Ciudad Perdida, an ancient lost city hidden high within the mountains of Northern Colombia, a place only recently discovered and only visited by a few, I was determined to be one of them…
The mist enveloped the jungle in an ethereal haze, shrouding everything in a thick blanket of swirling, almost psychedelic, patterns. I floundered forwards. Oozing, liquid clay, the colour of gore, sucked at my ankles. I leant heavily on my staff, cut earlier with a razor sharp machete, my breath came to me, raggedly. A loyal group of mosquitoes followed my every move, feasting upon my blood. Up ahead, I could hear a faint gurgling, the kind of sound an older gentleman may make as he brushes his teeth before bed. Insects, frogs and larger creatures announced my approach, the jungle was alive with sound, it buzzed, clicked and whined. Thin tendrils of light, cut in twain by vines hanging from the canopy, made their way slowly, almost lazily, to the forest floor. It was still early, not yet six, and already time was running out.
The gurgling grew in volume as I slipped down a muddy bank and pushed my way out of the jungle, a child being born. The river raged in front of me. It was perhaps thirty meters across and deep, deep enough to make me pause. Angry white horses stared me down as they churned through the eddies. My quarry was almost within sight, this river needed to be crossed. I plunged into the frigid waters, battling the current and struggled forwards, my staff helping me navigate past deeper patches of water. I crawled on to a large boulder, perhaps the size of a van, ditched here by some unknown power, to catch my breath. I was soaked up to my stomach. Slowly, I looked around.
Leading away from me, deeper into the jungle and up, up, up. Stone steps, carved into the very heart of the forest. Twelve hundred steps in all. Steps which, I knew, lead to a lost city, an ancient place known to the local Tayrona Tribes as Ciudad Perdida…. Located high in the mountains, almost constantly enveloped in clouds. Ciudad Perdida had once been a place of glory until, abruptly, it had had faded into local mythology and finally become little more than an idea, a story to tell children around a campfire. A lost city which had remained hidden, even from the marauding Spanish hordes, for over five hundred years. The last bastion of a once magnificent civilisation.
I began to climb. Forty minutes of hard hiking followed. I slipped often, flailing at tangled vines and spiky undergrowth to break my falls. Drenched with sweat, utterly alone except for the mosquitoes, I burst out of the jungle with no warning, the claustrophobic, enveloping canopy simply ended. Huge stone plazas beckoned me forwards. The sun was coming up over a nearby mountain range making the plazas came alive with a golden hue, the jungle sighed, it was time to begin a new day.
All around me, stone structures, mysterious stairs and a huge boulder, used by the Shamans of old to explore the universe with the help of hallucinogens, called to me. There was something primal about this place, I half expected King Kong to burst from the undergrowth at any moment, perhaps ridden by a tribe of stone-age warriors. The plazas stretched endlessly into the jungle, every time I thought I had reached the end of the site, I would discover a new path, a new set of stone steps, leading me further into the forest.
I sat upon the edge of the main plaza and watched the jungle breathing. A waterfall, one of the biggest I have ever seen, tumbled to the valley floor from a crumbling cliff nearby. The mountains continued into the distance, covered with a thick blanket of impenetrable jungle, once held by FARC guerrilla fighters, hiding secrets. It is rumoured that there are many more ancient settlements, perhaps more lost cities, within this jungle, unknown even to the indigenous tribes. Ciudad Perdida was, after all, only discovered in the 1970s. I sat there, mulling this over, imagining taking off, finding a path and following it, higher and higher up into the mountains, I would need a couple of mules, supplies, I may need a year or more… my heart raced at the prospect of exploring the unknown, stepping where no other adventurer had even been before, discovering a lost city, perhaps still inhabited, hidden in the clouds.
It had been a hard hike, three days of up and down, up and down. The rain had come in sheets as I sheltered in a rustic settlement, inhabited by the Tayrona indians, a gentle people renowned for their sewing and religious practices. I was eaten alive, covered in angry red welts from mosquitoes, ants and bedbugs. I was battered and bruised, my legs swollen from the hard terrain. We had crossed more rivers than I cared to count, hopping from rock to rock like mountain goats or, sometimes, simply wading through. When I had the time I had paused to mark the path for other travellers with towering stone cairns.
Trekking to the Lost City had been hard alright but it had been worth it, once I had reached Ciudad Perdida I had been almost entirely alone. Perhaps twenty adventurers were present, a staggering difference to the five thousand daily visitors at Machu Picchu. There is no doubt in my mind that soon, perhaps sooner than one might think, Ciudad Perdida shall become the next backpacker ‘must do’ in South America, I suspect that big changes are coming for the site and the indigenous people who live in the protected area surrounding it, there is no way that something as stunning as the Lost City Trek will not become a huge hit over the coming years. If you get the chance to visit, I strongly recommend going now whilst the site remains the exclusive domain of adventurers and the tourist hordes are put off by the physical challenge of the trek.
My Lost City Trek was made possible through the kind sponsorship of Turcol Tours, the very first tour company to ever offer tours to The Lost City. The food, guides and arrangements were all excellent and if you’re in the area I strongly recommend getting in touch with Turcol; they are experts when it comes to Ciudad Perdida and the surrounding area.