Written by Lucie
On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, one of the major attractions is Parque Tayrona – a mix of jungle, mountains of the Sierra Nevada and beaches. In the jungle covered mountains is Cuidad Perdida, or the Lost City. This is the remains of a grand settlement known as Teyuna, once inhabited by the Tairona indigenous people. It is believed that the city was built around 800 CE, abandoned during the Spanish colonisation of the area and was then rediscovered in the 1970s by bounty hunters searching for gold (spoiler: they found and looted a lot).
People can only visit Cuidad Perdida with a registered guide. It’s pricey, but Mark and Lucie had someone on the inside to get them a sweet discount, and come along for the journey too. We went over Easter weekend – the start of April 2018.
We took a local bus from the beach town of Palomino to the meeting point in Tayrona, and then swapped to a rather rickety jeep for an extremely bouncy ride up into the mountainand the small village of El Mamey where we had lunch. Then we started walking. Given the late start time, the heat and humidity, and the constant uphill terrain, we only walked 7.6km on the first day, but it was very leisurely and with multiple stops for fresh fruit, fresh juice, raw cocoa and photos.
The camp for the night was Alojamiento de Adan, owned by a former drug grower and site of a former cocaine lab (apparently this is totally fine in Colombia – you can have up to two coca plants and 19 marijuana plants on your property, no problem). The camps are long racks of mosquito netted bunk beds with long tables ad benches, a kitchen for the cooks and some very basic toilets and showers (a pipe from the river with no shower head). We dropped our bags and walked down to the river where there was a big waterhole at the bottom of a small waterfall – primed for jumping in. After a swim, we went nuts with insect repellent in the hope of protecting ourselves through dinner and the rest of the evening.
After an early breakfast we got walking. As with day one, there was quite a lot of uphill and it was hot and humid. However, we still only needed to walk about 15km so it was very much a relaxing ‘Team Fun and Appreciation’ walk.
The path took us through narrow and uneven jungle tracks, passable only by foot or donkey (we saw a number of donkeys carrying food and supplies to the camps and indigenous villages). There were some amazing birds on and near the path, including a tree full of toucans, a bird that sounded like a rainbow, or like a run down small chimes, and some big vulture-type birds. We alo saw lots of insects and big butterflies and dragonflies, domestic cows, dogs and cats.
We had a beautiful river swim at our lunch spot, playing for a while in the small rapids and also made several creek and river crossings during the walk (usually by stone hopping, occasionally by rickety swing bridge). We came to a few little outposts where we had fresh fruit – usually watermelon, pineapple or orange. These fruit stalls are either operated by famers in the region or by the local indigenous people. We passed a few indigenous villages, which consisted of traditional, simple round huts constructed with mud and stick walls and palm thatched rooves. The villages either belonged to the Wiwa or Kogi (which means jaguar in the native language) people, both of whom are descended from the Tairona.
At our camp for the night we swam in a much colder river and went to bed earlyish, ready for an early start.
9.4km, 1200 steps up (and 1200 back down)
We were up early and walked the last kilometer and 1200 steps up to the Lost City. We spent about three hours in the City and it was a wonderful experience, especially being there in the early morning and watching as the sun was cresting the tops of the mountains, spilling rays of golden light onto the place.
The City was an important meeting place for the indigenous people for at least 800 years, but was abandoned in fear when the Spanish colonisers arrived. Now, the round huts have all disappeared, but the round stone terraces, walls and walkways are plain to see. Each round terrace held a hut, the biggest was for the mamo or chief and for the yellow temple, which was the place the men would meet to discuss affairs. In many places, large trees have grown on the terraces, but in others it is flat grass, now kept a bay by conservation work. There are a few big boulders scratched to make a map of the rivers, paths and settlements. One indigenous family still live on the edge of Cuidad Perdida but a large part of the 2km radius/2000 people settlement is still ruled by jungle.
We enjoyed exploring and learning about the history and significance of the area and of various artifacts. We also climbed up to the highest accessible terrace to look down onto the settlement and met the mamo, or leader of the family that live there. When it was time to leave we dropped back down the 1200 steps and starting walking back the way we had come, with our usual pre-dinner swim.
Day number four was our final day (it’s possible to do the trek in five days, splitting the 14.9km into two roughly equal parts, but there’s not much point unless you need to rest). As before, we packed up our things, had an early breakfast and hit the trail, this time mostly going downhill.
We passed lots of small plantations, including banana plants and other tropical fruits, coca plants (sacred to the indigenous who are always chewing the leaves) and lots of big trees, mostly very green but a few were bright red-orange.
We stopped for a snack at Alojamiento de Adan but pushed on to El Mamey for lunch. Then, it was another really bumpy jeep ride down to the main road.