Jungle & Indiginous
Location: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia
Date: 21st-24th October 2017
This Trip Report provides a detailed breakdown of our 4-day trek from El Mamey (Machete) to the lost city and back again, including our top tips, information about the camps and river crossings. It is predominantly written for the benefit of those considering trekking this route, but if you are happy taking an armchair tour of the trek then you should take a peek at Bambi's photo diary of our jungle adventure to La Cuidad Perdida
Key Highlights / Facts
- La Cuidad Perdida is believed to pre-date Machu Picchu by more than half a millennia and is thought abandoned during the Spanish conquest
- Kogi tribe now live in the area you trek through, and at the ancient site a resident Shamen of the tribe looks after the place (as well as a small contingent of the Colombian army)
- Accessible only by a 47km multiday hike through dense jungle and multiple river crossings, which were a lot of fun
- Final ascent prior to arriving at the lost city includes some 1,200 steep stone step
Click on any of the red markers on the map below for more information
The treks 4 day itinerary
Day 1: El Mamey (Machete) to Alojamiento de Alfredo (camp 1) - 8.4km
Day 2: Alojamiento de Alfredo to Alojamiento El Paraiso (camp 2) - 13.9km
Day 3: Alojamiento El Paraiso to Alojamiento Múmake (camp 3) - 9.4km
Day 4: Alojamiento Múmake to El Mamey (Machete) - 14.9km
Top tips for the trek
- Pack light - Less really is more for this trek, but don't forget toilet roll (there's none in the camps)
- Take lots of mosquito spray with a high DEET content - Bambi had 55 bites by the end on just the lower half of one of her legs (and we took bug spray!)
- Spray your bed 5 minutes before getting in, which someone told us helps prevent bed bugs. We did this as a precaution as we'd read online about some people getting them on the trek, though we had no issues
- Take a warm, long sleeved/legged pair of clothes to get changed into each evening and wear/sleep in at camps
- Take sandals for river crossings
- Pack all your kit in dry bags - The rain here can be intense
From Santa Marta this involves a 60-90 minute drive (traffic depending) along a tarmac road, followed by a 10-minute pit-stop for a comfort break, where there's also a small pulperia (shop) you can buy basic items. Next came another 60 minutes along a track up to El Mamey (Machete), the start of the walk. This last hour is very bumpy and where the 4*4 really comes into its own...
The river crossings were, for me, the most fun sections of the trip. Ranging from barely visible trickles of water to waist deep and fast flowing crossings, below you'll find some examples of the river crossings we had to navigate to reach the lost city.
Day 1: Santa Marta to Alojamiento de Alfredo (camp 1), lunch @ El Mamey (Machete)
We arrived @ El Mamey around lunchtime and had some chow in a small restaurant affiliated with our tour company before setting off. It was just the two of us in our tour group so we joined another here, as ours had arranged a deal with them to share the cost of the translator. We had only one translator in the combined group of 14, but most of us trekked at different speeds throughout the trek and would all soon break away from the guides and translator anyway, which meant this wasn't really a problem. It rained heavily twice on the first day, making the path at points incredibly muddy and quite tricky to negotiate. We also got our first taste of a river crossing, though we all decided to take the bridge across - a luxury that would not be present further along the trail. This first day took us 4 hours in total, including stops and breaks, walking at a comfortable pace.
Day 2: Alojamiento de Alfredo to Alojamiento El Paraiso (camp 2), lunch @ Alojamiento Múmake
Day two was split into two parts, the first part consisting of four hours walking and the second the same length, though the latter included a relaxing 40-minute break. The path the previous day was more like a 4*4 track but by day two it had become a path. The trail on day two just kept getting better and better the deeper you go into the jungle. Around lunchtime, you pass a small indigenous Kogi settlement, which the tribe use only for ceremonial practices and tribal rituals. Families take it in turns to reside here, one always being present to look after the place. The last two hours of the day handrail the Rio Buritaca, which is where it really becomes an incredible jungle trail and was perhaps my favourite part of the trip. The camp you stop at for the evening is 1km shy of the lost city and is located right beside the river.
Day 3: Alojamiento El Paraiso to La Cuidad Perdida then back to Alojamiento Múmake, lunch @ Alojamiento El Paraiso
The first 20-30 minutes of the morning start out along the river, where the route keeps switching between a path and rocky river bed, which involves clambering over rocks right beside the river. This isn't technically challenging though and is another spectacular part of the trek. Then comes a serious river crossing, immediately after which come the 1,200 stone steps that lead up to the lost city.
The steps that lead up to the site are quite steep at sections, however, they are not slippery and provide good traction - weird considering their covered in algae/moss and were soaked. This section took us ~30 minutes but could be done in as little as 20 or as much as 50, depending on your level of fitness. Next, you arrive at the bottom tier of the lost city, of which there are four main sections. This was actually larger than we were expecting and we spent the next couple of hours wandering around and taking in the calmness and tranquillity that bestows the ancient site.
After you've soaked up the scenery long enough its time for the descent back to camp two for lunch, where you slept the previous night, and then onto camp three for the evening. One of the most fun sections of the day came shortly after lunch when we got to cross one of the rivers by a more novel means, pulling ourselves across on a pulley system set up to allow people to cross when the rains make the direct river crossing too dangerous...
Down in camp three, we got a real treat when a community leader from the Kogi tribe sat down with us and told us about his people's culture and beliefs, which could make up a whole separate blog by itself it was so interesting. We sat listening to Fermi as he talked to us, sipping on coca tea and savouring the experience, before getting a chance to ask him some questions. This was a really cool part of the trek and one that our tour guides set up, but not all will however so if you would like this experience make sure you check with your tour operator before booking (there's even a tour group that boast having the trek led by indigenous people of one of the four tribes that inhabit the Sierra Nevada, though this is understandably more expensive).
Day 4: Alojamiento Múmake to Santa Marta, lunch @ El Mamey (Machete)
From here its a 6/7 hour slog back downhill along the track, which becomes a race against the predictable afternoon rain. It's definitely worth having tubigrips or other joint support if you have any ankle/knee issues, or even for prudence sake, it wouldn't be the worst idea to have any way to help.
All in all, this was an excellent trip and well worth the $310pp we spent on it. The trekking through the jungle, past day one, is incredible and jaw-dropping at times (though day one isn't horrible either!), and the site of the lost city itself was much more extensive than we initially thought. We would definitely recommend it if you have the money and the time when you visit Colombia as it's well worth the trip.
If you have any questions about our trek or would like to know more about something please feel free to ask via the comment section below - We'd be happy to help.