The Ciudad Perdida, or “Lost City,” is one of the largest pre-Columbian cities built by the Tayronas, a tribe that inhabited the northern coast of Colombia. After the Tayronas were decimated by the Spanish conquest, the lost city was abandoned and it was soon assimilated into the dense jungle growth. The remains of Ciudad Perdida are nestled in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and though the stone terraces that crest and wrap around the mountain are impressive, the most rewarding part of the journey to Ciudad Perdida is the trek itself.
The hike to the lost city is roughly a five-day hike; three days to reach and visit the ruin and two days to return back to the launch point in El Mamey. While the trail more or less follows the Buritaca river, it also twists and turns through pastures full of grazing cattle, dense jungle canopy, and tiny villages of indigenous people who claim to be descendents of the Tayronas.
There are only a couple of times in my life that I have felt in complete accord with nature, and the end of the second day of hiking, is one of those times. There is a river that flows outside of the second camp, La Cabana Mumake, and in the middle of the river sit two large boulders firmly anchored between the cascading rapids. North of the boulders, in a narrow alcove is a small waterfall that sheds its slender trickle into the flowing river below. On both sides of the river, large trees rise majestically to the sky as toucans, flocks of parrots, and swarms of butterflies dart from one side of the canopy to the other. It is a place of beauty. A holy place.
The moment I commit to diving into the freezing water of the Buritaca (water that is so pure and clean our guide said we could drink from it), and swim out to one of the boulders resting in the middle of the river, I feel connected to this place. All the fear, concern, worry, and anxiety that I’d been wrestling with about leaving my job, my apartment, my old life has evaporated into the air around me like the moisture off my skin in the warm afternoon sun. The intensity of the sun makes my eyes feel heavy, and as I listen to the calming sound of the rushing water below me, I give into the overwhelming need to allow my exhausted body to rest from the strenuous hike.
There is another level of beauty to this place that isn’t just seen from a path well-worn by travelers navigating through a vast jungle to a forgotten ruin, this is a living path that runs through farms and villages, where farmers raise cattle, chickens, coffee, coca leaves, and families full of children. Their lives are directly tied to this land and during our brief five-day journey through their part of the world, we are lucky enough to have had the opportunity to have seen the world ever so slightly from their perspective.
As I climb the last stone step that steeply ascends from the bottom of the jungle floor below to the base of the lost city, I not only feel rewarded with a sense of physical accomplishment, but also the satisfaction of knowing that this journey isn’t over just yet . . . because tomorrow I will rise with the sun and hike back the way I came.