but rather see new things on the way back. Oh well, that scenery is worth a second look!

    • Post Author
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Angela, it’s true that a loop would have been nice but on the way back it was rainy in the mountains, which gave the landscape a different atmosphere

  • Paula
    Posted December 12, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Thanks for putting together such a useful guide, it looks like a huge amount of work but I am sure it will help lots of us planning to visit the area.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 12, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Thank you Paula, it was a pleasure to create this article 🙂

  • Amy Alton
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Wow, that looks like a tough hike. I like the panoramic view walk-throughs that you’ve done, I haven’t seen that on any other blog.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      Thanks Amy! It was a tough hike, and the heat was really crazy, but the experience is well worth it!

  • Rye Santiago
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I guess it’s not perdida anymore. It’s becoming more and more known among adventurous travelers. I might consider going there when I visit Colombia for 6 months next year. 🙂 I heard that mosquitoes were a big problem there. Was it ever like that when you went there?

    • Post Author
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Hey Rye, it’s indeed less and less perdida, but still an amazing adventure! I definitely recommend it. I don’t know in what season you intend to go there, but I did it in April and I don’t recall the mosquitoes being a really bad issue, if you put repellent. Also all the beds have mosquito nets. The real challenge in my opinion was the heat, particularly on the first day. But again, in other times of the year the conditions might be different.

  • Mary
    Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    This trek looks amazing! I never thought of Columbia as a place to go hiking. Also, enjoyed your use of 360 images.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks Mary! Colombia is an amazing country for hiking, and this trek is just one among many wonderful possibilities.

  • Panchami
    Posted December 15, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    The panoramic views are really incredible. Greenery is in abundance. Loved the waterfalls, the tiny huts, and the beautiful tribal kids.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Thank you! The jungle is amazing and the Kogi people are a very interesting community to discover.

  • Krupa
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 3:57 am

    This looks a wonderful adventure. Never read about this place before though but looks like one must visit this beautiful destination for sure.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      It is for sure a great adventure, and a must-see, probably Colombia’s major archaeological site.


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